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The Big Event


dance instructor leads class

JMU dance alumna Jaymie Boudreau leads a dance at The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham.

Kate Trammell and friend at a recent dance session at The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham
Photos by Jacob Brown    

Kate Trammell and friend at a recent dance session at The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham.

The Big Event

The students, faculty and alumni of James Madison University are about to make a big impact by volunteering with the Big Event. On April 14, thousands of participants are expected to take part in the second annual Big Event, a student-organized day of service intended to show appreciation and make a positive impact on our community.

Student Greater Madison and the Student Government Association, co-sponsors of the Big Event, have worked all year to secure service locations and recruit volunteers. The committee hopes to engage several thousand participants this year.

“We have a lot of great service projects planned for this year and are looking forward to again showing the Harrisonburg community how appreciative JMU is for their continued support over the years,” said Big Event Director of Outreach Jade Morse. JMU volunteers will participate in service projects such as clean-up jobs, lawn work and nonprofit organization work.

This year the Big Event is expanding to include JMU alumni. Alumni are encouraged to sign up and volunteer with their local chapter.

“This year, we are excited to work with the Alumni Association,” said Executive Director of Student Greater Madison Truman Horwitz. “Through them, we have managed to create mini-Big Events around the nation, put on by alumni in various locations. These events will occur at the same time on the same day as The Big Event here.”

Volunteers are encouraged to visit and sign up at www.jmu.edu/thebigevent/. Students can sign up individually or as a team. Alumni can visit www.jmu.edu/alumni/involved/bigevent.shtml to view participating chapters.

Dance Moves

When Kate Trammell says, "Dance is for everybody," she means everybody. Age, physical abilities, mental capabilities and any factors that make people different are not allowed to strip away the innate means of human expression in the dance professor's book.

For the past 10 years Trammell has shared her passion for the power of dance and creative movement with the community and JMU students, some majoring in dance, but others in disciplines such as occupational therapy, kinesiology, psychology and education. Through participation in Dance 325: Dance in Community about 15 students each spring semester learn to use dance as a two-way portal to help people express themselves and to deepen their own educations by learning from people different from themselves.

"We make sure that during the course of the semester we travel to as many different kinds of populations as possible so the students have the experience of working with everyone from daycare 4-year-olds to senior citizens — both active seniors and those with impairments — and also working with people with disabilities and in intergenerational settings," Trammell said.

Trammell prepares her students as much as possible for the varied populations they encounter. "It's more approachable to work with children because we've all been children," she said. "Most of my students haven't had disabilities yet. I think the age thing can be very intimidating and disability as well. When my students work with someone who has a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident when they were 21, that's a lot to ponder for a college student, for many of us. There's a lot the students have to confront emotionally."

To supplement a community dance textbook, Trammell often locates videos of dance and creative movement sessions with specialized populations on You Tube for her students to observe. "They can see this work in action and that helps dispel some fears."

What students say about Dance in Community

"Participation in Dance 325 has definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities open to individuals regardless of their disability. Watching the AXIS Dance Company (one of the world's most acclaimed and innovative ensembles of performers with and without disabilities) perform when they visited (in January) was amazing and is an event I wouldn't have even known was occurring if I were not involved with this class. I am so glad I watched! Discussing in class how to interact with those with disabilities has helped with even things such as simply because someone is in a wheelchair doesn't mean anything is wrong with them mentally! So, talk to them directly and do not direct all questions or conversation to their caregiver."

Lydia Bracken, senior, kinesiology and pre-physical therapy major


"I have done a lot of volunteer work in the community before but I have never really worked with people who have a disability. I think that the idea of working with these different groups has always made me uncomfortable and that unintentionally, I have treated them differently. Throughout this class I have been able to work with many different groups, elders, mentally and physically handicapped, people with disorders and have found that they are some of the kindest, most fun people I have met. I didn't realize how little other people actually come and interact with them. When we went to The Arc (of Harrisonburg and Rockingham) and to the memory care unit at VMRC specifically, just the half hour we spent there interacting with them made their entire week. It has really made me realize the importance of working with these communities and how much of a difference you can actually make in some one's life."

Amber Smith, junior, business management major with economics and dance minors


"Dance in Community has been an amazing and inspiring experience so far. I heard so many wonderful things about this class from peers in the past that I knew this was exactly the experience I wanted and needed. I have been given opportunities that I most likely would not have had otherwise through this class and the Harrisonburg community. Working with many different populations, my perspectives have been expanded in many directions. I definitely feel more comfortable working with a variety of people, disabilities, and settings. This class has given me the opportunity to see peoples' abilities rather than disabilities, and to encourage them to work within their means and there is no 'wrong.' Many of my previous conceptions have been destroyed and every session I attend I walk away impressed, excited and privileged from working with these people."

Aubrey Tuttle, senior, dance and psychology majors


"Dance in Community has given me a lot of different experiences with working with people who have disabilities. We did a program in January with AXIS Dance Company, a mixed abilities company, and I really got a chance to see how the people in that dance company were not defined by their disability."

Shelby Gratz, senior, dance major

Trammell recalls teaching her students prior to going to the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community's memory care unit. "I was sharing research about Alzheimer's disease and dementia and the aspect that one has to be 'in the moment' because in the moment is what there is for that population. You can create all kinds of really well thought-out plans and strategies, but when you get there you have to respond to where the individual in the group is in the moment. And that absolutely happened.

"When my students entered the space at VMRC, they saw initially a group of people sitting in fairly inert positions, encased in their own worlds, not particularly interactive. It was a very still room. Before we left, it was a different place. The individuals were interacting with us and each other. They were animated. There was lots of laughter. My students get to see that kind of transformation.

"And the other thing that is really exciting, and I try to emphasize this, it's not just about going out and doing something nice for people, we're getting just as much out of the experience. Those enlightening moments that occur every single time are pretty priceless. Students will say things like, 'I've never interacted with old people in my life and I'm scared.' Then they have these experiences and they say, 'Oh, they are a real person, just an older real person.' They really open up their minds to the concepts of difference and commonality that we share. I see lots of great, great, great awakenings."

As a professional dancer and educator, Trammell is moved by the way her art can take the role of communication for individuals unable to speak in words. She recalls a session in which several people using motorized wheelchairs were part of the group.

One young boy did not have verbal communication skills, but he used a system of click sounds to signify "yes." As students were arranged in two lines, holding large, colorful scarves above themselves, the boy "clicked" that yes, he wanted Kate to move him through the tunnel of people and scarves. "We went underneath, to the music and all this beautiful color, and he's beaming, just beaming. And I asked him if he'd like to go again and he clicked, 'yes.' We did that, it must have been eight or 10 times. He could have done it for hours. It was joy and everybody in the room felt it. So he really gave to us that experience of pure joy in the midst of the music and the color. His appreciation of it gave us the gift of 'that is beautiful.'"

Experiences like that keep Trammell constantly moved. "There are delightful moments when you see someone that you might not have initially defined as a dancer, you witness them doing something just startlingly beautiful or inventive, using whatever means they have to relate. That obviously feeds me as a artist."



Published April 9, 2012