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Moving right along: Educators, dancers, advocates, activists Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin not slowing down in retirement

July 3, 2015 1 comment

For all of us there are people in our lives, even if tangentially, who we admire for the way they, well, live.  Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin are two of those people for me.  This married couple just knows how to do life right.  At least that’s the distinct impression I get whenever I’m around them, which is rarely and then only for brief visits, but my instincts about people are good and all evidence suggests my perception about them is right on.  There’s a joyous spirit to them and their pursuits, both personal and professional, that largely remains elusive to those of us, like me, who fall on the depressive, anxious side of the spectrum.  Oh, I’m sure they have their dark, down moments and struggles like anyone else but I suspect they are far more positive than negative in the balance of things.  I also know for a fact they intentionally, consistently keep themselves healthy in mind, body, spirit by virtue of their degreed disciplines, specializations, and passions having to do with physical education, recreation, healthy aging, and dance.  They are active people and in retirement they’re still moving right along, just as the headline for my New Horizons profile about them says.

 

 Cover Photo

Moving right along: Educators, dancers, advocates, activists Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin still on the move in retirement

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in the New Horizons

 

Josie Metal-Corbin and David E. Corbin are aware not everyone is as fortunate as they are in following their passion work. Their magnificent obsession happens to be health, physical education, dance and, more broadly speaking, the humanities.

They were already married and established in their respective fields when they joined the University of Nebraska at Omaha staff in 1980, where the next four decades they pursued their professional lives. Today, they look back fondly on distinguished educational careers that often intersected with one another.

A soon to be retired dance educator and choreographer, Josie led UNO’s award-winning resident dance troupe, The Moving Company, whose concerts explore myriad subjects in diverse spaces. David’s an emeritus professor of health education and public health who led many community health initiatives and is now an environmental activist.

Besides their mutual interest in health education and recreation, they share in common a passion for performance – she’s a dancer and he’s a musician – along with art, activism and advocacy. In addition to being each other’s favorite dance partner, he’s often accompanied, on guitar, performances she’s danced in or directed-choreographed. He’s even danced with The Moving Company himself.

The two actually met over dance – at a Brigham Young University social ballroom dance workshop in Provo, Utah. He came to the workshop from Saskatchewan, Canada, where he was teaching at the University of Regina and she traveled there from back East, where she was teaching at Robert Morris University in her native Pittsburgh.

They both actively promote healthy aging through activities like dance and Tai Chi and they use their expertise to support progressive, humanist causes.

Married 38 years and residing in the same Dundee house they’ve always lived in, they are parents to a daughter, Quinn Corbin. She describes her folks as “an incredibly inspiring couple,” adding, “They always follow their passion and work incredibly hard while still taking the time to meditate every day as well as view life through a positive yet realistic lens. They both care for so many others and are heavily involved in the community.”

Her parents are friends, colleagues and collaborators with a large circle of fellow creatives and concerned citizens.

 

 

©photo vt David Conway

 

 

Putting down roots

These Omaha transplants were both teaching in Pittsburgh when they accepted offers from UNO. He was completing his Ph.D. and she was following him wherever he landed. He weighed options in Boston and Indiana when jobs serendipitously opened for each at UNO.

Before Omaha David Corbin never lived anywhere longer than eight years. His educator parents moved the family from Ohio to New Mexico when he was young and he came into his adolescence in that sun-swept and desert land, living on a ranch in a small Sandia Mountains town. His folks taught at a two-room schoolhouse. He attended a school 18 miles from home. He often rode into town on one of the family’s horses. Before his senior year his parents accepted positions at an American school on a U.S, military base, Fort Buchanan, in Puerto Rico. That’s where he graduated and after getting his teaching degree in the States at the University of New Mexico he returned to Puerto Rico to make his living as a teacher and musician.

Music’s been a big part of his life since age 12. As a young man his father played bass in touring bands. When David got struck by the folk and rock explosion, his father gave him his first guitar lessons. David headed up a band during high school in New Mexico. A popular song then, “El Matador,” by the Kingston Trio was naturally adopted as the fight song for his school, nicknamed the Matadors. David’s group performed the tune before basketball games.

His band’s gigs extended to ski resorts.

“We didn’t get paid. We got room and board and free lift tickets. We didn’t care,” he recalls of those free-spirited adventures.

He led a band all through college at UNM.

“After college I became solo in Puerto Rico. i worked on cruise ships and I was teaching by day and playing by night in bars.”

A tee-totaler, he never imbibed at those night spots, but he was burning the candle at both ends.

