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"The Red Tent" concert grew out of workshops held with girls and women in the community. / Herald Tribune staff photo by Tom Bender


Fuzión family members test their voices - May 2012
Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott, the artistic director of Fuzión Dance Artists, says the first place she ever danced was in her living room in front of family members - "a safe place where I could explore in front of a supportive audience."

A modern day return to The Red Tent - March 2012
Women have long sought a place to gather away from the interference of children, husbands or fathers.

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A modern day return to The Red Tent

by Carrie Seidman of The Herald-Tribune
March 11, 2012

From book clubs to breast-feeding groups, sewing circles to coffee klatches, women have long sought a place to gather away from the interference of children, husbands or fathers.

But the original “no men allowed” feminist stronghold is centuries old.

“You talk about the first support group? This was it,” says Hedda Matza-Haughton, a social worker, theater director and actor who will perform in Fuzión Dance Artists’ sixth season concert, “The Red Tent.” “This is where young ladies became women, a sisterhood, a motherhood. The Red Tent speaks to all the times that women had experiences to get through and got the support of other women to go through them.”

For those who aren’t familiar with concept of the Red Tent, it began as a sacred gathering place for women in biblical times. Thought to have a mysterious power during their menstrual cycles and when giving birth that many men found alarming, or even threatening, women chose a segregated spot where they could find support amongst their own. Because red was a color symbolic of female strength and power in ancient cultures, that place became known as the Red Tent.

There have been Red Tent revivals, in various forms, for centuries. Fuzión’s latest interpretation can be traced back nearly a decade, to a graduation performance at Florida State University by the company’s co-founders Leymis Bolaños-Wilmott and Rachael Inman. Both of Arabic descent, at the time their research into their ethnic backgrounds and the Red Tent’s origins provided a way to unite their differing choreographic approaches.

Ever since, Bolaños-Wilmott, Fuzión’s current director, has been considering the idea of a revival concert, mulling it over with Inman, now a professor in Tennessee, who has since developed mind/body/spirit workshops based on similar empowerment concepts. With the birth of her first child three years ago, and after meeting Matze-Haughton, a two-time cancer survivor and an active participant in the ’60s feminist movement, the time seemed especially ripe.

“I feel like we’re in a time when we need more Red Tents,” says Bolaños-Wilmott. “Those deep experiences with other women — not just when someone’s passing or someone’s having a baby. Those are great moments, but I feel like the everyday is sometimes a struggle for women, and if we all had a Red Tent we could go to every month for five days to restore and replenish, we would be healthier.”

Bolaños-Wilmott held several Red Tent workshops with local women over the past year, including one at Girls Inc. and another with survivors from the Cancer Support Community. The workshops were drawn from similar sessions Inman created after hearing a friend who was a therapist discuss the difficulties many of her patients had integrating their talk therapy with their body images and physical relationships.

“We talked about how to get them back into their bodies, so they didn’t feel such a disparity between what their mind had figured out and their body and spiritual alignment,” said Inman, who has remained a regular Fuzión contributor from a distance, but is pregnant with her second child and thus not dancing in the current show.

The recent workshops also focused on the mind/body connection, says Bolaños-Wilmott, bringing participants who could see their femininity as an asset rather than allowing it to sap their self-esteem. Many of the movement phrases in this weekend’s concert, as well as some text that is spoken, evolved directly from what occurred during the workshops.

“The dialogue with the dancers obviously had a big influence in how the piece has been molded,” she says.

Matza-Haughton, who is very involved in using the arts to promote health and participated in the Cancer Support Community workshop, will serve as the show’s storyteller and “voice of wisdom.”

The concert also includes several women from outside Fuzión’s company ranks that range in age from early 20s to 60-plus, in body shape from traditional dancer figures to those shorter and stockier, and have diverse life experiences, ethnic backgrounds and abilities.

Live music will be provided by Fuzión’s frequent collaborator, Scott Blum, a percussionist, Felicia Brunelle of the Sarasota Orchestra and Fred Gratta of the Florida Orchestra. Fuzión’s two male dancers, Rolando Cabrera and Jahrel Thompson, will also perform, albeit in reduced roles.

But this is not a “for women only” program, Bolaños-Wilmott emphasizes.“I hope that this might inform the men in the audience a little more about why we’re sometimes vulnerable, or hopeful, or whatever makes us the way we are,” she says. “I hope they walk out with a sense of new-found respect and admiration for the women in their lives.”

Those who do attend will have a rare opportunity to see the Zaar dance that concludes the concert, a form of trance dance traditionally done for purification at a time when a woman is under stress. Men have rarely been allowed to view this spiritual healing.

Copyright, Last modified: March 12, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

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