Archive for: July 2015

The Rhythm of Austin

 

From Structural to Spiritual, The Dance Community Thrives in Diverse Ways

By: Mikaela Casas, Grace Rogers and Mary Hart

Compared to other major cities in Texas and across the nation, Austin’s dance community is not as broad and far-reaching. There are under twenty major dance companies in Austin as opposed to New York City, which boasts hundreds of companies and studios ranging from ballet to hip-hop to various forms of African dance. Although Austin’s dance community is small, the people who teach and participate in performances and classes are providing a much-needed influx of vitality and enthusiasm to the community in major ways and redefining the public’s perception of dance in a more personal and experiential way.

Up until recent years, when people thought of dance, the first image that would pop into their minds would be that of a ballet dancer. While ballet is known for its cultural significance in western culture, there are various forms of dance, like Orisha and Rumba, dance forms that have indigenous roots in western Africa, that have been around for much longer and are only recently being discovered and practiced by people on a wider scale.

Maya Berry, a classically trained ballet dancer from New York, who studied ballet in the city as well as abroad in Europe, now teaches an Afro-Cuban dance class in the African-American Heritage Center right next door to Franklin’s Barbecue on 11th street in East Austin.

Maya Berry leads her Orisha class which uses moves that symbolize Afro-Cuban culture and legends.

Maya Berry leads her Orisha class which uses moves that symbolize Afro-Cuban culture and legends.

It’s quite a departure from what Maya had spent the majority of her life pursuing. Maya has been dancing from the age of three, with experience in ballet, jazz and tap, “the triple threat” as Maya refers to it. In her late teens, Maya moved to France for conservatory training in classical ballet, but Maya had a difficult time there. “And then, that experience…uh…didn’t go so well. It was very traumatic,” Berry says laughing. “Being a black woman, in Europe studying ballet, there was definitely a lot of scrutiny of my body. “

Seeking a more accepting atmosphere, Maya returned to New York City, where she began studying with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, a historically black dance company and school formed by Alvin Ailey, one of the major pioneers of modern dance, who was born in Texas. Maya went on to be a part of several other contemporary dance companies in New York, but soon realized, “I did not like the dance business. I loved dancing, but I didn’t like the business.” Maya went back to school to study the connection between anthropology and dance, and in 2005, decided to focus on Afro-Cuban dance.

Although African Diasporic dance is very different from classical ballet, Maya has brought one major thing from her past to her present: discipline. That work ethic is required in most forms of dance and the people who practice it all have another essential ingredient in common, an intense love for dance.

In addition to teaching a house dance class at Ballet Austin, Jason Vaughn also expresses his love of the sport by dancing in Pennie's West African class.

In addition to teaching a house dance class at Ballet Austin, Jason Vaughn also expresses his love of the sport by dancing in Pennie’s West African class.

Jason Vaughn, the house dance instructor at Ballet Austin, has only been dancing for about 10 years. During that time, he has studied and become proficient in many different forms of dance from breaking to hip-hop, to house and various forms of African dance. His enthusiasm and love for dance is contagious, often breaking into a wide smile as he describes his early days studying dance, “I used to drive 45 miles, three times a week, just to learn b-boying.” None of that dedication and sacrifice for the art form would exist without intense love and appreciation for it. When asked to put into words what dance means to him, Jason says simply, after pausing to think, “Dance is love.”

Tonya Pennie, of Lannaya Drum & Dance Ensemble, who practices and performs with Jason, would agree. She has been teaching African Diasporic dance in Austin for over twenty years and has extensive dance training, primarily in West African and South African dance forms. Lannaya Drum & Dance is a multicultural dance company that puts focus on inclusiveness. The company is made up of dancers of varying backgrounds and cultures and seeks to “expose and educate audiences to authentic and progressive interpretations of drum and dance of the African diaspora.”

For Tonya, it is not enough to just have a superficial understanding of West African dances, but to know the history and motivation behind the movements. “We like to know, what is it that we’re singing, what is it that we’re performing, what’s the history, the motivation behind it?”

