National Water Dance

Good morning, people of the internet! I have something special for you today.

Everyone knows about Earth Day, but have you heard of the National Water Day–more specifically, the National Water Dance?

The National Water Dance is a site-specific collaborative art project, with dancers, choreographers, educators, and advocates working together to create a ‘movement choir.’

The project, which began in Florida in 2011, has spawned a country-wide celebration of our most precious resource. Dancers locate sites in their community that have some connection to water–a lake, a river, a fountain, a bridge, a place where water used to flow but does so no longer. Groups choreograph pieces to be performed at the sites, including movement phrases chosen by the National Water Dance governing body with which to begin and end their dance, hereby providing a sense of continuity across the nation. The whole event is simultaneous across the US and is live-streamed online.

And we, here in Syracuse, are lucky enough to have our own site-specific performance, thanks to dancer and teacher Ruth Arena.


Originally from the sunny Southwest, Ruth graduated with a BFA in Dance from the University of Arizona. She’s studied with the Paul Taylor Dance company, and currently teaches at both Le Moyne College and the Ballet and Dance Center, both in Syracuse. I asked her what drew her to the Water Dance as a project, and here’s some of what she had to say:

“As an artist and arts educator I spend a lot of time thinking about the value of art in society, the purpose of what we do, and for me it comes down to making our corner of the world a better place. Through art, through dance, we can bring about change on levels from the personal to the global…when I learned about the National Water Dance I immediately wanted to participate. Bringing dance into the wider community, and using it to build a sense of community and awareness about the great importance of water to life inspired me. I also want to give my students opportunities to perform, and to “give back” at the same time. This is a chance for them to do a completely different kind of performance- outside, in sneakers, with a mixed level group of peers, and to be part of a national effort to raise awareness.”

Ruth’s piece, set to music composed by fellow Le Moyne educator Edward Ruchalski, is contemporary choreography. (For the uninitiated, ‘contemporary’ is the current mix of ‘modern’ and ballet’ styles.) I’ve seen the piece in rehearsal, and as a fellow dancer and choreographer I enjoy it. It’s meditative, but not boring, and there is this section in a circle that I quite like for its portrayal of watery movement.

But no spoilers! Go to the Erie Canal Museum this Saturday April 16th at 4pm sharp to see for yourself. The show will be outside, on the road that marks the location of the Erie Canal that once was–assuming good weather. Composer Ruchalski will performing his music live as well. In the case of rain/snow/hail/all three at once, the show will take place inside the museum.

Personally, I think this is a great project, a wonderful mix of arts and current events. (har-har) Syracuse as a place has been shaped by water–from the glacial retraction that formed the hills and lakes, to the Erie Canal that put the town on the map in years gone by, to Onondaga Lake, which has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most polluted freshwater bodies in the United States, a point of contention between the government and the native peoples of the area.

More broadly, of course, not just Syracuse, but the Earth at large is shaped by water, as is our place in that world. We all know water is a precious resource. It’s high time (tide?) that we experienced it, confronted it in greater depth. I wish I could perform alongside the other water-dancers this Saturday, so readers, go in my stead, if you live in CNY. If not, find the National Water Dance event in your area, or follow along on the live-stream at the organization’s website.

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