Marylee Hardenbergh: 2014 AHN Awardee

“Dance connects me to something larger than myself, such as certain rhythms connect me to the Earth in different ways…. In addition to the power of dance to connect and communicate, dance is such a powerful art because we’re using our bodies as the medium or the vehicle; it is truly our selves that are being used to communicate.” –Marylee Hardenbergh

Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2014 AHN Awards to Marylee Hardenbergh, choreographer, dance therapist and co-founder and artistic director of Global Water Dances. For over 25 years, Marylee has created site-specific dance performances at places such as

a wastewater treatment plant in Minnesota and the bombed-out Parliament Building in Sarajevo, Bosnia and the Volga River in Russia. She also created "One River Mississippi," a dance performance simultaneously occurring at seven sites along the Mississippi River from the headwaters through St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans. In 2011, she co-founded Global Water Dances, whose aim is to  raise awareness about water issues and unite people around water preservation and appreciation by coordinating dances happening on the  same day around the globe.


To learn more about Marylee Hardenbergh, please visit her Global Site Performance  web site and the Global Water Dances web site. We also recommend this video about Global Water Dances.



Below is an interview with Marylee Hardenbergh by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson from June 2014:

Mary Daniel Hobson: Tell me a little about your background. How did you first get started in using dance as a tool for connecting people more fully to their environment?


Marylee Hardenbergh: After my very first performance on a river, the Mississippi River in 1985, a stranger telephoned me the next day and said, “I’m sorry if I’m disturbing you. I found your number in the telephone directory. I just wanted to say thank you for giving the river back to the people.” In all honesty, I was not sure what he meant. In my mind, I had simply been creating beauty to be witnessed by an audience standing on the bridge over the river with the dancers below on large concrete drums in the river, which are part of the lock and dam. I slowly began to realize that using dance as a lens by which to focus the attention of the audience had a great power. If you wanted people to look at a rooftop overlooking the river, just put some dancers there with colorful fabrics and rhythm, and the dancers draw the eye.


Mary Daniel: I love how the word "connect" is such a part of your vision and mission. Can you speak about what this word means to you and how dance creates this spirit of connectedness.


Marylee: I guess I do have a deep desire to connect, especially over large distances. When I was a young girl and visited my grandparents in the mountains in New Hampshire, my cousins and I would climb to the top of a mountain and my grandmother far in the valley below would use a mirror to signal to us and we back to her. Somehow that really resonated with me.


On the other hand, we have the art of dance. For me, the main point of dance is communication. I love how our nonverbal communication can pass all language barriers.


Mary Daniel: Why do you feel that dance can be such a powerful tool for transformation and healing?


Marylee: In addition to the power of dance to connect and communicate, dance is such a powerful art because we’re using our bodies as the medium or the vehicle; it is truly our selves that are being used to communicate. We have neurons in our brains, about which we are finding more each year, and there is a kinesthetic identity when we witness someone else moving. You can have dancers far away from each other, but they are connected through synchronicity and can make the space coherent to the audience.


Mary Daniel: Has dancing been healing for you personally?


Marylee: Dance connects me to something larger than myself, such as certain rhythms connect me to the Earth in different ways. On the expressive level, I have found that dance helps me learn what I am actually feeling if I allow my body to move me as opposed to me moving my body.


Mary Daniel: Can you share the story of one of your performances and the impact it had on the participants and audience?


Marylee: What springs to mind is a survey we had done in 2006. We asked the audience members to fill out a survey, and then after six months, we contacted them. Over 60% of the respondents stated they had become better stewards of the river and had changed their actions to help create better water quality.


One of my favorite stories involved a dance with eight bobcat machines and eight women in long white skirts. After the rehearsals, one of the women told me she felt a new trust for men because she could see how her partner in his heavy machine, was very considerate of her and her safety and would not move until he was certain she was out of the way.


Even 20 years later, I still hear people say, “You know, every time I pass by that lake, I remember your dancers bringing that site to life, and I feel very connected to that place on Earth.”


Mary Daniel: What inspired the creation of Global Water Dances? Please tell me more about this terrific event.


Marylee: The history of Global Water Dances really began when I created "One River Mississippi" in 2006, and I had a brainstorm of connecting the whole length of the Mississippi by having simultaneous performances where everyone did the same movements, to the same music at the same time. Originally, my vision was having audience members standing on forty bridges, but reality set in and we ended up having seven cities participate from the source in northern Minnesota down through St Louis, Memphis, New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. The intention was to give the audience the experience that the river is not just the section they can see, but over 2,000 miles long. In 2008, a group of choreographers and I met at a conference in England about connecting dance and the environment. One of the members had brought the DVD of my “One River Mississippi” performance and showed it to the participants. After watching the DVD, all of the people became very excited and said let’s do something like that. The group decided they wanted to focus on water as an issue, and so Global Water Dance was begun in 2011 to raise awareness about water issues. It features place-based environmental education performances happening across the globe on a single day, uniting communities on six continents and inspiring their communities to take action for safe, clean water. The next one is schedule for June 20, 2015.


Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for someone else who would like to use creativity to help make the world a better place?


Marylee: Trust your instincts and be grateful for the ideas that emerge. Have the courage to follow through on one idea.



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