Dance today as opposed to dance as it has been known in the past has shifted towards a need for a deeper understanding of the art. Knowing the history and various interpretations of indigenous dance forms, to realizing that dance can be a spiritual connector to the deepest part of your soul are ways of thinking about dance that are becoming more prevalent in today’s art world.

The ability of dance to bring communities together is apparent in the small but bustling dance community in Austin. People of all walks of life and from all over the world are now represented in Austin and are infusing their love and commitment to the art form in companies and schools from Ballet Austin to Lannaya Drum & Dance bringing previously little-known dance forms to the spotlight.

 

 

 

 

Rainey Daze

Austin’s Historic Rainey Street Busts Myths of Shutting Down

By Brenda Lau, Sarah Poe and Rachel Steinkamp

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If they haven’t already ventured to Rainey for a bite at Banger’s, passersby are flagged down by the blinking marquees boasting 30 house made sausages and 104 beers on tap.

It’s a hot, lazy summer Sunday in Austin, Texas. People are waking up from their Saturday activities and have begun to venture to the popular Rainey Street for brunch.

The streets have long since been awake with bustling exercise aficionados that help keep Austin as one of the most active cities in the U.S. However, don’t think that outdoor recreation is limited to exercise. Eating and drinking can be just as difficult in the Texas swelter.

Young professionals dress in their best Sunday Funday attire keeping in mind the increasing heat of the day.  The canopy of trees that line the street offer some shade as do the growing shadows of Rainey’s soon-to-be high rises.

Even with the increasing popularity of Rainey, myths of the historic street closing had begun to circle.

“All of my friends and I thought Rainey was closing eventually… We assumed it was closing because of all of the high rises, I thought that was pretty common knowledge. I’m so happy we were wrong. We really didn’t know what we’d do if it closed,” said recent UT graduate Sloane Schaumburger.

As crowds seem to grow larger each week and as the rise of the population continues, one thing is certain – Rainey Street is here to stay.

Being that Austin is the live music capital of the world, businesses tend to ensure that they uphold that expectation. A Rainey Street example is Super Soul Sundays at Icenhauer’s, every Sunday 3-6 p.m, where Austinites turn out to join in on this generation’s “Sunday Funday” culture.

Being that Austin is the live music capital of the world, businesses tend to ensure that they uphold that expectation. A Rainey Street example is Super Soul Sundays at Icenhauer’s, every Sunday 3-6 p.m, where Austinites turn out to join in on this generation’s “Sunday Funday” culture.

“There’s been a lot of growth and I think it’s going to continue. And I think people are excited about it and that’s why a lot of people are moving there,” said Doug Kissner, a board member of the Rainey Neighbor Association.

Austin was the fasted growing city among those with a population larger than 500,000. The city grew by 15.5 percent from 2010 to 2014, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Plans for Rainey Street include the building of new apartment complexes, Skyhouse Austin, Millenium Rainey, North Shore Lofts and 70 Rainey Tower. Other buildings include the Waller Center and hotels such as Fairmont Austin and Hotel Van Zandt.

To prepare for this explosion of people and already vibrant atmosphere, one Rainey Street bar, Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden, is expanding. They are, “…hoping to be able to serve somewhere between five to six hundred patrons at any given time,” said owner and operator, Ben Siegel.

Rick McMinn, the grandfather of Rainey Street and owner of Image General Contracting is responsible for building the “house-like party” atmosphere. His company has helped preserve the street for the historic committee while leaving the façade alone.

“Watching the preservation of Rainey Street… it’s exciting hearing [Siegel] say how he wants to maintain that residential house look from the outside. But the insides are awesome commercial projects and it’s like watching that preservation continue to take precedence on Rainey Street.”

Austinites expect a motley crew of unique employees at local establishments, and Banger’s is no different. Seated in front of the company office, head chef Ted Prater enjoys a break with his dog Lulu.

