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May 27, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 27, 2005

Dancing queen Dancing queen (May 27, 2005)

At 80, dancer Chloe Scott is still on her toes

by Robyn Israel

In a youth-obsessed culture that prizes firm bodies and wrinkle-free faces, it bears reminding that 60 can still be sexy.

Make that 80, too.

Of course it helps if you've been a dancer all your life, and that your limber body can still move as gracefully as ever.

Though dancer Chloe Scott is now an octogenarian, her spirit knows no age. She still loves to move -- can even do the splits -- and delights in sharing her passion with her dance group, Dymaxion, a 13-member all-female ensemble.

"Chloe is our mentor. She's an inspiration to all of us," said Janet Loops, a group member for the last 30 years.

The group recently held a party at the University Club in Palo Alto to celebrate Scott's 80th birthday. They danced, of course, and led off their event with a processional that featured former and current members.

"Once you've been a member of Dymaxion, you're a member. You just come back," said Kay Ellyard, who has cycled in and out of the group since 1973.

Founded in 1962, Dymaxion evolved from Scott's philosophy that dance and dancing belong to everybody -- not just to a special group. The name is derived from a Buckminster Fuller term that means "more from less."

Its members range in age from 42-year-old Jennie Cosgrove to 80-year-old Scott, with the majority of women in their 60s and 70s.

"As we get older, the group becomes even more important to ourselves and each other," founding member Florrie Forrest said. "There's a certain intimacy that comes from dancing, from using our bodies in a creative way."

According to Scott, Dymaxion is the oldest dance group on the West Coast.

"Chloe has held it together all these years. I don't think anyone can imagine it without her," Forrest said. "We respect her so highly, because of what she stands for in the dance world -- in the world -- as a human being."

The 12 women meet twice a week in Scott's Menlo Park studio, where they exercise, play, chant, breathe and above all, dance.

"She understands movement really well," Ellyard said. "Her background is in ballet, modern dance, yoga, tai chi, Feldenkrais (a method of rewiring the central nervous system). She studied each of these seriously.

"And she elicits our own expression in movement and dance. There's a freedom and a safety to express our own creativity. It comes from deep inside."

After an hour-long warm-up, Scott will lead her class in a series of improvisational dances, encouraging them to express their own natural movements. Often they will follow different themes, such as underwater, or spatial awareness.

"My favorite is what I call the arena," said Jean Hamilton, a Dymaxion member since 1984. "We mark off a space and someone will start dancing. Then someone else might join that movement. Another will leave. It's always free. No one tells you how to move. We pick up on each other's movements and then we expand them."

Such free-form, modern dance is very different from Scott's classical roots. She began dancing in her native England at the age of 2, continuing throughout her girlhood with formal ballet training.

During World War II she moved from London to New York, where she studied modern dance with "all the greats," including Martha Graham, Hanya Holm and Alwyn Nikolais. But the glamorous New York dance scene had a darker side.

"There were elements of jealousy, ambition and backstabbing. I couldn't stand it," Scott recalled. "It went against what I consider dance to be. I thought if I ever formed a dance company it would have a different emphasis. I wanted it to be more democratic, more egalitarian. This is a true amateur group; we do it all for love."

After moving to California, Scott danced with Anna Halprin and Jenny Hunter, whose company she joined. Thanks to these two innovative dancers, Scott learned to teach creative dance to both children and adults. Her classes quickly became popular and she taught all over the Bay Area -- as well as in her own studio in Menlo Park -- up until the 1990s.

"My three kids took lessons with her in College Terrace," Forrest recalled. "Then I went to a class of hers. I liked it very much and I kept going. That was 42 years ago. I loved her person. I loved the way she spoke. I loved what she stood for. The way she taught was so musical, so creative. Her accompanist was Lou Harrison, who'd bring all his percussion instruments. What could be better? Except in those days he wasn't as famous."

By the mid-'70s, Scott would discover the Feldenkrais method, which encouraged awareness through movement. On a more technical level, it involves rewiring the central nervous system through movement, so that habitual patterns are broken and new possibilities are allowed to take root.

"When I first encountered it, I realized there was a message in it. It wasn't about the obvious, but I couldn't figure it out," Scott recalled. "Awareness through movement seemed simple, nonsensical, sort of odd, but there was much more. People use themselves poorly in the world. They don't utilize themselves to the utmost. Feldenkrais makes you more you, in a better, more efficient way."

In 1976, Scott choreographed a dance that incorporated those Feldenkrais movements. Entitled "Movement for Moshe," (a tribute to innovator Moshe Feldenkrais), the piece was one of several showcased at Scott's May 21 party.

To watch the group in action is to behold a sorority of sisters who support one another, share stories and have fun dancing together.

"It's a sea of love. We've been through marriages, divorces, babies, babies growing up and getting married," Ellyard said.

And the women, Loops said, have a lot in common -- besides dance -- that keeps them together.

"We all have the same philosophy," Loops said. "We're all very ecologically minded, we all try to save the earth and politically we're the same. We're all pacificists."

"We should be on 'Oprah!'" said Clair Jernick, a 20-year member who loves the group's spirituality.

With little turn-over, Dymaxion is a closed group in which newcomers are few and far between. Additions are random and roundabout, Scott said, with Cosgrove the latest member.

"It's hard for people to come in. I feel for them, given the history of the group and how well we know each other," Scott said. "But Jennie has fit in beautifully."

One of the reasons for Cosgrove's compatibility lies in her skill as a Feldenkrais practitioner -- a background shared by Scott, Ellyard and Loops.

"Since the very start I was always on a quest, to find movement that was not stylized, not traditional, but more universal, more human," Scott said. "I'm not sure it's possible but it's a journey and I'm still on it.

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