HEARTism students of all ability levels performed an arts and integrated dance program titled “Shapes in Motion” to a packed audience on Monday.

The project combines the media of sound and physical movement.

Jessica Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of HEARTism, said this creative project brought joy to participants, volunteers and the supporting audience.

“The children really enjoyed expressing themselves freely through dance and the medium of sound, while also learning skills tailored to their abilities,” she said. “This eight-part series was a smash hit.”

HEARTism is a community center that provides education and socialization for children with special needs through exploration of the arts while supporting and educating parents and families.

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Shapes in Motion instructors were Jennifer Ogden, a K-12 art specialist with a Masters in Integrated Arts and Education from Creative Pulse at the University of Montana, and Heather Adams, a professional dancer and executive director of ARTS Missoula.

Ogden was artist in residence at Corvallis Primary School and taught artists at SPARK Arts in Missoula. She has worked in public schools since 1995 and has taught workshops at the Missoula Art Museum. She is a working artist on sabbatical and said she is excited to be collaborating with HEARTism. She teaches clay sculpture and experiments with shapes and textures.

“It’s been really good working here with the kids,” said Ogden. “Before the kids leave today, they get their own little ‘clay soil’. They use sound therapy in other countries and I wish I knew more about it. It creates complacency.”

For most classes, Ogden brought a large tub of earthenware for the students to handle.

“[The clay] stays in the box where they form, make a den or tunnel,” she said. “You are in control of this fun little environment. Today they use edible clay because they are having a small Christmas party.”

For the first half of Monday’s presentation, the students gathered around a table and edited the audio with Ogden.

“[To integrate the clay and movement portions] We just found out where our language is the same,” she said. “When I worked with the kids, we rolled coils, made balls, and hammered balls. The children also twisted and woven something.”

Adams directed the movement portion. She is a longtime member of the Missoula dance community, from directing and choreographing musical theater at the local and regional levels, to producing and volunteering for charitable fundraisers, to teaching many dance styles in studios and workshops at the University of Montana. She founded and was the executive director of the Downtown Dance Collective for 13 years.

Adams was the lead artist for a 2020 National Education of Arts Award, where she developed and conducted workshops for educators and parents that became videos. She expands her curriculum and works directly with students on body awareness and self-expression through shapes.

“This class is called ‘Shapes in Motion,’ and we used Clay’s vocabulary to find ways to interpret these terms and incorporate them into our bodies,” Adams said. “The action words are verbs like pinch, roll, hammer, and the weaving became movements. We moved our bodies to pinch, roll, hammer and weave. Dance is an abstraction of our everyday moments, so anyone can be a dancer.”

Adams has been working with HEARTism students for three years and said this is the first time she has worked with them on abstract concepts.

“Doing physical actions with the clay and working with Jennifer, then two or three weeks later they remember that concept and translate it into the body,” Adams said. “So we’re saying that you’re manipulating an external object, the clay, and two or three weeks later we’re saying that you are the clay. Conceptually, it’s a really big leap and they did a wonderful job.”

Adams said she loves working with HEARTism students.

“If I could be here with them every week, I would,” she said. “They are amazing.”

For the dance portion of Monday’s presentation, Adams allowed the students to choose their own music and do their own moves. The showcase became a dance party, with spectators cheering the expressive effort.

The project was funded by an Artists in Schools and Community grant from the Montana Arts Council. After the presentation, Adams thanked Suzanne Shoppe for writing the Montana Arts Council grant.

“When HEARTism approached me to write and develop art programming through a Montana Arts Council grant, I immediately wanted to expand the dance and movement program with Heather and add 3D,” said Shoppe. “Jen is an expert teaching artists and lives in Bitterroot, so I saw an opportunity to bring the two together. It became Shapes in Motion… Working together stretched all of our imaginations.”

Adams also spoke to the audience to promote the HEARTism building and community center.

“This is an incredible space,” Adams said. “This space doesn’t exist in other places or in other communities. It is such a gem and if you have any way of supporting it now is the time.”

HEARTism participant Claire Carmody said she is grateful for the HEARTism room.

“It was the best place,” she said. “I’m disappointed that we don’t have much money.”

She said the center helps disabled children through the tough days of going to school, taking exams and going through tough times in life.

“This place means the world to me and my friends,” said Carmody. “I’m so proud that we have a place that people can come to without feeling sad. You can feel free and play games.”

HEARTism is a project of Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development, a local 501(c)(3). HEARTism is applying to become a 501(c)(3), after which it would launch a capital campaign to purchase its building. To learn more about the HEARTism Community Center, visit heartism406.com and consider making a donation to HEARTism on Giving Tuesday, November 29th. Donations can be sent by post to PO Box 14, Corvallis 59828.