Austinites expect a motley crew of unique employees at local establishments, and Banger’s is no different. Seated in front of the company office, head chef Ted Prater enjoys a break with his dog Lulu.

Along with preservation, Lustre Pearl, the first bar on the street has gone in for a makeover. Jesse Lunsford, a property developer and Co-Founder of Rainey Ventures has literally picked up the bar, put it on the back of a truck and moved it to it’s new location on 3000 E. Cesar Chavez to be transformed into a restaurant. It is set to open in October of 2015.

No need to fret though. Lunsford reassured that, “It’s going to be exactly the same in the interior… that’s gonna have a kitchen and some outdoor space.”

Another similar, but not the original, Lustre Pearl will be filling in the lot space where the original used to be.

The crowds begin to dwindle as the sun sets. The shadows are now larger on the street and the construction signs shadows begin to look like people. Bar signs still blink, giving light to the those remaining.

People who have come from all over the world drunkenly order an Uber, Lyft, good ole taxi or get into a friends car and not blink at what they have just experienced.

“There’s nothing like this in you know Minnesota, and New York, and wherever it may be that they are, this is Austin. And I really believe that it is Austin,” said Siegel.

They have experienced Austin at its finest.

 

 

 

Barkin’ Blueberries, Batman! Austinite Creates Doggie Ice Cream Market

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Lizzie Dupnik has gone from living through the dog days of drawing flyers for imaginary pet care services as a six-year-old to being a full-fledged multi-business owner at age 25.

“I was always the kid picking up stray kittens and bringing them home, so that was just something that I love,” Lizzie said. “I wanted to do something career-related that I loved and I had a passion for.”

Shaggy Wags Pet Care is Lizzie’s three-year-old pet walking and sitting business but some folks recognize her as someone who offers a sweeter service.

Shaggy Waggin Treats is a one-woman doggie ice cream business. Dupnik is hard to miss when she wheels her hot pink tricycle that pushes her portable freezer on hot summer days. The side of the freezer reads “Shaggy Waggin Treats” circled around a painted face of a golden retriever licking a bright green ice cream cone.

Lizzie Dupnik, owner of Shaggy Waggin Treats, started her business in the summer of 2014. Her treats include doggie ice cream, ice cream pupwiches and pupsicles.

Lizzie Dupnik, owner of Shaggy Waggin Treats, started her business in the summer of 2014. Her treats include doggie ice cream, ice cream pupwiches and pupsicles.

“I watch Shark Tank and I saw that they were doing doggie ice cream,” said the Port Aransas native. “I figured that would be perfect for Austin with how hot it gets and how dog-friendly it is.”

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Lizzie writes the day’s menu on a white board she leans against her portable shop.

 

 

In addition to five flavors of ice cream, Lizzie offers four flavors of pupsicles and five flavors of ice cream pupwiches. The most popular flavor among pup owners is a combination of peanut butter, bacon and pumpkin that even she says she finds delicious.

“We are very impressed with the ingredient panel in the ice cream,” said Jon Michelson, owner of Lofty Dog, a pet business that carries Shaggy Waggin ice cream. “Lizzie uses limited, high grade ingredients that we all know and understand. That simple list is very important to most pet lovers in this market.”

Lizzie offers low-fat, paleo, vegan and gluten-free among other indulgent options and educates herself on what human-grade ingredients are best for her furry little customers.

“I pretty much immerse myself in any kind of book or online information,” she said. “You can find pretty much anything on the Internet and there’s lots of good knowledgeable sources.”

Lizzie prepares a fresh batch of ice cream for a day of sales at an event. Her doggie ice cream comes in two sizes, two-ounce cups and pint sizes, sold in the pet stores Lofty Dog and Great Out Dogs.

Lizzie prepares a fresh batch of ice cream for a day of sales at an event. Her doggie ice cream comes in two sizes, two-ounce cups and pint sizes, sold in the pet stores Lofty Dog and Great Out Dogs.

