Dawn Kramer has been a student in my dance fitness class for years. I first noticed her elegant moves with great arm extensions and lines (even in a crazy fast-paced class!). When I finally got to know Dawn better, I was shocked to learn that she was in her 70s but not so shocked that she was a professional dancer. She has had a fascinating career and evolution in the Boston dance world, co-creating the dance company Dance Collective that had a 30-year span. I’m so honored to be able to profile her! Check out her website here.
1. How and when did you first fall into the world of dance?
I started dancing in the basement, with my mother, to the radio when I was four or five, and I have not yet stopped! I was allowed to start after-school classes in kindergarten because I knew my right from my left. It was very lucky that my early modern dance teachers included improvisation as well as teaching technique. So I was choreographing dances and performing with and for neighbors by age six. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was taking the train into NYC to study on scholarship at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance.
2. Tell me your inspiration for founding the Dance Collective.
In 1970, I moved to Boston with a four-week-old son so that my then physician-spouse could do a psychiatric residency at Harvard. I taught and took dance classes, thus meeting several peers who wanted to choreograph and present work to the public. Tufts University invited several of us to do a teaching/performance residency there in 1973. We decided to form a collective in order to share the administrative, fund-raising and production aspects of presenting work in public venues. We also danced in each others’ choreography. There were four artistic co-directors for most of the 30 years that I was with Dance Collective. We performed in all kinds of venues, from storefront windows, streets and parks, to theaters in New England, NYC and Europe. Our school show, called “Falling for Dance” inspired thousands of youngsters to see that you can dance about anything, from telephone conversations to housework to pure, energetic movement like falling, shaking, brittle or liquid. Dance Collective also started a fabulous Summer Outreach Program and Intergenerational Company. We raised money to hire urban teens to dance and teach alongside the professionals, inspiring over 1,000 young children each summer, performing and teaching in summer camps. Dance Collective no longer exists, but this program has morphed into REACH! at Boston University.
3. How have you seen the dance world change in the Boston area?
In the past few decades, there has been a proliferation of young companies in the Boston area. Hip hop has been a major force in expanding the movement vocabulary of contemporary dance. Aerial dance has also become a popular new genre. The sad thing is that there are very few serious dance writers employed anymore as critics. Dance Collective used to be regularly covered in daily and weekly press, and journals like Dance Magazine. Recently there was only one full-time employed dance writer in the entire United States, who wrote for the New York Times. He has retired; now there are none.
4. Many people say they’d like to learn dance but are too old. What is your advice for older adults who wish to start dance? Or is it a practice that you can only start as a youth?
Nowadays, anyone who wants to can dance. There are classes specifically for seniors, people with physical or developmental disabilities, Parkinson’s disease, etc. If you want to be a professional ballet or modern dancer in a high profile company, of course you need to start at a younger age. Still, I know many professional dancers who didn’t begin classes until they were in college. Also, especially in the world of contemporary dance, possessing the classic “dancer’s body” is no longer a requirement for performing professionally. There are people of all shapes and sizes performing beautifully in many companies.
5. What is your opinion on dance fitness classes like Zumba and Body Jam that are so popular in health clubs now? (And please be honest even though you’re taking mine now!)
In the last few decades, the question I most often hear is, “Are you still dancing?” Well, it seems that I am, having done six performances at the Dance Complex last January. I retired from teaching at MassArt in 2014, and I no longer take ballet or modern classes. However, I have been going to gyms since 1979 and believe that cross-training is vital. Some of my friends are astonished that I take Zumba since the style is SO unlike my eccentric, often quirky choreography. However, it is great cardio exercise and fun! People who have never danced enjoy the Latin or pop (Remix) music and can usually pick up the sequences after awhile because there is so much repetition. Good teachers, like Nancy, always remind folks about modifying movement to suit their specific physical state, be it injury or fitness level. I also take Strong Women, Ignite, and Core, and do lots of yoga. Pilates mat exercises are often part of my personal warmup.
At 74, I live in gratitude that I still have all my original joints, have only had one arthroscopic knee surgery for loose cartilage and am incredibly lucky to be as healthy as I am. Each day is a gift!
Any questions for Dawn? Feel free to comment below!