Wigs empower breast cancer survivor, inspire dance

Multimedia collaboration to steer through 'Dangerous Curves' with laughter, tears

Kathy Tate’s first wig matched her own hair. Color, style — it was all the same.

Then the lifelong brunette got bold and went blond.

Before her chemotherapy was over, Tate had spent a small fortune and become well-acquainted with the owner of a certain Kansas City wig shop.

But she figured if she had to lose her locks to fight breast cancer, she might as well have fun with it.

“I have one that’s called glazed strawberry. I have one that’s called glazed flame — it’s very red. I had auburn. I had ones that were frosted,” Tate says. “I had one that I called my Tina Turner wig.”

Her multiple hair personalities became a joke at the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, where Tate is a lieutenant and spokeswoman. When the sheriff was looking for Tate, he’d ask what color her hair was that day.

“I’d get up in the morning and pick out my hair first and THEN decide what I was going to wear,” Tate recalls, laughing. “Sometimes I’d even change in the middle of the day.”

Twelve wigs later, Tate says her obsession was all about empowerment. And next weekend, she’ll see her motley accumulation of faux hair paraded on the Lawrence Arts Center stage when the Prairie Wind Dancers perform “What Color Do I Want My Hair to Be Today?”

The kooky dance is part of “Dangerous Curves: Breast Cancer Journeys,” a multimedia performance that combines the choreography of arts center dance director Candi Baker, the poetry of Lawrence writer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the soulful singing and songwriting of blues artist Kelley Hunt. The collaboration recognizes the stories of breast cancer survivors and honors those who have succumbed to the disease.

The program wends through a breast cancer chronology inspired mostly by the experiences of Baker and Mirriam-Goldberg, both breast cancer survivors. The lively homage to Tate’s ever-changing coiffure falls midway through the performance and features a song called “The Wig Chalet,” which Hunt serendipitously recorded a few years ago and had not yet found a use for.

“And it’s perfect,” says Baker, who befriended Tate through their mutual involvement with the arts center’s breast cancer awareness project. “It’s about feeling down, seeing this wig chalet with blond, brunette, redhead, and going in and finding a wig and feeling like, ‘I can be anything I want to be.'”

Unexpected outcomes

Predictably, not every section of “Dangerous Curves” will make audiences laugh. In an attempt to authentically depict the breast cancer experience, the poems, songs and dances get honest about the fear, pain, danger and mourning involved in the fight against the disease.

Early in the performance, one of the Prairie Wind Dancers sits on stage reading a book. The other dancers — cloaked in shadowy black hoods — appear and seem to multiply behind her as they dance aggressively. Through it all, the reader remains oblivious.

“The thing about breast cancer for me and for many of us is you don’t know it’s going on,” Baker says. “That’s the thing about cancer that for me I have never quite gotten over. You don’t know this is there until you can feel it or see it or whatever. And often by that time, with many cancers, it’s pretty bad by the time you have symptoms.”

Coming to grips with the way breast cancer changes life is also part of the journey. Many of the poems by Mirriam-Goldberg, who had a double mastectomy as part of her treatment, address that issue.

“Breastless” grapples with the physical changes: “The slim trails of stitches, crooked line / that climbs a little, dives a little / across each side.”

Whereas “I Want to Tell You How Beautiful You Are” communicates acceptance: “I want to tell you, believe this now, / stop doubting that because it’s not / what you wanted, what you expected, / it’s not beauty.”

What: “Dangerous Curves: Breast Cancer Journeys”When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and SaturdayWhere: Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H.Tickets: $15 for the public, $5 for cancer survivorsTicket info: 843-2787

Several dances are set to Mirriam-Goldberg’s poems, which she’ll read during the performance.

“These poems are very much about living in the body, and what kind of pushed me toward writing these poems was to understand more about how I could be more fully present in my body. So to watch these other bodies dance them out just kind of blows my mind,” she says.

“But it’s also very interesting to watch people who are a generation younger than me dance these words — people who have experienced their own losses and are struggling with their own issues and their own gifts. But here they are embodying the kinds of experiences that are going to happen to their generation in another 20 or so years.”

Healing through the arts

In addition to “Dangerous Curves: Breast Cancer Journeys,” an art exhibit and workshops have been scheduled at the Lawrence Arts Center during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The project is called “Healing through the Arts.”An exhibition of art by cancer survivors, friends of cancer patients and those interested in healing is on view in the arts center’s lobby and hallways.Here’s what remains on the community workshop series:¢ “Celebrate Your Life through the Gift of Movement: Exploring the Mind-Body Connection,” Candi Baker, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Tuesday¢ “Healing through Music and Song,” Kelley Hunt, 10 a.m.-noon Saturday¢ “The ‘ART’ of Healing,” Cathy Ledeker, 9:30 a.m.-noon Oct. 30Most workshops are $30 for the general public and $5 for cancer survivors. For more information or to make reservations, call 843-2787.