“Looking back, I wonder why in the world was I doing that. After working a full school day I’d get home at 4 p.m,, take a nap, go to work at 10 to sing and play guitar, get off at 2 a.m. and then have to be back at school at 7:30.”

Even though his parents were educators, he says it was really his older brother Charles “Chuck” Corbin, a noted fitness-wellness educator and author, who influenced him to pursue a physical education track.

After Puerto Rico, David’s roaming began again. He studied at the University of Oslo (Norway), he taught in Fort Worth, Texas, he earned his master’s from the University of Ohio, he taught in Maryland, he lectured in Canada, he attended an intensive course on human sexuality at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University,

Josie, meanwhile, rarely left Penn. before he came into her life.

Her father was a coal miner turned hobo hell-bent on being a lumberjack before contracting tuberculosis. He then learned the craft of fine motor watchmaking and clockmaking. Her father and mother raised the family in an undeveloped Pittsburgh suburb that was more like the country. The eldest of three, Josie led adventures in “these great woods behind our house.”

But it was work, not play, combined with a self-sufficient attitude that was most impressed upon Josie by her folks.

“Work, work and work. We were the Metal girls and we could do anything – this was the philosophy. We went hunting and fishing, we skinned rabbits, we chopped off cement from bricks so my father could salvage brick.”

Running parallel to that blue collar, tomboy lifestyle were the dance lessons she took from age 3 on.

“This Metal girl had an unbelievable opportunity. The Carnegie Museum of Art had this wonderful program called the Tam O’Shanters. Kids from the public schools were selected to come every Saturday for free. I did that from third grade through high school, by which time we were going to the Carnegie Mellon Institute of Art. So I had free art lessons, I saw different exhibitions. It introduced me to this whole other world. It was really amazing.”

That experience is so ingrained in her, she says, “when I go to museums or older institutions to get a drink from the old brass fountains it just all floods back.”

“One of the highlights of my life came when the Durham Museum (Omaha) asked me to be a scholar in residence,” she says.

Fine art and higher ed were not part of her parents’ experience and she appreciates that these things became a vital part of her life.

“I was first generation college,” she says. “I went to Slippery Rock Sate College  (Penn.). I actually played soccer on a sheep field there. I was always in dance, Dance then was part of physical education. Now you go to study dance. Then I went to the University of Pittsburgh (for her masters). I taught three years in the public schools – health and physical education – and did dance and choreography. Then I went to Robert Morris, where I founded Orchesis (the greek word for dance).”

UNO’s company was originally called Orchesis after a nationwide modern dance  movement and honorary society.

Metal-Corbin stretched herself while at Robert Morris.

“Not only did I found the dance company, I joined folk dancers from Duquesne University as an itinerant grad school teacher for Penn State University. I coached varsity basketball for women, I was the softball director, I was the cheerleader sponsor. I did a million things there.”

 

 

DJsculpture

Sculpture by Jamie Burmeister; ©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

 

Dance as life

Once at UNO she contributed to The Moving Company’s long legacy.

“I’ve been involved in the work of carrying on a tradition of modern dance at UNO that goes back to 1935. We’re in our 80th year of continued existence, which makes us one of the oldest modern dance university companies on the planet.”

There have been four directors – Ruth Diamond Levinson, Aileene Lockhart, Vera Lundhahl and Josie Metal-Corbin.

Bringing dance to people and places that don’t often see it is one of Josie’s passions. She’s done that as a Nebraska Arts Council Artist in Schools and Communities and via the Moving Company, whose mission, she says, is community oriented. “We were doing community engagement before it became the byword of institutions.”

Indoors or outdoors, kids to seniors, she’s made dance accessible everywhere, for everyone.

“We invite the community. When i came to UNO I wanted to see the dancers and the audience reflect north, south, east and west Omaha. I worked for a very long time to get diversity of audience and performers and today we are diverse in age, religion, language, race. you name it That is I think my biggest accomplishment.”

She’s been intentional doing outreach work with the Omaha International Folk Dancers and the African Culture Connection. She’s worked with a local ballroom dance group. She formed Reach for It, a dance class for people with Parkinson’s disease.

Her interest in dance as cultural rite, symbol and storytelling device found full expression in a native Bosnian dance-inspired piece she choreographed. The performance was accompanied by authentic music and projected images of the Bosnian-Serb War. Among the dancers and musicians were Bosnian refugees living in Omaha.

