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Older Adults Find Creative Expression through Movement and Dance at the Anchorage Museum

Category: Museums and Aging

In 2018, twenty organizations enrolled in a special museum cohort of Aroha Philanthropies’ Seeding Vitality Arts program. With funding from Aroha, and training provided by Lifetime Arts, these museums are developing high-quality, intensive arts learning opportunities for older adults. Many of these museums are contributing guest posts to this blog sharing what they’ve learned. Today’s post is from Molissa Udevitz, Educator at the Anchorage Museum.


The Anchorage Museum’s Expressive Movement Series is the second of three eight-week Vital & Creative workshops providing opportunities for adults age fifty-five and older to create art and interact with their peers through activities infused with Northern traditional knowledge and lifeways. For this series, we invited a variety of guest artists and speakers to share their knowledge of different aspects of dance.

In recent classes, participants aged fifty-five to ninety examined a traditional Tlingit tunic from the museum’s collection and watched and discussed videos of dancers. They also engaged in warm-up movements and walked in circular formations to live musical accompaniment.

Inspiration from the museum collection

The museum’s collection helps expand understanding of movement, and collections staff carefully select and share with the group objects and archival materials related to dance. The class has examined artwork including a video created by contemporary Alaska Native artist Nicolas Galanin, original sketches of the Iñupiaq Wolf Dance circa 1900, and archival materials of Anchorage arts performances presented in scrapbooks.

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Other guests have included University of Alaska Anchorage professor Maria Williams, who spoke about the Iñupiaq Wolf Dance and the use of regalia that makes sounds as dancers move. Anchorage ballet instructor Alice Sullivan taught participants ballet body postures, and Yup’ik artist Michelle Snyder shared her knowledge of Yup’ik dance. Percussionist Corliss Kimmel and pianist Margarita Merkusheva have provided musical accompaniment for several classes, inspiring participants and their movements.

Movement and memories

Participants explore a variety of body movements along with balance and stretching exercises during the movement portion of classes. They also learn dance composition skills to create simple “movement phrases” and explore movement improvisation within a provided structure. The class culminates with participants experimenting with ways they can move in relation to each other in the museum’s Art of the North gallery. These group compositions will be videoed so that each participant can keep a record of their work.

We are able to deliver these Vital & Creative series with generous support from a $25,000 Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums grant from Aroha Philanthropies. Aroha Philanthropies Seeding Vitality Arts in Museums initiative addresses the urgent need to change the narrative about what it means to grow old in America, combat ageism, and promote a healthy change in attitudes toward aging as senior populations grow. The Anchorage Museum was one of twenty museums across the country to receive the grant.

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