Jutta Distler and Terran Doehrer teach dance to residents of Asociatia Prietenia in Bucharest.                                 Photo from Modal Music, Inc.

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Measured in miles, Jutta Distler and Terran Doehrer’s journey from a community center in Romania to the fourth floor of the Morton Civic Center is in the thousands. Metaphorically, the two places are only steps apart.

“Social dancing” to Ms. Distler and Mr. Doehrer is more than marking a beat. It uses rhythm and movement to connect people with special needs to the joy of dancing.

The two coach teachers at the Waldorf School in Chicago, and they say they continually learn about dance. “One of the things we have discovered in our work at the Waldorf School is that some speak of movement with the 12 senses,” Mr. Doehrer said. In addition to the five senses, there are up/down, front/back, and right/left. Speech and movement are interrelated, as are balance and hearing, he said.

Last year Ms. Distler and Mr. Doehrer were invited by the Asociatia Prietenia of Bucharest, Romania, to present their program of traditional ethnic dances at the 2016 annual conference of organizations for people with special needs there. For a week they lived and taught dance in a community of people with special needs. The invitation was a result of the two musicians’ 22 years of presenting dance programs to the special needs communities in Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States, Mr. Doehrer said.

“Living with the Asociatia Prietenia residents, getting to know them, gave us insights into the world as they experience it. This new awareness was the spark of inspiration that led us to create this new social dance program,” Ms. Distler said.

Mr. Doehrer added, “Seeing how much joy as well as how many benefits circle and line dancing generated had an epiphanic effect on us. It dawned on us that our dance program could cause the same effects at home.”

“We thought, ‘Why not do something good for this community?’” Ms. Distler said.

Ms. Distler and Mr. Doehrer met with Jennifer Lasik, the Evanston’s Cultural Arts Coordinator. She encouraged them to apply for a grant from the Evanston Arts Council to bring their program of social dance to Evanston.

The grant they received enabled them to make the social dance program affordable for people with even modest means – $5 per session, with aides admitted free. Ms. Lasik also reserved the Parasol Room on the fourth floor of the Civic Center to hold their weekly dance sessions which will take place from 11 a.m. till noon on Saturdays, from Sept. 9 through Oct. 28.

Ms. Distler will play the mandolin, and Mr. Doehrer, the drum, as participants learn Israeli, French-Canadian, Serbian, and Russian folk dances. “There are so many dances, it makes dancing more fun,” said Ms. Distler.

Because the two make the music and teach the dances, they can choose the music and adjust the tempo to the learning-pace of the participants, Ms. Distler said.

Ms. Distler and Mr. Doehrer’s music may be familiar to Evanstonians; they are the core of the Evanston-based world music band, Jutta & the Hi-Dukes, which, Mr. Doehrer said, “brings worlds of music to its audiences via interactive programs of traditional music and dance.”

More information about the program is available at hidukes.com/specialneeds.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...