“I love collaborations, I thrive on collaborations, I always have from day one in my teaching career. You see, dance is very ecumenical. Dance is physics, dance is force, gravity, weight, flow and time, so connecting it to science in any way is a natural connection. We’ve done the water cycle dance, the spider dance…There’s an easy connection to math with patterns and forms and shapes. There’s most definitely a connection to fine art, to music, to language arts.”

She says “dance is very universal” but American culture doesn’t readily see its broad integration until someone like her choreographs a site specific work where you least expect it.

“A recent book I published a chapter in is about site specific dance. I illustrate how you can have dance on bridges, in the middle of water, on mountaintops. There’s vertical dancing now where people are hooked up on rigs and they do the mountain or climbing wall.”

Some of her favorite site specific work has intersected with some of the area’s most sublime spots.

“The first meaningful site specific piece I did here was with artist Catherine Ferguson, storyteller Nancy Duncan and musician Michael Fitzsimmons. We did it in a Joslyn Art Museum gallery with words, music and dance within a Catherine Ferguson installation of slate and rope. Then we did something through the galleries at the Sheldon Art Museum in Lincoln with works by artist Jamie Burmeister.”

She recalls another Joslyn performance that brought nontraditional dancers together for a piece that took some improvising.

“In 2005 The Moving Company was commissioned to respond to an exhibition, Renaissance to Rococo. I wanted the dance performed in the galleries among the works of art but was denied permission due to security issues. Our performance was relegated to the Witherspoon Concert Hall. I was disappointed but richly rewarded with the premiere of a piece I made for five physical education majors. They were future teacher candidates learning ways of integrating dance, language arts and sign language into the physical education setting.

“A quarterback, a coach, an assistant at Boys Town and two K-12 physical education majors made their dancing debut, much to the amazement of their peers. Although the site was a traditional stage to our Moving Company dancers, it was a very unexplored place to these newcomers. In this new environment they learned to navigate space, time, effort and relationships on a stage versus on a playing field.”

A few years earlier she assembled dancers at UNO to serve as models for sculptor John Lajba and his commission to create what became the “The Road to Omaha” bronze sculpture for the College World Series.

“Lajba and a photographer came to the UNO Dance Lab and worked with dancers as they performed combinations of running, jumping and lifting. Lajba used photos of the dancers as departure points for maquettes and ultimately some dancers sat for wax casts.”

Then there’s her work for the great outdoors.

“Two times we did a dance on the Glacier Creek Preserve,” she notes.

Northwest of Omaha, this topographically diverse nature preserve is dedicated to the study and appreciation of the tall grass prairie and associated ecosystems of Eastern Nebraska.

“The first prairie dance was based on a poem. It came out of an environmental presentation I did at Kaneko. Then when the preserve’s barn was dedicated we performed in the loft. David played music for it.”

She describes how a public byway became a medium for dance.

“Last year we did a dance along the full length of the Bob Kerresy Pedestrian Bridge. The theme was the fragility of U.S. waterways and our performance was synched with performances by dancers across the nation at 3 o’clock on April 6 to bring attention to the issue.”

Legacy

Now that she’s retired, she’s pleased the university “is going to carry on the dance company” with an interim director.

Metal-Corbin says while she’s stepping out of the field, she’ll always remain a part of dance.

“I don’t want to say that I’m through. I am a dancer, I’ll be dancing in my kitchen, I’ll be on the highways and byways dancing, but it’s not going to be these huge events. I am setting boundaries. There are other people that can do this now. I’ve done it and it takes a lot of energy. I now want to take my energy and put it somewhere else.

“I’m not fading away. I am leaping and stepping out and landing – I don’t know where. We will see what kind of a landing it will be. I’m OCD, and so it’s unlike me not to know what the next step is.”

There are still bound to be those whimsical moments, at home or in public, when the mood strikes and she, and sometimes David, too, trip the light fantastic, not giving a hang what people think.

“Once while visiting a shop in Quebec City,” Josie recalls. “I became engaged in conversation with the hat maker at a millenary store concerning the art of modern dance. She was intrigued I was a dancer-choreographer. Before I knew it, she suggested a ‘trade.’ She asked me to create a dance within the store, and in turn, I would receive a discount on the beautiful hat I had been admiring and trying on. She locked the front door and for a few minutes I improvised dancing through the aisles and around the displays.

“She got her dance and I walked out with the hat.”

Quinn Corbin grew up expecting the unexpected with her parents.

“At times them dancing in the aisles of the supermarket or singing loudly on the street corners in New York City was embarrassing but I’ve always pretty much embraced it as have my friends.”

Retired or not, Josie’s spontaneity to break out in dance will never go away as long as she can still move.