Her retailers also recognize the value of the niche doggie ice cream market. Lizzie distributes pint-sized options available for $13 at Lofty Dog, Healthy Pet, Bow Wow Bones Food Truck, Sit Means Sit, DogHouse Drinkery and Great OutDogs. Even restaurant and bar chain Opal’s Divine will soon begin carrying her products in all of their locations.

“Just like we all get cravings for ice cream or sweets, dogs need to have a healthy alternative to share the experience,” said Great OutDogs owner Matt Edwards. “Once they get a taste, they will remember the container that delicious taste came from and will get just as excited as the first time they had it.”

 

Owner of Great Out Dogs Matt Edwards gives his dog Nugget some Shaggy Waggin ice cream, of which he’s a huge fan. “Once they get a taste, they will remember the container that delicious taste came from and will get just as excited as the first time they had it”.

Owner of Great Out Dogs Matt Edwards gives his dog Nugget some Shaggy Waggin ice cream, of which he’s a huge fan. “Once they get a taste, they will remember the container that delicious taste came from and will get just as excited as the first time they had it”.

While Shaggy Waggin Treats does well to rely on pet product retailers, it’s the combination between that and selling at city events that sustains the business.

Lizzie scours the Internet for both dog and ice cream events to attend, such as the annual Austin Ice Cream Festival or corgi meet ups organized by the Austin Corgi Pet Lovers. On average, she attends an event every one to two weeks.

At the end of the day, Lizzie donates a portion of each sell she makes to Austin Dog Rescue. She also advertises a foster dog on her tricycle every time she goes out to find it, what she calls, a “furever” home.

“Dogs are the reason why I make a living. That’s why I started doing this business,” Lizzie said. “I help save foster dogs when I can. I try to bring them out to events. If I have one that’s dog friendly just so it can try to get adopted and that’s a big part of my life as well.”

How to Make Doggie Ice Cream

 

 

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[Numbers] In Living Color

Reviewing and printing papers is part of Steve Adams job as a writer and writing coach.

Reviewing and printing papers is part of Steve Adams’ job as a writer and writing coach.

 By Erin Kedzie. Photos by Brenda Lopez. Video by Nate Jackson.

“[The cloak] was still warm from him, and smelled of the way brick feels when it has been baked by the sun.”

Tracy Chevalier, “Girl With a Pearl Earring,” p. 57.

 

Read the above carefully, and imagine a cloak smelling the way brick feels. Or birdsong sounding the way purple looks. Or the word “Tuesday” tasting like dark roast coffee when it rolls off the tongue.

For most of the population, these are the fumes of fancy. But for a small fraction, it’s a concrete and perennial experience. Inter-sensory associations like these are not the makings of a disorder – but of a neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia.

According to research done at the University of Washington, synesthesia affects less than one percent of the population, and is a result of “cross-wiring” in the brain. Neurons and electrical signals that are supposed to be restricted to one sensory area cross over into others.

Adams owns a large book collection. You can find books laying all over his apartment, but also some resting on bookshelves.

Adams owns a large book collection. You can find books laying all over his apartment, but also some resting on bookshelves.

Maureen Seaberg, guest on PBS and author of “Tasting the Universe: People Who See Colors in Words and Rainbows in Symphonies,” said that brain scanning solidified research in the field.

“For the first time, it was provable and real,” Seaberg said. “Early pioneers like Dr. Larry Marks and Dr. Richard Cytowic deserve much credit here.”

Dr. Cytowic, known for bringing synesthesia into mainstream science in 1980, said that synesthetic experiences are: involuntary, long-lasting, memorable, and emotional.

But these experiences are unique to each person. For writing coach Steve Adams, certain numbers manifest themselves in bursts of color and personality.

A Profile 

As a pursuant of words, Adams spends much of his time in bookstores and coffee shops. He works one-on-one with published writers to improve their skills when he’s not submitting his own work to literary magazines across the country.

