A Day in the Life: Karen Peterson and “Body without Text”

by Karen Peterson

Katrina Weaver, a dancer in Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers company, and I participated in a five-day dance workshop for individuals with and without disabilities in Belgrade, Serbia. I was the instructor of the inclusive movement classes and director of the final performance along with my Serbian colleagues, Boris Caksiran, the artistic director and Marko Pejovic, the managing director of Grupa “Hajde de” (group Let’s). This organization has a solid twelve-year history of inclusive arts and community social programs and serves a wide range of marginalized groups in the Balkans through hands on workshops and performance. They first brought inclusive dance to Belgrade in 2008 when London’s Canduco Company introduced equal rights in the dance studio.

Twenty six individuals, eight with documented disabilities, came from Slovenia, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia came to participate in the workshop. Therapists, teachers, disability activists, students and dancers were among the participants. Many travelled six to seven hours by train or van to learn about mixed-ability dance in order to take information back to their home countries to start new groups or develop existing programs. Despite the past histories of these countries, the dance group moved seamlessly with cooperation and collaboration.

Many participants had years of dance education; others had little. However, everyone came with the curiosity of movement and the need to share and process. Self discovery was on everyone’s mind and all were encouraged to do their best and be engaged and committed to the creative process. We worked 10am – 5pm every day and dealt with movement improvisation tasks that were solved in solo, in duet or group form. Trust, honesty, challenge, understanding, patience, courage and dialogue were a few of the words that came up for discussion.  We created a safe space for communication and overcame barriers by showing what we could do by working intimately with each other.

A final structure was developed for the end performance by Boris, Marko and I. “Body without Text” looks at the labels, definitions and prejudices one places on a person before knowing the individual.  The final 35 minute performance with projections, new music and dance dealt with those many ideas.

There were eight participants with documented disabilities in the workshop (two blind, two deaf, two wheelchair users, two developmental disabilities). We were able to make a final structure for the performance where everyone participated equally. One hundred and twenty-five audience members came out to watch the performance at the Cultural Institution “Vuk Karadzic” theatre and audience members eagerly directed questions to the dancers after the showing.  New audiences experienced the joy of a diverse group moving harmoniously on stage while others cheered their favorite dance artist with audible applauds or the signing for clapping hands.

I would like to thank the sign language interpreters and the English to Serbian translators who were present for every class and rehearsal.

I would like to thank Miami Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs and the Cultural Exchange Grant from APAP for their support in making Miami / Belgrade Dance Exchange possible. In many ways, lives were changed and new possibilities discovered.


Karen Peterson is the Artistic Director of Miami’s Karen Peterson and Dancers, which was established in 1990. The group presents choreography created by dance artists with and without disabilities. The dancers collaborate, research, and integrate their personal movement styles and through improvisation discover an innovative dance language. The troupe acts as a positive role model for the disability community, offers new visual inspiration for traditional dance audiences, and provides the benefits of movement to children with disabilities. Learn more at karenpetersondancers.org.

Spotlight On: Poetry for All at the O Miami Poetry Festival

by Tim Storhoff

The goal of the O, Miami Poetry Festival is for every single person in Miami-Dade County to encounter a poem. This event returns in 2013 to once again attempt to deliver poetry to all 2.6 million+ residents of Miami-Dade County during the month of April, which is National Poetry Month. Created by University of Wynwood with founding sponsor the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, O, Miami is both a celebration of contemporary poetry and an experimental project to turn a metropolitan area into a canvas for the literary arts.

In 2011, poems were flown behind airplanes, dropped out of helicopters, sewn into clothing, and attached to every single bus in Miami-Dade County. Events featured actors (James Franco); choreographers (Jonah Bokaer, Rashaun Mitchell); artists (Anne Carson, Sam Winston); and, yes, poets (W.S. Merwin, Tracy K. Smith, Raúl Zurita). The festival was covered nationally and internationally by The New Yorker, NPR’s Morning Edition, Dwell magazine, Best American Poetry, and the Associated Press, and chronicled in a new Knight Foundation report.

To continue trying to reach every person in Miami-Dade County this month, the festival organizers are undertaking a new series of projects and events to re-imagine what’s possible in the presentation of contemporary poetry, including:

  • A special celebration with Thurston Moore, lead singer of Sonic Youth; Richard Blanco, the Miami-raised poet who read at the 2013 Presidential Inauguration; and Megan Amram, a poet, comedian, and writer for the NBC show Parks & Recreation
  • A final weekend on South Beach that will feature readings and performances from the most diverse group of poets we’ve ever assembled, including Kevin Young, Chase Twitchell, Jean Portante, Jose Angel Leyva, Eduardo C. Corral, and Frank Báez
  • A book called “That’s So Miami!” published by the people of South Florida. Send us your poems that begin or end with the phrase #ThatsSoMiami and we’ll play them on WLRN 91.3 FM, post them online and select the best ones to go into the book.
  • “Poetry is Dead”: the first-ever poetry parade on South Beach featuring performances by well-known dead poets
  • A special “local poem” displayed pasted on 100 lampposts banners Will we ever see another month so full of poetry?”
  • Poems written by South Floridians flown behind airplanes
  • Brand-new “poetry films” commissioned from and created by those behind the Borscht Film Festival
  • A Tatoo + Poetry Night featuring legendary tattoo artist Duke Riley
  • A new dance + poetry piece by Merce Cunningham alumni Rashuan Mitchell and Silas Reiner commissioned and created for O, Miami
  • An opening ceremony with Miami legend Trick Daddy
  • The first-ever Miami Literary Trivia Night
  • An open mic reading series for locals
  • A “poetry soapbox”: everyday at 5 p.m., a poet will read on the front steps of The Betsy Hotel
  • A poetry-themed flash mob

“Today’s audiences demand to be engaged, and often that means taking art out of the symphony halls and into people’s everyday lives,” said Dennis Scholl, vice president/arts at Knight Foundation, whose art program inspired and funded the festival. “Whether you’re a poetry enthusiast or organizing a small music festival, the lessons from O, Miami will resonate.”

A new report commissioned by the Knight Foundation chronicles the rise of Miami’s art scene and the unorthodox, inaugural O, Miami festival. It also offers insights for any cultural organization trying to engage new audiences and reframe art for their communities. For some additional tips, check out O, Miami co-founder Scott Cunningham’s tips in Bringing Art to People: 8 Ways a Cultural Event can Transcend Genre, Geography and Demographics.

The O, Miami Poetry Festival will be taking place all throughout April, and you can visit their calendar for a list of scheduled events. If you’re a part of a cultural organization, we also encourage you to read the above reports and articles for useful information that can help us all in our goals to more successfully bring the arts and culture to all Floridians.