Always a teacher, always of service

Even when she stopped concert dancing more than a decade ago, teaching still brought out the performer in her.

“When I’m teaching I also am performing. Every teacher who is a good educator is looking for a performance level. So every time I go into that classroom or studio I humbly feel I have a captive audience and I’m pulling out all the tricks in the book to engage people. Even though I stopped performing in formal concert at age 56 I was still directing, choreographing and teaching.”

She says the passion she expresses for her work is contagious.

“My (teacher) evaluations have always said, ‘She’s energetic, she’s enthusiastic,’ and the truth is it’s a quid pro quo. I get my energy because there’s people there, so they reflect things back to me. Or if they don’t, I have a genre to get them to move or to respond.”

Her ability to connect with students and to be a leader in her profession earned her National Scholar-Artist recognition from the National Dance Association in 2012, one of many awards recognizing her work in the studio and in the classroom.

All in all, she’s content with how her career evolved.

“I have worked very hard to create a body of work on the academic side and on the artistic side that’s been very rewarding. I’ve had the chance to work with so many different people I’ve given to but that in turn have given back. That quid pro quo is what I always try to do.”

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

Alone and together

David has his own recognized body of work separate from Josie. They respect that they are their own persons, professionally and otherwise.

“We’re two independent people,” Josie says. “We don’t speak for each other and people have honored that because I think we’ve kind of insisted on it. I’m not Mrs, Corbin. I have a hyphenated last name. I have my own professional title. He has his own professional title. David has his teaching, his writing and all these other initiatives that retirement allowed him to expand.”

He confirms he’s a man of varied interests, saying, “I have many passions. Certainly teaching and advocacy are among them. But I also enjoy music, nature, travel and reading.” Writing, too. He’s authored or co-authored many books in his field, including a pair of high school textbooks he worked on shortly after retiring. His brother Charles, whom he considers a mentor, was a co-author on those projects.

An earlier book the brothers did, Homemade Play Equipment, landed David on The Late Show with David Letterman Show. He’d sent a copy to the show. Years passed when a staffer called to request a video of what he’d demonstrate if he were a guest. Thus, he ended up showing Dave reuses of bicycle inner tubes, milk jugs, panty hose and other throwaways as resistance and strength training tools. Corbin utilizes some in an exercise program he conducts at deFreese Manor. He even gives Green Fitness workshops that emphasize getting in shape using fun, repurposed, low environmental impact devices.

He’s traveled extensively for his work, once serving as a consultant in Romania. He and Josie taught a stress management workshop in China. She says she’s grateful for the support he’s shown her to go after certain professional opportunities.

The couple have merged their interests and expertise to do many projects together. For years he’s taught, with Josie assisting, exercise classes and workshops for older adults, many of them for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging (ENOA). The pair ended up writing a book together, Reach for It, that grew out of their shared interest and experience in getting older adults moving to improve their health. David says, “The subtitle of that book is A Handbook of Health, Exercise and Dance Activities for Older Adults. I was teaching healthy aspects of aging at UNO at the time. Part of it was at that time there were no decent textbooks around, so it was kind of meant to be background information on aging, plus activities that people could do.”

David says introducing exercise to older adults may meet with resistance at first but once people participate they’re hooked.

“We were giving a workshop for ENOA and it was pretty obvious the group was very reticent to get involved. Some people had canes.

We actually had a parachute canopy (a tool to stimulate perceptual, cognitive and motor skills) and we said, ‘OK, we’re going to try this,’ and finally everyone was up. Then we got the activity going and one person took his cane, threw it down, and started dancing. We felt like Oral Roberts or someone,” he’s says, laughing at the memory. “So it turned completely around. It went from people rolling their eyes and I don’t want any part of it to active joyful engagement and movement.”

 

 

©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

Performance of “Thriller” at the Durham Museum; ©photo by Debra S. Kaplan

 

 

Parkinson’s program

Josie borrowed the book’s title for a dance program at UNO she started for persons with Parkinson’s.

“There are inherent therapeutic benefits of dance no matter whether you’re ill or you’re well,” she says. “The joy of movement, being with other people in a community of learners, sharing in the rhythm and the music – that’s the therapeutic part of it. You have a chance to be creative, sometimes to do problem solving. You’re moving in the kinesthetic domain, so if you’re under stress your body gets a chance to get rid of some of the stress products.”

She says the Parkinson’s program’s been well-received.

