10 People on 10 Years of Dance Generators in San Francisco

By Natalie Greene


Dance Generators was founded in Massachusetts in 1997 by Amie Dowling, a former member of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange. In 2006, Dowling relocated to San Francisco, and in 2007 she invited me on board to direct a new branch of the group through the University of San Francisco, featuring Bay Area community members, including older adults and USF students. We are now celebrating our tenth year in San Francisco. Looking back on the decade, I am grateful for each opportunity to be in community with this group, making countless dances and priceless memories along the way, and developing my understanding of a dancing body that travels through time with others. As a way of celebrating all things TEN, in our true collaborative spirit, I’ve invited ten Dance Generators to reflect on the experience themselves…

Natalie Greene, 35

Artistic Director, 2007-present

Dance Generators/photo by Natalie Greene

In a society obsessed with youth and perfection of the body, the Dance Generators (DGs) interrupt conventional views of beauty and aging. Expanding the idea of what constitutes a dancer, the work of the DGs offers an alternative to the model of technique that focuses on a prescribed physical virtuosity — encouraging instead an aesthetic that broadens the definition of technique to include individual virtuosity and a practice of embodying the meaning of the movement, not just completing the motions. Intergenerational dance challenges the dance community to see older bodies and older people as contributors, as active, as other than obsolete, as interesting, as not needing to be hidden… It shows older adults not just as tokens, but as real and vital producers of art.

Amie Dowling, 54

Founder and Artistic Director, 1997- 2008

I discovered Dance Generators shortly after moving to San Francisco. I couldn’t believe my luck—it represented the perfect mix of all those disparate interests had been rolled into one endeavor. Dance, check. Creative exploration, check. Intergenerational, check. Community involvement, check. For each of the 8 years I lived in San Francisco, DGs energized, challenged and informed my body—my life. Eight years of rehearsals, concerts at USF, programs at schools, museums, the California Academy of Sciences. How lucky I was to be part of these experiences that were shaped and loved into being by amazing, talented directors. I can still hear an echo of the beginning of each performance . . . We are the Dance Generators!

Sharon Cox, 77

Company Member 2008-2017

I’m somewhere in the middle of the arc from youth to old age. Although I truly feel that we each have many ages within us that surface or recede at various moments. Being in motion with people from their teens on up into their eighties week after week and year after year has deepened my view and feel of that arc. It has come to feel like the most natural thing, rather than something exceptional or curious. A leap or a balance or a slide into the floor is a movement ability, but so is a certain way of raising a hand or an eyebrow, or just standing still. We find these abilities in our group across various ages. Families have multiple generations. Gardens have many layers of growth in various stages from germination to death and regeneration. This kind of thing is actually very natural. Sometimes, given the opportunity, an audience member will discover they have something to add to the mix, through word or song or movement. They often seem as surprised as we are by their own offering. A very old man stood up once and started singing an opera aria he’d learned in his youth. We welcomed him into the performance space, where he joined us as featured performer for a few rich moments. I think this is the way in which many people find our work accessible, by the opportunity to connect with personal memories and experiences in unexpected ways, inspired by our performance.

Erik Rotman, 52

Company Member, 2011-present

There are so few spaces that truly encourage and cultivate intergenerational exchange. And in dance/theater, when you open yourself to embark on creative processes with people who have different lived experiences, skill sets, training and understanding of performance by virtue of their age, you’re allowing for boundless depth within your work and in the relationships that will be formed between artists. Bringing performance to spaces like schools and assisted living facilities and sidewalks and parks and science museums (and countless others) means that audiences that would not necessarily be able to take part in contemporary performance can and do. When our shows can be shared with an audience that reflects the makeup of our company, that only strengthens the resolve to continue to dismantle the structures of elitism that all too often loom over art making and viewing. Accessible performances and performance venues mean participants experience empowerment from representation in live theater/dance.

Sienna Williams, 24

Company Member 2011-2014

Guest Choreographer, Assistant Director, Company Manager, 2014-2016

As I was turning 80, I did not look forward to a sedentary life associating only with my own age group. When I saw a film about Dance Generators, it immediately attracted me; improvisational movement with a varied age group. Now in my sixth year, I continue to appreciate the benefits it has given me. I realize I particularly enjoy observing the evolution from various individual improvisations to a cohesive work; the creation of a work of art. There are some memories that stand out, like performing at Commodore Sloat Elementary School for classes of enthusiastic students, and at Eden Villa and Rhoda Goldman Assisted Living Centers, where you experience the positive impact on residents’ well-being.

