Dancer: Yolanda Gibbs
Photo by Bill Ovive
Sandra Organ Dance Company (SODC) performs I Have a Dream, in honor of Black History Month, on February 17 & 18 at 7:30 pm at Zilkha Hall at the Hobby Center. Call 713-315-2525 or visit http://www.organdance.org/.
“Dance touches on both hemispheres of the brain at once,” states Houston dancer and choreographer, Sandra Organ. With a weekend at the Hobby in celebration of African American History month on the horizon, Organ finds herself confronting key issues in her life. “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech is timeless in its inspiration and depth and serves as a reminder of the days when politics wasn’t just about deceit and coverups, alternate agendas and political clout. It was about the truth and being heard, as Reverend King spoke on behalf of millions who stood up non violently against all odds to achieve a great thing for our nation.. I was born in 1963 and reap the legacy of his passion in the lifestyle I am allowed live, as well as the generation that immediately participated in making the civil rights movement a positive step in our history toward equality. This is a culminating work for me and SODC,” states Organ.
In 1981 Organ moved to Houston to join the Houston Ballet Academy. She joined the company in 1982 and rose through the ranks of the Houston Ballet as their first African American ballerina. As a soloist, she enjoyed dancing roles choreographed by Ben Stevenson, Christopher Bruce, and Paul Taylor. “I am also in awe of Balanchine, Fred Astaire, Martha Graham, and Alvin Ailey,” states Organ, considering her influences. Organ is known for her distinctive grace and strong technique.
Today, she enjoys dancing her own choreography. “I started making up dances for talent shows and church when I was in 8th grade,” remembers Organ. “When I was the valedictorian at my high school, Duchesne Academy in Omaha Nebraska, I danced instead of speaking.” A while back the Duchesne Academy in Houston invited Organ to be the commencement speaker. “I made everyone else dance,” cheered Organ.
After reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Organ decided it was time to create a company for her own brand of lyrical neo-classical choreography. The Sandra Organ Dance Company (SOCD) was created in 1997 and has grown to be a thriving company that performs in a multitude of venues. In addition, SODC is able to pay dancers for rehearsals, performances, and daily classes.
At 41, Organ is still dancing in her work. “Being my own director allows me to age gracefully because I can control how much I am on stage.” So far Organ has some 50 ballets under her belt with more in the works. Organ credits the Houston Ballet for their ongoing support. “I am very lucky to be able to rehearse at HB studios and for the contacts I developed during my years there.”
Education programs are an important part of the company’s mission. Last year she collaborated with Writers in the Schools, creating dances from the words of young poets. A few years back, she took advantage of her last name and created a work called Earthen Vessels that helped develop awareness for organ donation. Audience members could sign up to be organ donors in the lobby before the performance.
Organ draws her inspiration from multiple sources. Ramble, with music by local composer, Steven Pare, is one of her favorite pieces. This cheerful romp demonstrates Organ’s finesse with simple everyday movement utilizing complex patterns in space. The effect is colorful, uplifting, and full of kinetic vitality. Her Hobby concert last February focused on poetry. The words of Maya Angelou, Louise Clifton and Pablo Neruda provided a canvas for her movement. “I wanted to put those words to music,” says Organ. Her work with MacArthur Genius, Liz Lerman, helped Organ develop her own methodology in working with text. Organ was one of very few artists invited to perform in Lerman’s Halleluiah Project.
Liturgical dance is still one of Organ’s favorite dance modes. She regularly performs at churches in town including her own church, City of Refuge, a mutli-racial purposely integrated church. For Mother’s Day she performed her well known rocking chair piece. She is working on a version of the Apostles Creed for the children of her congregation.
Although touring is still an option, Organ is steadily building her vision in Houston. “I put my roots down here. My mother grew up her and I am continuing her legacy. She never got the opportunity to take dance classes. There were no dance classes for African American children in the 40s and 50s. As a child of the depression she was struggling to survive,” says Organ proudly. Organ credits the support of family for her success. Her mother, a nurse, and her father, a world famous surgeon, follow her career with enthusiasm.
In the future, Organ hopes to have her own space. “I dream about having a place of our own to offer classes and rehearse. Having dancers on salary is also on my wish list.” She divides her time between working with her own company, setting ballets on other dance companies, and teaching at HSPVA and the Houston Ballet Academy. For Organ, Dance is a unique art form. “Dance transcends the visible and invisible making an abstract image tangible.”
Portions of this piece originally appeared in Houston Woman Magazine. http://www.houstonwomanmagazine.com/