Like Mirriam-Goldberg and her words, Hunt had not seen choreography set to her music until a few weeks ago, when she watched the company rehearse a dance built around “Stronger Wings,” a song Hunt wrote for a friend who died of breast cancer.

The experience has been good for Hunt’s soul, she says.

“Candi’s choreography was like a physical manifestation of what I was trying to say with the music,” she says. “I was really taken aback and very moved by it. It was a real emotional thing for me to see it for the first time.”

Hunt and Mirriam-Goldberg have collaborated to write a new song for “Dangerous Curves” called “Love Heals.”

“It’s kind of based on the idea that these things in life happen — and some of them are heartbreaking and very sad, and some of them are joyous and amazing. But in almost every case, it’s not what we thought it would be,” Mirriam-Goldberg explains. “We were both thinking about how love heals, but not the way you think. So in fact the chorus is, ‘Love heals, but not the way you think.'”

Prairie Wind dancer Whitney Boomer says hearing stories like Baker’s, Mirriam-Goldberg’s and Tate’s has been enlightening.

“None of us have gone through what it is we are portraying,” Boomer says of herself and her fellow dancers. “We need to have a sense of how to get the message across with the right feeling, the right emotion.”

For Mirriam-Goldberg, working on “Dangerous Curves” (and the complementary poetry collection, “Reading the Body”) has helped her understand that loving her body is an ongoing action.

“That means treating myself with respect and love, more than worrying about whether I fit what I thought I should look like,” she says. “I wouldn’t say that cancer has erased all body-image issues from my life for the rest of eternity. That doesn’t go away.

“But it definitely puts them in perspective, that this body that could get cancer is also this body that could heal.”

The Prairie Wind Dancers begin the 2004-2005 season with a new artistic director, six new dancers and a new apprentice.Susan Warden takes over for longtime artistic director Candi Baker. Warden has a Master of Fine Arts in dance from the University of North Carolina, and was artistic director of her own company, The Susan Warden Dancers for many years in Manhattan and Kansas City. She is a well-known regional choreographer and has choreographed for Prairie Wind in the past.Laura Parkhurst, the new apprentice, is a recent graduate of Kansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in dance. She has been dancing since the age of 4 and has worked with the Joffrey Ballet Company and Ballet Oklahoma.Here’s a chance to learn a little more about the rest of the troupe before its first performance next weekend at the Lawrence Arts Center, where they are the company in residence.Malinda Crump“Dancing is my first love. I have a great passion for it, and I’m so grateful that I have an opportunity to do it everyday.”Crump has a Master of Fine Arts in dance and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Webster University. She danced with aha! dance theatre for two years and worked with local choreographer Michelle Diane Brown. She recently co-directed an independent dance performance with Penelope Hearne in Kansas City. She teaches at the City in Motion School of Dance and the Classical Ballet School.Beau Hancock“At this point in my life, dance is so integrated into my daily routine that it would be difficult to discern my motivation or purpose for dancing. It is so much about the present that it gives me a focus and perspective unlike anything else. When I am dancing, truly dancing, it makes all other responsibilities disappear and only the dance remains.”Hancock will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in dance and American studies from Kansas University. He is a founding member of the Bowery Dancers, a Lawrence-based, experimental dance company. He also has performed with the Cohan/Suzeau Dance Company, University Dance Company and the Prairie Wind Dancers.Whitney Boomer“I love sharing my passion and energy with people.”Boomer has a bachelor’s degree in dance from Kansas State University, where she performed with the University’s Repertory Company. She started her dance study at the age of 4 at Washington Dance Studio in Manhattan, Kan., and since 1998 has taught ballet and jazz for that studio.Bridget Bartholome“What most fascinates me about the art of dance, is the dynamic interplay between how the body thinks and the mind moves. As dancers we are fortunate to be able to push around space and direct intent with our humanity.”Bartholome trained at Houston Ballet Academy, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Evanston Ballet, Westport Ballet and The University of Arizona, where she received a degree in cultural anthropology. She was a member of The New Orleans Dance Collective and has been the dance critic for Review Magazine in Kansas City. She owns Studio B in Kansas City, choreographs and teaches yoga and ballet.Amanda January“I dance because I am coordinated and its an artistic adventure.”January graduated from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. She has attended summer intensive programs by Mark Morris and Alvin Ailey. She trained at American Dance Center for two years and began her dance life at Leigh’s School of Dance.Tuesday Faust“I keep dancing because I’ve never ceased to be curious about this art form. In fact, dance is this incredible force that leads me all over the world trying to discover more about it. It challenges my mind and body. I love that I get to share this expression with others in the present moment with my own body.”Faust begins her first year with Prairie Wind Dancers after a yearlong sabbatical in Amsterdam, Netherlands. During her year abroad, she did several dance projects, including work with David Hernandez, Renate Graziadei and Laura Moro. Previously she was a dancer/choreographer with aha! dance theatre and City in Motion Dance Theatre. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in modern dance from Texas Christian University.