Archive for Thursday, June 30, 2005

Concert features unique performers

June 30, 2005

About 50 people were treated to a unique dance and music program Sunday evening at Lansing Community Center.

Ryanstrati & Company, an ensemble consisting of dancers in and out of wheelchairs, rolled, pirouetted and spun to several songs for the audience. Musicians with Age & Play, an organization dedicated to teaching physically challenged and senior citizens to play the piano, provided accompaniment.

The "Music into Summer Concert" featured four women - two in wheelchairs, two on foot - dancing with measured grace to contemporary gospel music played on the piano by Bonnie Tennant. Bethel AME church soloist Lindsay Beamon also played.

Suzanne Ryan, founder and choreographer of Ryanstrati, said she started the troupe because "having people in chairs allows me to do things choreographically that I can't do with people who just use their legs."

Ryan said this was because wheelchair dancers "move very smoothly in the chair," and when regular dancers move, "we have to shift our weight, and it's more clumsy. We can do all these things like have dancers climb on the back of the chairs."

Terri Rathbun, a dancer and a survivor of polio, said, "I love to dance. It frees my spirit and weaves together the beauty of diversity which opens the mind to possibilities."

John Hopkins Jr., a jazz pianist who founded Age & Play, said he got the idea for his Leavenworth-based organization from above.

"I asked God what he wanted me to do, and he gave me the idea that I should maybe start teaching. So I started teaching, and over time I put this organization together."

Hopkins' organization teaches piano to about 15 students, including children, persons with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke survivors, physically challenged individuals and senior citizens.

Hopkins suffered a stroke several years ago, which cost him use of his right hand. Before that, he had spent 17 years in U. S. Army bands.

Hopkins gives music lessons in nursing homes and at the Leavenworth Council on Aging. He said each student's first lessons focus on simple terminology, counting and, when possible, to use both hands.

The lessons seem to help his students, Hopkins said.

"We have one lady with second-stage Alzheimer's, and it helps her," Hopkins said. "She is remembering a lot better. It's been no breakthrough or anything, but to remember anything for her is a blessing."

Hopkins' organization is nonprofit and relies on events like the one Sunday evening to attract donations. Age & Play's executive secretary, Theodore Lee Sr., can be reached at (913) 651-5360 to find out about future shows, donations and lessons.

Ryan's email address is


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