The essence of dance is joy


Marie Cleaves Rothacker

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to dance. Growing up, this desire manifested itself in various ways, from home “productions” with neighbors to professionally training; dance always enveloped my life. As a child, I decided that I would grow up and become a professional dancer. I would become so famous that I would then be able to reach underserved populations through dance and expose them to the wonderfully expressive world I myself experienced.

Although I did manage to attend a highly selective performing arts high school along with big name summer dance programs, I quit dance before I ever reached my full potential. I did not become famous. In fact, I felt rather like a failure for close to ten years. While still an undergraduate, I felt like a “has been.” After dabbling in other art forms, acting, painting, creative writing, I returned to dance. I started teaching and found great satisfaction in pouring my experience into dancers of all ages. Slowly, I found a way to integrate dance back into my life, and now, at age 30, I teach dance and fitness as my main source of income.

So why should you care? You should care because all of my life experience, my dance experience, has led me to a culmination of sorts, teaching dance to individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.


Photo by Johan Henckens/MMDG

Members of the Brooklyn Parkinson Group in a Dance for PD class at the Mark Morris Dance Center.

You can imagine that if I felt like an old, retired has-been while still in my early twenties, I was somewhat jaded by the dance world despite my love for the art form. But when Shari Vegso-Wilson, Director at Susquehanna Dance Center, told me about the Dance for PD® teacher training through the Mark Morris Dance Group, I was immediately intrigued. As we went through the training, the key component of the class was this: “The essence of dance is joy.” When I first read this statement, I scoffed. So many years of physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually giving myself up to an unforgiving art form had not reinforced much joy in my life. However, throughout the Dance for PD® training I felt myself reconnect with the part of myself that had originally led me to dance. It was healing. As David Leventhal shared the stories of participants and we experienced a live class, the transformative nature of dance came to the surface.

“The essence of dance is joy.” 


Photo by Lancaster Newspapers and Blaine T. Shahan/Staff

Dance for Parkinson’s class.

We recently completed a six-week Dance for Parkinson’s pilot program of our own at Millersville University. During our time with the members of the class each week, we felt a sense of unity and understanding. We met each other exactly as we were and accepted the freedom or limitation we were feeling. But rather than doing so by talking it through, we shared our experience through movement. At the end of each class, as we raised our hands together, the power of movement was palpable.

Dance with special populations is like a refining fire. It takes away all of the unnecessary complications of the dance world and brings out the absolute best. Movement for artistic expression, personal growth, and community building. Movement for joy. I am privileged to be a part of launching Dance for Parkinson’s – Central PA. I may not have the name recognition I had hoped for as a young girl, but that makes no difference to the smiling faces I see in the studio every week. Besides, teaching in the Dance for Parkinson’s program is much more rewarding than donning a tutu every night.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Dance for Parkinson’s – Central PA, visit our Facebook site. Classes run in six week sessions in Millersville and Hershey. The program is administered through Contemporary Ballet of Pennsylvania (COBALT) a preprofessional dance company and 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to creating, performing, and educating through original choreographic works.

Read more about the program in this article featured in Lancaster Newspapers.

Marie Cleaves Rothacker teaches locally at Susquehanna Dance Center, Messiah College, and SuperFly Fitness. She also performs at local venues. Her extensive dance training includes summer programs at American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, and Ballet Chicago. In high school, she attended the year-round program at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where she was chosen by Melissa Hayden to dance in Balanchine’s Serenade with the Carolina Ballet. While dancing at Southold Dance Theater, guest artist Yves de Boutellier set an original work on the company featuring Marie after which she was invited to join Ballet Wisconsin. After high school, she was a member of the Southold Dance Theater Adult Ensemble which toured elementary schools. In college, she choreographed for and performed with the African American Dance Company at Indiana University as well as the Franklin and Marshall Dance Company and presented her choreographic work at the American College Dance Festival. In May 2011, Marie graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame with a Master of Nonprofit Administration.