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Extraordinary Texans: Allison Orr

The individuals who help make Texas special
Written by Randy Mallory. Photographs by Will van Overbeek.

Allison Orr


Award-winning Austin choreographer Allison Orr is lifting the old Texas saying—dance with the one that brung ya—to new heights.  During the past decade, the founder of Forklift Danceworks (and dance professor at Austin Community College) has convinced groups of ordinary folks—from firefighters to roller skaters—to perform choreographed dances that reflect their lives and common humanity. 

 

Everyday movement inspires the 42-year-old Texas native and lifelong dancer.  She blends two college degrees (anthropology and choreography) in what she calls ethnographic choreography.  “I want to choreograph untrained dancers to explore, as an anthropologist would, how communities function.”

Orr began the quest in 2001 with 13 firefighters performing their dangerous profession’s artistry of movement.  She did a project with 30 roller skaters, another with a half-dozen expectant mothers, and another with five Elvis impersonators plus three trained dancers.  Solo performances featured a symphony conductor and a police officer.  Orr even rallied Venetian gondoliers to perform a floating ballet, and she convinced 300 two-steppers to hoof it at the steps of the Texas Capitol. 

Her most famous work engaged 24 employees and 16 vehicles from Austin’s sanitation department.  A documentary on the project, Trash Dance, premiered in 2012.  Her next project, PowerUP, will involve 30 workers and 20 utility poles, plus bucket trucks and cranes, from Austin’s public power utility, Austin Energy.  (Look for it September 21-22, 2013, at the Travis County Expo Center.)  Orr also works with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

“I believe dance can break negative stereotypes by telling people’s stories in new ways,” Orr says.  “Besides, I want to get everyone dancing.  Dancing is natural for kids but gets harder as we age.  It’s really part of who we are.”

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