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Life & Work with Ali Woerner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ali Woerner. 

Hi Ali, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
In 2014, myself and fellow Associate Professor of Dance, Thayer Jonutz were making up dances in our spare time. We were offered commissions to create dances and perform for concerts throughout Southeast Detroit. I remember we would save the money we made in shoe boxes until we decided to create Take Root; a non-profit professional company. With being active professionals in the field for so long, we knew we wanted to start a company the right way; register as a non-profit, have enough saved to pay our performers, have a legit season of performances and we would perform with the company as well. My dear friend, Jon Anderson came on board as our company composer, creating all our music and performing live. At about this time, my parents’ best friend, who was living with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), took a Dance for PD class. He called me immediately and insisted I figure out how to offer this through the company. I received a grant and traveled to Brooklyn, NY to train with the Mark Morris Dance for PD program. I came home, met with the Michigan Parkinson Foundation, and received permission from Oakland University to offer a monthly class on campus. Our first class, we had 40 people show up! Take Root’s performance company was also taking off, performing locally and nationally. BY 2016 we were asked to be a company-in-residence at Oakland University. This was a huge step and meant we could offer company class and hold rehearsals on campus but also work with the dance majors, offering them the experience of a professional company. We decided we wanted to not just work with the Parkinson’s and University populations but added a second thread of outreach with our Arts Education Impact program. In the beginning, we went to after-school programs in underserved areas, offering dance and music to help kids create their own choices, problem solve, and feel confident. Fast forward to 2022 and we have grown tremendously in so many positive ways. We are dedicated to impacting lives through dance every day and in every way. I have been the sole director and founder since 2020. The Take Root Family is a force! The performance company is made up of 8 ridiculously talented but equally as inviting professional dancers as well as Jon Anderson who continues to create visceral and magical scores of music, Vivian Costello our Rehearsal Director, Sam Paraventi of Minty Photography who films us and a vast amount of collaborators near and far. We perform nationally and internationally. We have three apprentices, including an OU dance major and 5 interns. Our Dance for Parkinson’s Disease Program has 5 faculty offering three locations of weekly classes, videos on our website, and monthly classes at OU. We work with OU’s Health Science Department, offering out-of-the-box teachings to future Physical Therapists and PD research. Our Arts Education Impact Outreach Program is now at Center for Success in Pontiac twice a week with our 2 Faculty members and volunteers. We work with 50 kids each week, providing new perspectives, creativity, innovation through dance and music. We continue to visit schools throughout the community. I look back at how far we have come and excited daily at how far we can go! 

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I’ve learned and continue to learn a great deal. The first professional job I had, the producer told me the hard part about starting a company isn’t starting it, it’s keeping it. He was right. Running a small business, non-profit dance company is challenging because it isn’t thought of as impactful. Well, not until you come to one of our events or performances. Getting people to invest in the arts is a big mountain to climb. Add on to that a pandemic where we can’t physically be with one another let alone dance together and it is excruciating. However, artists are known for thinking out of the box, we don’t even think a box exists. So, we have created zooms with our Arts Ed kiddos and Dance for Parkinson’s Disease Dancers. We now have people zooming with us for PD from different parts of the country. We continue to stay in touch with our Berlin friends who we collaborate with. Although we can’t get to them as we have planned, we can dance through technology for now. The arts are so important for so many. It is a way of connecting and feeling like no other. There are loads of struggles but also tremendous successes. Both guide us in moving forward. 

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a choreographer who employs the kinesthetic vocabulary of dance to tell stories, celebrate human connections, and impact lives through dance. Growing up in Metro Detroit with parents deeply rooted in education and the arts, I forged a path in academia, performance, and freelance modern dance. I founded Take Root where my creative practice takes dance outside the studio, into nontraditional performance spaces and diverse communities. I intersect my history to create stories about the deeper connections that join our individual experiences; with professional dancers, musicians, children, and those living with Parkinson’s Disease throughout Metro Detroit. I am an abstract storyteller with a humanistic purpose. My work grows directly from my individual emotional, spiritual and physical status. I bring ideas to my dancers in the form of individual dance phrases or writings; from there, we exchange, revise, erase, refine, and reconfigure, always pushing ourselves for clarity. I create rigorous and demanding lifts so as to seem utterly natural and effortless; or when I use bodies to create gestures, layering movements with a subtext that is omnipresent but indecipherable. My respect and support for the art of dance and the dancer makes the cohesion in our partnering possible and progressive. I am proud of the work we do but also the impact we make with so many unique and diverse communities. This is what makes Take Root so different. We don’t just go to a school or work with a population once a year, these communities are like family to us. We are invested and the impact goes beyond the individual in our class but impacts their families and loved ones. It is a ripple effect. Working with and creating with these groups informs us and makes me better; a better creator, better artist, and better human. 

What do you think about luck?
I don’t believe in luck. I believe if you do the work and you are prepared for opportunities, you will be successful. That success may not look like what you thought it would. I try very hard to keep my mind open to what comes. Sometimes a Rubik’s cube situation is thrown at me and I need to figure out how to make something work; finding funding, creating a concert in a unique setting, etc. I try to never set myself up thinking, “this can’t happen,” but instead, “how can I make this happen.” It may not be the way I originally conceptualized it. Don’t ever say to me, a woman who created and runs her own business, that things are good the way they are and should never change. We are humans; we need to change, move, shift. I’m not interested in sameness. I’m interested in progression. 

Contact Info:

  • Email: takerootdance@gmail.com
  • Website: www.takerootdance.com
  • Instagram: takerootdance
  • Facebook: Take Root
  • Other: Vimeo: Take Root Dance

Image Credits
Ali Woerner
Jasmine Wang
Sam Paraventi
MintyPhotography

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