“It’s a very sound program. It’s based on one I studied in New York that is worldwide. At Reach for It we do 10-week sessions. This last semester we had speech, language and hearing students come – that’s really important because with Parkinson’s you have to exercise your voice as well as your body. We let in free the caretakers or drivers of the persons with Parkinson’s. So we have usually a nice circle of maybe 20 people at the UNO Dance Lab.. We always have live music.

“We’re in our fifth year. The Nebraska chapter of the American Parkinson Disease Association and The Moving Company are the sponsors. We just got a grant to carry it forward, which I feel good about because I’m leaving and at least the funding’s in place. The person leading them now is Danielle Laurion, who is a dance therapist and a choreographer.”

David says the benefits of dance for Parkinson’s are well documented.

“Part of the philosophy behind it is that the rhythm of the music helps with the tremors and things like that. Music is part of it and rhythm is part of it. People will usually report they have an after-effect, too – they feel better for a couple of hours.”

“When you’re losing some of your physical movements in your flow, to get it back even for a short while is reassuring,” Josie says. “It’s well known in the Parkinson’s community that dance is beneficial. This is all about the healing powers of dance. Participants are moving in all ranges of motion and the thing is they’re with other people. You have a community of learners and these people want to have music and dance in their life. Instead of going to play bingo maybe or going to a book club, they’re going to a dance class.”

Last year she directed an impromptu private performance in the backyard of a longtime Moving Company supporter battling a terminal illness. Josie says the patron’s daughter shared that her mother seemed like her old self for the first time in awhile during the dance.

David says whatever your age, the best advice he can offer is “keep moving and exercising” and “emphasize what you can do and not what you can’t do.” After a 23-year gap, he did Bike Ride Across Nebraska last year and found it much tougher this time. But he did it.

 

 

©Cover photo by Bill Sitzmann

 

 

Public health

With that same can-do attitude he’s taken on public health issues and affected change. He helped get the smoking ban in Omaha and statewide. He helped get funding from the Master Tobacco Settlement to establish new public health departments in Neb. so that for the first every county’s covered by a local or district public health department.

“Both of these were collaborative initiatives, but I am proud to have played a role in each of them.”

His mission to connect people with public health issues is ongoing.

“I am still educating about the relationships between public health and climate change. If you ask people whether or not they support public health or taking steps to reduce the consequences of climate change you get somewhat tepid support. If you ask people if they support clean air and water and safe and healthy foods, you get very high support. Good public health programs and slowing or mitigating the consequences of climate change are essential to clean air and water and safe and healthy foods.”

He wishes Obamacare had gone much further.

“It baffles me the U.S. is one of only a few so-called developed countries that does not have universal health care. I think we should.”

He’s not shy expressing his views in public forums.

“I’ve certainly been active in writing letters to editors and op-eds for as long as I can remember. I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in kind of major things. Sometimes they’re little. For example, I’m trying to get something going for a plastic bag ban here in Omaha, not because it’s the biggest issue in the world but it’s a way to get people talking about recycling in general – to get the argument going.

“The average person uses 500 single-use plastic bags a year and most of them get used for less than 20 minutes and then they’re tossed. We did a trash day at Prospect Hill Cemetery. I put all the trash on display – there were over 70 plastic bags. Of all the times I’ve been in the newspaper more people remember me for picking up trash. I still pick up the trash every day when I walk.”

He even produced videos about the evils of plastic bag proliferation. In one, he does a dance he choreographed himself.

He’s focused on environmental issues these days. He’s on the Sierra Club board. He’s president of Nebraskans for Solar. He’s on the Public Health Association of Nebraska board. He’s also a self-appointed watchdog at all Omaha Public Power District open board meetings.

“I think we’ve been pretty successful in getting them to have more wind power and less coal,” he says of his and other activists’ pressure on OPPD. “I follow a lot of the legislation.”

Environmental events he attended in 2014 included Earth Day Omaha, the People’s Climate March and the Harvest the Hope Concert in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

©photo by Josie Metal-Corbin

 

 

Happy trails

Just like Josie, he’s never at a loss for what to do. She says upon announcing her retirement “the first thing people said was, ‘Oh, you and David will get to spend more time together.'” She’s quick to point out, “We don’t need more time – we have good time. We’ve managed to figure out our own space. We’re not a couple that has to do everything together. But we do a lot together. We travel. We’ve done a lot of very good trips together.” They celebrate wedding anniversaries trekking to exotic locales.

“For our 30th we did Argentina and Patagonia,” she says. “In Buenos Aires we took tango lessons at an Armenian social club late at night. Then we took a little plane down to Patagonia and stayed on this sheep ranch. To me, it was what the creation of Earth must have looked like because we were on the water, no lights. Beautiful.”