Yope Posthumus, 85

Company Member, 2012-present

As an independent artist, working outside of an organization, it is very important for me to have a community I can create with and who share my absolute joy in movement. Dance Generators is a loving and challenging container for exploring movement with people very different from me. Yet as creative beings we actually find more in common than our differences. I treasure working with multiple generations because our relationships in the group are models for how to be in the world. I listen and learn from the younger members with fascination, particularly since I am not a parent. It’s often assumed that the pathway of wisdom flows from the older to the younger generation, but it always goes both ways. Dance is the language that unites us, and our creativity comes from a place of no limit or time frame—it is the essence of life and it accompanies life to the end. Even though we talk a lot about being an intergenerational group, in fact, when I am dancing with DGs, I don’t feel any particular age at all. I feel myself. I feel freed to be the dancer I am right now. I feel timeless.

Greacian Goeke, 64

Company Member, Guest Choreographer, 2012 to present

Dance Generators/photo by Tony Nguyen

Leaving an elite gymnastics career behind, I moved to San Francisco to attend college. Dance Generators helped replace my competitive mindset with a healthy, collaborative and creative one. DG also guided me through my first semester of college. With caring leaders, humble members and a space to release and explore, I felt like I had landed in the right place. As a certified nursing assistant, I have worked in memory care units. Towards the end of life, many caregivers focus on the basic needs of the patient. In fact, often times that is all that is encouraged by the institutions. The tools I have learned through DGs have helped me become a better healthcare provider. Connecting with patients through dance and music during the most mundane daily activities helps establish trust and build deep relationships that are often lost in a strictly medical environment. Because of these experiences, I believe in the work DGs does. It’s revolutionary. An hour of dance and creativity has a lasting impact all kinds of people. Movement is for everyone. Regardless of occupation, age or ability, we have an innate instinct to dance. That’s why performing in community settings is so impactful. People look up to the spectacle of the stage and often develop a relationship of a passive observer. DGs actively debunks that. As a Generator, I seek to perform with the audience and to instill in them that their participation, no matter the level, is valid and essential.

Elizabeth Bobrovnikov, 19

Company Member, 2016-present

The first time I experienced DGs, I attended a workshop held in the community room of a senior housing building in the Mission. I heard Natalie say, “It’s not about range of motion, but range of pleasure” [a tidbit of wisdom she credits to legendary teacher Augusta Moore]. I watched older and younger dancers move, play, and invite everyone to improvise with them; I knew then that I wanted to join this group. DGs offers a different way of building community. More than with words, we get to know each other and grow to appreciate each other through movement, gestures, playfulness and curiosity. My spirit is lifted every time we gather. I find it rare to gather intentionally in a non-hierarchical group with members ranging in age from teens to 80s. No age segregation, no age value or judgment. Differences have to do with each person’s life experience and styles of expression. And I’ve been challenged beyond my wildest imaginings: how can I still move and stretch this body with arthritis in most joints? How rich in expression might stillness be? What do I need to do in order to memorize a multitude of phrases for a performance? Over and over again, the answer is: turn to my company members! Speak a supportive word, shoot a smile, receive a gentle and good-humored redirection (Beth, you’re in this line!), and thrill over and over again to the bodies that can leap and fall and run in ways I have not physically done in years. Be patient and reach for my most available energy, my greatest range of ease and flexibility, my most clear intention. That’s the invitation that rules at DGs.

Beth MacLeod, 67

Company Member, 2013-present

I came to DG through a network of Dance Exchange alum that I was connected to via my work as an Artist Educator with Jacob’s Pillow! I will be creating with the company for the first time as Co-Director in Spring of 2018, and am thrilled to be included in the family. Our creative time together will bridge a personal project of mine addressing death and dying to the Dance Generators’ intergenerational cast, with hopes of creating something that softens our cultural taboo around death while inviting audience and artist to embrace the temporary.

Liv Schaffer, 27

Co-Director, 2018-present

As a choreographer I find working with an intergenerational cast to be rich and compelling. Our ancestral stories and memories are the most primal and visceral aspects of being human. Our family lives create the initial imprints on who we are. When working with an intergenerational cast the fabric of life- of our humanity- our relationships with our ancestors through time- this all becomes visible, visceral, palpable. The stories begin to write themselves as we can somehow sense the presence of both past and future revealed by the present moment as the dances unfold. One dancer made a piece about his coming out story. In the piece he shares about having visited his father in the graveyard. As he danced this piece I felt it was a reorganizing of history, a place of finding new connections within a personal past. A sense making, a remaking. A forming of new relationship with what has been. And a connecting others, intimately, with what his experience is. Deconstructing otherness by sharing through the felt sense of our humanity.

We begin to feel a sense of possibility. That we are not only artists but creators and from here we can design, envision, and transform the social fabric of our culture.

Kristen Greco, 41

Co-Director, 2010-2016

This article appeared in the March 2018 edition of In Dance.

Natalie Greene loves working at USF. In addition to teaching, she is a singer, dancer and actress who enjoys creating and collaborating on performances of all sorts. Natalie has been honored to work with many different companies, mentors and friends in the Bay Area and beyond. You can reach her at njgreene@usfca.edu.