First published in the Berkeley Times on Aug. 29, 2013
c. Arden Kamille Varnel
For the past year, Luna Dance Institute has occupied a new space that faces the northern end of Aquatic Park in Berkeley, CA. On a recent visit, Cherie Hill, one of the eight women in the dance collective, greeted me at the western entrance. As we toured the dance space, she explained dance education at Luna by first describing Teen Choreography, a one-year program for which teens must audition.
“When we teach teens choreography, they learn skills they can apply to all areas of their lives now and into the future,” Hill said. Then she elaborated how the teens learn to focus, think about their projects for performances, collaborate, and advance their dance technique. They create their pieces and perform them in the spring show. It is a challenge and requires them to develop personal values, self-discipline, to be on time, and fulfill their commitments.
I told her that I had studied professional choreography, had made my own dances and performed them. I know how hard it is to count and memorize bars of music, discipline yourself to practice until you get it nailed down, and then perform in front of an audience.
She told me about MPACT, a program to help heal women and children traumatized by domestic violence, families relocated from their homes into hidden shelters for their own protection, with the support of social services, food and clothing donations, and the care from strangers. The pain these survivors experience struck a nerve in me.
Luna goes to shelters and sometimes brings the families to the studio for dance and movement. I could see them dancing in the studio, a spacious, clean and well-lit space. I imagined ribbons of light between the women, their children, and the teacher guides.
“Oh, the blessings of dance! Your program allows them to feel their own truth and beauty through their bodies in safety,” I said to her and sharing even more.
I confided I had been married once, many years ago but not for very long, and that my husband had hit me. Suddenly, domestic violence entered my life and I was shattered. Though I was well- educated and a college psychology teacher, I left my home, friends, colleagues, town, teaching and psychotherapy careers.
I described how after the divorce I gravitated to dance: ten years of professional classes, choreography, performances, and workshops. My experience in various studio spaces helped me to stabilize and heal a private pain.
“Dance brought dignity back to me,” I recalled with gratitude.
As Hill and I sat side-by-side on a well-worn, wooden bench in the late afternoon light, I felt her sensitivity and intelligence. I had not expected to reveal such intimate details about my past. Yet, I felt safe there in the dance space at Luna.
With a calming demeanor, steady gaze, and the composure of a dancer who knows her unique power and beauty, Hill evoked in me a sense of my own inner strength.
As she escorted me outside, I told her it would be good for the entry to have a big rainbow painted on it, to indicate to those entering what a beautiful, healing energy is inside. She smiled and responded,
“That is what Luna represents to me: all the colors of the rainbow, a place to be safe, creative, and to dance.”
Luna is located at 605 Addison St., a few paces away from Aquatic Park. For more info, contact (510) 883-1118, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach Cherie Hill at
c. Arden Kamille Varnel, MA
c. all photos by Arden Kamille Varnel