“For our 35th we went to Iceland,” she says. “It was the best. Beautiful.

Little hamlets, horses, black and white sheep on the hillsides, no telephone poles, geothermic.”

David marveled at Iceland’s “one hundred percent renewable energy.”

They both like that Iceland’s tech savvy enough to have wi-fi in the most remote regions yet protects its pristine, lush, green environment.

On another trip they enjoyed the vistas of Vancouver, British Columbia, at one point staying in a tree house with all the amenities. They got around by sea-plane, kayak, tandem bicycle, hiking, bus, car and ferry.

In 1998 she made her New York City dance debut and has also performed in Lisbon, Portugal, Paris, France and Italy. In 2001 she led a large group of Moving Company dancers to Cesena, Italy to compete in the international Dance Grand Prix Italia. The UNO team won second place in Theatre Dance. David made the trip, too.

For their own personal travels, the couple often do self-guided tours she extensively researches, though their itineraries leave plenty of room for unexpected discoveries and adventures. Like taking tango in the wee hours of the night or suddenly dancing when the spirit moves them, wherever they happen to be.

A miniature sculpture by artist Jamie Burmeister, who was a graduate student of David’s, captures the effervescent couple in, what else, a dance pose that reflects their embrace of life.

“Their commitment to making the world a better place through their activities really inspires me,” says Burmeister, who simply titled the piece, “David and Josie.”

When it comes to living and relating, the couple answer a resounding yes to the question: May I have this dance? Their life is a living metaphor for the symbiotic give and take and affirmation that is dance.

 

 

 

 

 

©photo by Quinn M. Corbin

 

Josie’s Dance of Life: Dancer/Choreographer/Educator Josie Metal-Corbin Affirms Life Through Dance

December 18, 2011 2 comments

Dance educator-choreographer Josie Metal-Corbin has retired after 48 years of teaching.  I’m posting here a profile I wrote about her several years ago for The Reader (www.thereader.com).  I’ll soon be writing a new article about not just her but her and her husband and favorite dance partner, David E. Corbin, a retired health and physical edication educator. The new piece will be for the New Horizons. I invite anyone who’s been inspired by one or both of them to please share with me and our readers your experiences with them. Whether they’ve impacted you through their work as educators, performers, advocates and activists, please share your thoughts, your memories, your anecdotes. You can inbox me with your responses or email them to me at leo32158@cox.net. Thank you.

Energy.  That’s what I think of when I consider the subject of this profile, dancer, choreographer, educator Josie Metal-Corbin.  She advocates dance as a natural way of affirming life that is available to nearly all of us if we only choose to take advantage of it.  Her life and work in dance have covered much territory and she isn’t slowing down after six decades dedicated to the art form that she also touts as a superb fitness regimen and social engagement tool.  She’s done much work, and been widely recognized for it, in intergenerational dance.  This story for The Reader (www.thereader.com) is from some years ago, and so she’s done much more work since the piece appeared.  If I’m not mistaken I first met her when she called me to suggest a story.  She’d become fast friends with a Bosnian family who had suffered through some of the horrors of the siege on Sarajevo and had resettled in Omaha.  Josie was enamored with the spirit of these people and of the beauty of their culture, particularly their music and dance.  She was working with a group of Bosnian refugees to stage a concert in music and dance that expressed forgiveness, mourning, and thanksgiving.  I ended up doing a cover story about the Bosnian family and the celebratory program, and you can find that story here on this blog.  It’s called, “War and Peace, Bosnian Refugees Purge War’s Horrors in Sing and Dance that Make Plea for Peace.”  Josie’s quoted in the story.

 

 

 

Josie’s Dance of Life: Dancer/Choreographer/Educator Josie Metal-Corbin Affirms Life Through Dance

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

“Dance is the affirmation of life through movement.”
Martha Graham

For the longest time, University of Pittsburgh grad Josie Metal-Corbin could not concede the obvious: that she is a dancer. This, despite already being a noted performer, choreographer and teacher of modern dance at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she is a professor in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation and director of the college’s resident dance troupe, The Moving Company. In 2000 the 61-year-old artist and educator was honored by the state of Nebraska with one of its prestigious Governor’s Arts Awards for her wide-ranging contributions as an advocate, instructor, performer and choreographer of dance.

It was not until well into her career, while first doing pioneering work integrating elders in modern dance performance, that she fully acknowledged dance as her passion and, not coincidentally, evolved an inclusive dance philosophy unbound by tradition or form or stereotype. A philosophy embracing all ages and abilities.

