radical art/work: meet dancer-movement therapist Mariah Meyer LeFeber

Welcome to the latest installment in our radical art/work series.

I've got four or five amazing artist-activists in the queue to share with you, so had a hard time deciding whom to feature this week.

But in the wake of the weekend's galvanizing women's marches, I've been thinking about diverse bodies, young and old; the essentiality of authentic, empowering movement; and what it means to really find liberation in both.

So I knew I wanted to profile a woman; in particular, someone doing work that weaves together embodiment and faith and social justice. ARTS for all, baby.

And guess what!?

We've got just that.

Meet Mariah, whose work for arts-based justice unfolds in Madison, Wisconsin.

(Speaking of: if you aren't already supporting #IronStache Randy Bryce, watch this video and tell me he isn't the most inspiring political candidate to challenge Paul Ryan, well, ever.)

Ok, back to dance. This ladyfriend is not only doing super-inspired work; she also happens to be, ahem, my little seester.

Couldn't be prouder.

So without further ado: meet Mariah.

Mariah Meyer LeFeber

What's your medium? 
Dance, specifically dance/movement therapy

What's your latest project? 
Performing Ourselves, a community dance program that empowers youth through dance

Who's your target audience?
Youth of all ages in Madison, WI.

Madison is consistently ranked on the “Top 10 Cities to Live” lists. Yet, since 2014, Madison has been ranked the 50th state for black children to grow up in and the disparity between white children and children of color is larger than anywhere else in the country. Additionally, 0% of K-5th graders in the Madison Metropolitan School District have access to dance classes taught by a certified specialist via school programming.

Through this program, we’re attempting to bring dance to these kids – and to fulfill our mission of empowering youth through dance. The program hires UW Madison dance undergraduates and a dance/movement therapist to take a curriculum combining dance, dance/movement therapy and resilience to kids across the city through their schools and after-school community centers.

Three key words that shape your art/work: 
(Nonverbal) connection
Joy (sorry, that’s four!)

Who or what introduced you to this medium? 
I started dancing when I was 5, danced all through school and then got an undergraduate degree in dance; after this I pursued a master’s degree in dance/movement therapy & counseling. Early on in my undergraduate dance experience, I was awakened to what an elitist/privileged art dance (or concert dance at least) is – there is so much inherent privilege in the pursuit of dance – economic (to get trained, maybe not to live life as a professional dancer), able-bodiedness etc. I went into dance therapy because I wanted to be able to take dance beyond the studio walls and the concert stage, and Performing Ourselves is a product of this passion/desire.

Public or private school education? 

Do you have any kind of spiritual practice? What does it look like? 
Yes. I am a practicing Christian, which feels like a gnarly confession sometimes as an artist and in the current climate of the country and world – but I believe in what the faith provides at its core, and that those of us who believe differently than the mainstream view and stereotypes around Christianity are called to be a light, to speak truth, and to serve others – now more than ever. For me, spiritual practice includes investment in my church and my faith community, but also the practice of dancing weekly – I feel most connected to who I am, to the world and to God when I am dancing.

Three books that changed your life: 
1) Anne of Green Gables
2) Making Connections: Total Body Integration through the Bartenieff Fundamentals
3) The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are

Three artists you admire: 
1) Brene Brown (#queen – any of her books could also be above)
2) Trisha Brown (dancer, not related to Brene, ha)
3) Over the Rhine

Three causes you're passionate about: 
1) Living out a pro-life ethic that’s pro ALL life ☺
2) Finding ways to help people foster their creativity and honoring their self-expression
3) Finding tangible ways to live out grace and compassion (including working to build/foster more of it in myself)

Three teachers who taught you something important:
1) Toni Pierce, who lifted me up and made me feel seen and loved as a scared freshman dance major,
2) Emilie Flink, who embodied dance therapy as a dance performer/teacher and taught me to see the needs and individuals in each new group of students and work to meet those needs, and
3) Lenore Hervey, who was my master’s thesis advisor and taught me so much about DMT, but also how to support and guide a student on their own journey

Virginia Woolf famously said a woman writer needs a room of her own. What do you need to create your art? Any non-negotiables?
90 minutes a week in a dance studio uninterrupted…especially now that so much of my life and work happens at a computer

One thing that pisses you off:
Misogyny? I mean, really, where to begin?

Shittiest job you've ever had:
Working as a fitness instructor in grad school

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self? 
Process over product.

Secret pop culture crush: 
Sarah Drew & Jesse Williams from Grey’s Anatomy (so embarrassing but so real, #japril forever)

Biggest challenge of your art/work? 
Lack of legitimacy for the field, which happens on many levels – the western medical model struggles to value the legitimacy of dance therapy as a mental health field, and the dance world struggles to legitimize the field as a valuable artistic outlet and career avenue for artist/dancers

In five years, what does your art/work look like?
The publication of evidence-based research on the work we’re doing through Performing Ourselves to help with the above, and a magic donor that sustains the program so that I’m not still writing grants at 2 a.m. ☺

Website and social media links where we can follow you and learn more about your art/work?
Website: Performing Ourselves
FB: https://www.facebook.com/performingourselves/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PerfOurselves
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/performingourselves/
Personal site: www.mariahlefeber.com

(That's Mariah in the middle extending her left arm.)

Fabulous stuff, right?! Folks who live in the heartland, save the first weekend in May for PO's big annual showcase. And let's fund MORE OF THIS, PLEASE.

Wishing you a wonderful end to January.

Keep making art. And keep sending your favorite radical artist-activists my way. (Always on the lookout for folks whose work could benefit from a virtual shout-out — particularly POC.)

Sending love.

Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and more. You can find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.


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