Scooter was part of Adams life for 16 years, until his death. Scooter was Adams number one fan when he played the guitar, especially when he hit the high notes, said Adams.

Scooter was part of Adams life for 16 years, until his death. Scooter was Adams number one fan when he played the guitar, especially when he hit the high notes, said Adams.

A winner of the 2014 Pushcart Prize for his memoir, “Touch,” Adams can’t think of the numbers one through 10 without some heady associations.

For example, the number two is red and as feminine as Scarlet Johansson. Ten is white and male.

“It feels like I’m seeing them on a stage,” he said. “It’s like they have this persona they present to me, and then they go backstage and have their own private lives.”

Adams wasn’t aware that his loaded perceptions had anything to do with cranial cross-wiring, until somebody on Facebook commented that their number six was red.

“That seemed horribly wrong, and I said, ‘No, it’s green!’”

It was at this point that Seaberg, whom he met in a writers’ residency program, called Adams out as a synesthete.

Studies show that the trait is often hereditary, and Adams handed the label to his mother, Jo Adams, who had also dealt with lively numbers since she was a child – but never knew that there was a name for her experience.

“I didn’t know. I just sort of knew I had a play-thing with the numbers. They were little people to me,” Jo said. “But Steve is just so creative. I think that has something to do with it.”

This creativity is a part of Adams’ identity.

Steve Adams memoir, “Touch,” appeared in the Pushcart Prize XXXVIII 2014 – This is the list of all the winners who were published. Adams conserved the list and displayed it in a humble frame, which hangs on his living-room wall.

Steve Adams memoir, “Touch,” appeared in the Pushcart Prize XXXVIII 2014 – This is the list of all the winners who were published. Adams conserved the list and displayed it in a humble frame, which hangs on his living-room wall.

Day in the Life

Adams refers to himself first as a writer. The synesthesia is secondary in importance, because a day in the life of a synesthete is like a day in the life of a left-handed person; it just is.

But as he furthers his writing career, Adams discovers new facets of his life that might have to do with his heightened perception.

Before the writing tutoring session begins, Adams and Zellmer warm up by chatting about their day.

Before the writing tutoring session begins, Adams and Zellmer warm up by chatting about their day.

For example, tutoring.

“If I’m working on someone’s novel that’s in three acts, I can visualize the shape of it, I can see where it’s moving and maybe where there’s a gap.”

Or jazz music.

“I see the notes popping out in front of me, in the pattern of a staff, like, pow! pow! pow!”

And birds flying through the air.

“I have this thing with birds now. I had a parrot for 16 years and I hunted birds as a kid. So I see how they move through space and the patterns they make. It’s incredible.”

In the digital age, there are ways to find others sharing similar experiences.

A Joint Effort

Since synesthesia is a newer branch of study, interest groups and communities are also on the green side. There are a number of websites and Facebook pages that synesthetes can communicate with each other through, as well as a subReddit for “Synesthetes Unite!”

A more prominent society, however, is the American Synesthesia Association, established in 1995. The association puts on conferences, and provides the latest news and discoveries on its website.

 

The group’s mission is to foster and promote research on synesthesia, and to provide a means for synesthetes to be in contact with each other.

Seaberg said that more organizations like these are needed, especially to focus on the education of young people with the condition.

On a similar note, Adams said that synesthetic experiences are like doorways of perception that could be used to help children find that they have other ways of thinking.

But while there may be future implications for synesthesia in society, research is ongoing. Even Cytowic himself first referred to the phenomenon as a “disorder” – now a disproven term.

And while the origins of synesthesia are still in debate (Adams feels that it can be taught to an extent, while Seaberg is on team “Born That Way”), the desire for community is still present.

Jo Adams said that mutuality between synesthetes is beautiful and important for those who feel alone in the world.

“And now I’m just sort of a free spirit,” Jo said, a lady in her 80s. “Now I know what it is, and that it’s okay, and I’m not trying to hide it.”