“It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I could say the words, ‘I am a dancer.’ Before then, saying that always meant in my head that I’m not good enough, I haven’t had enough formal studies, I haven’t studied with the right people, I’m not a fabulous technical dancer. For years, I bought into that,” she said. “But now that I’m mature and have been through a lot of life experiences, I know I am a dancer, and I can never separate that out of myself. So, whether I’m teaching or performing or choreographing or going out on an errand, it’s all kind of a dance. It’s about the rhythm of what I’m doing. It’s who I am. It’s the heartbeat of my passion.”

When she began introducing modern dance to older adults in the ballroom of Omaha’s Paxton Manor in the early ‘80s she was already sold on the physical, emotional and social benefits of dance for seniors, but doubted how much that age group could contribute to the realm of performance. A defining moment came at a rehearsal for one of her first intergenerational works.

She was agonizing how to get an 83-year-old woman she’d recruited for the piece, Marie Waite, to move from one corner of the stage to the other, short of carrying her when, before her very eyes, “there was Marie quickly running across the stage beside two young dancers, and I said, ‘Ah, so that’s what can be done?’” The more she worked with older dancers, most of whom came from ballet or tap or folk roots, the more she discovered their potential as viable interpretive performers of much grace and nuance.

“I saw very touching, poignant, beautiful, exciting expression in people I never thought of as being expressive dancers,” she said. “I realized then I had to stop putting my biases and stereotypes of what people can and cannot do on others.”

 
 Josie Metal-Corbin, center, with tambourine, directing choreography

 

Josie demonstrating a move

 

For someone who became an activist railing against ageism and an advocate celebrating older adults’ gifts, Metal-Corbin was, strangely enough, afraid to work with seniors at the start. Why? “I never knew my grandparents, so I never really had much contact with elders,” she said. “When my husband David, whom I met at a dance workshop, first suggested I do dance with elders, I said, ‘Well, I could never do dance with THEM. I don’t know what THEY do.’ He encouraged me…but I wasn’t confident enough yet to do it alone, so I took my students along to the Paxton Manor. It became an intergenerational experience. And, I came to see this beautiful expression in their movement, on their faces and in the interaction that took place between the generations.” The benefits, she saw, were many.

“Beyond the physical benefits, there are the social benefits. The real magic is in the interaction. Being able to tell your story to another person. To move with another person. To express yourself in a non-verbal way. The psychological benefits include increasing your self-worth because you’re doing something meaningful. It becomes a real sharing,” she said.

As she saw the “wonderful movement” of older bodies unfurling in space before her, she began recruiting seniors and integrating them into her work. Along the way, she earned a graduate certificate in gerontology from UNO.

Typical of her high-energy crusading style, she made the medium a forum for overturning aging myths. She worked with videographers to create a series of dance videos demonstrating the capabilities of seniors. Excerpts were presented as evidence before a U.S. Senate Special Committee On Aging that opened up funding for elder dance programs. She co-authored with hubby David, a fellow UNO professor, a well-reviewed handbook, Reach for It (now in its 3rd edition) on exercise and dance activities for seniors. She presented tapes, papers and workshops on elder dancing at national and international conferences. She went into the schools as a Nebraska Arts Council Artist in Residence, bringing along older adults to dance with children. She made dozens of intergenerational dance works.

The more she has delved into dance and all its permutations, the more she has come to believe it is a deep, natural expression of life for any of us who can and do choose to heed its rhythmic call.

She said, “Dance is not this special subject in life. Dance is a part of life. It is what we are, and we are the instruments of our dance of life.”

The reticence the normally vivacious Metal-Corbin once felt about her own dance pedigree may have stemmed from the blue-collar work ethic instilled in her as a youth. Growing up in Pittsburgh she toed the line at home and school. Crazy about dance from age 3, her lower middle-class parents — her father was a watchmaker, her mother a homemaker — paid for ballet lessons she attended every weekend. She was serious about dance all right, even forming her own dance studio in the unfinished basement of her family’s home, but a life in the arts seemed unlikely given her background.

“I really didn’t know much about the art world because my family didn’t go to museums or concerts. My dad hunted and fished. We went camping together.”

Then, at about age 12, she was selected to participate in a free youth arts program at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh (now known as the Carnegie Museums), an experience she describes as “life-changing.”

“I got this fabulous opportunity there in the Tam O’Shanters (after the Robert Burns poem) program. I attended drawing classes every Saturday through my senior year in high school. This was part of a life I had never seen before. I had no other link to this world. It was wonderful,” she said. “I would walk through the Greek columns of the Institute’s architectural hall and go past the dinosaur hall and then into the auditorium where we had our art lesson. I remember seeing my first Henry Moore (sculpture). I was really enriched by the whole atmosphere. It’s what really linked me to art.”

Years later, she choreographed several dances based on Moore sculptures.

After graduating high school in 1963, she attended Slippery Rock, earning a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education in 1967. She was so immersed in her studies the decade’s counterculture movement largely passed her by. “

This is almost a joke in my family, but in the ‘60s, when all the disturbances were going on, I was oblivious to it,” she said. “I was in a small rural town getting my teaching degree and dancing. I was doing my thing and not caught up in the times. I am an obsessive-compulsive person and am extremely focused on whatever I am involved in. So, I was not politically active, I never smoked, I never drank, I was not a feminist. I did what I thought I was supposed to do. Besides, my parents would have killed me. I’ve changed since then.”

Her mind expanded in other ways. College was the first time she was exposed to dance “other than through studio dance teachers,” and it was while at Slippery Rock and later while pursuing her master’s degree in choreography at the University of Pittsburgh, that she first saw world-class dancers.

“Slippery Rock was only an hour-an-a-half away from downtown Pittsburgh and our whole modern dance club would drive down to concerts there,” she said. “We were exposed to artists like Merce Cunningham and Alvin Ailey. I saw Martha Graham at the Pitt studio. Alvin Ailey’s company was the most influential on me because I loved the kind of music he used. I loved the earthiness of the dance. That was such a profound experience that when I first started teaching dance his was the first company I took my classes to see.”

She attended evening master classes at Pitt after teaching P.E. and dance all day in the schools, studying with artists from New York and Wales, choreographing musical productions at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and learning modern, jazz, tap and theater dance. Summers found her serving as a dance counselor at a camp in the Blue Ridge Mountains. “I had a very eclectic background,” she said.

Of all the dance forms, modern most moved her. “When I found modern dance I knew this was really the idiom in which I would focus my choreography,” she said. “Why? I loved the expression of it. Barefooted and of the earth. There was something that just touched me deeply. It was a departure from the classical ballet I had had, which was a good foundation. But I loved that in modern dance you could move to poetry or move to people’s voices. You can do that in ballet now, but this was when the dance forms were somewhat isolated.”

After earning her master’s, she channeled her passion into education. Burned out after teaching three years in the public schools, she moved on to Robert Morris College in 1970, a small private business school, where she taught P.E., coached basketball and founded a dance company. “I really blossomed there and made dance more of a priority,” she said.

In 1980 she came to UNO, where modern dance had a rich history under the direction of Vera Lundahl. With UNO as her base the past 27 years, Metal-Corbin has reached out into the community to work with diverse groups, including Bosnian refugees and black gospel singers. She often works with the Omaha Modern Dance Collective and recently organized a collaborative of area dancers and choreographers to perform works by modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan.

“I love working with groups in the community that give me and the dancers in the Moving Company new knowledge and new experiences. I love the process. That’s why I enjoy teaching so much. It energizes me.”

Her multimedia works — often combining stills or video — accomodate a diversity of dancers, from kids to elders, in venues ranging from concert halls to such unconventional spaces as the zoo. “I try to make dances appropriate to the people and spaces I am working with. My joy is in seeing people discover dance.”

As ever, she is moving in “new directions” again by performing her own solo work and researching what she calls “vernacular dance.” Always pushing the envelope, she made her New York and international dance debuts — both after age 50 — just in the past decade. She finds choreographing for herself liberating. “I have found a new, natural movement vocabulary for myself. I don’t have to worry about framing the dance on other bodies. It’s been very freeing, because I’m making the dance just for me. When I’m dancing, I feed off the energy of the music and the movement. There’s no pain. It’s a definite natural high.” She said mature modern dancers like herself are finding more acceptance and opportunity as performers: “Those of us in our 50s and 60s still have something to say. We’re making a place for ourselves. We’re putting a different face on what it is to be older.”

One of her recent projects, Kitchen Dancing, is a video dance work capturing dance wherever it may be — in homes, in offices, in stores or on street corners. She views the project as the natural culmination of her efforts the past three decades and considers this “found” dance the new emphasis in her work.

“It is meant to capture the dance of life people do rhythmically, spontaneously in their every day living activities,” she said. “It’s in every dimension of life. Just look around, and you’ll see people dancing. It might just be someone swaying or just moving some body part. People want to move. It’s the joy of expression through dance.”

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