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Dance For Veterans


Dance for Veterans Dance Day

Changing possibilities through dancing

November 3, 2014




West Los Angeles VA Medical Center

Building 500 Room1281

1130 Wilshire Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90073




Did you know that every week, groups of US veterans are dancing towards improved health and well being on the West Los Angeles VA Campus?


Join us for Dance Day at the WLA VA, where you can learn about this integrative, movement-based intervention now going on its fourth year under the direction of Dr. Donna Ames, MD and Los Angeles-based movement artists, Sarah Wilbur and Christine Suarez. Our team of dance teaching artists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and staff welcome the Los Angeles community to join Dance Day to learn about the program, to meet veterans who will share (perform) highlights from the weekly dance classes, and to participate creatively and physically.


Dance Day is a free experiential public event: Monday, November 3 at noon in room 1281 in building 500 at the West LA VA Medical Center. This event is the culmination of 8 workshops funded by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs’ Artist in Residence Grant Program. All abilities are welcome.


How Dance for Veterans got started:

In August 2010, Drs. Donna Ames (Director of the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center) and Robert Rubin (Chief of Psychiatry at the West Los Angeles VA HCS), contracted three dance teaching artists (Kristen Smiarowski, Christine Suarez and Sarah Wilbur) to develop a dance program for veterans with severe mental illness. Smiarowski, Suarez and Wilbur under the direction of Dr. Ames developed the curriculum for Dance for Veterans. Over the past three years, the program has expanded to eight sites in the Greater Los Angeles VA. Thank you to the VAGLA Patient Centered Care Center of Innovation and the VHA Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation for their ongoing support of this innovation. Veterans and clinicians from this expanding dance community will participate in Dance Day, which serves as a celebration of the program and a way to increase its reach.


A commitment to Integrative Health:

Dance for Veterans joins the growing number of arts based health initiatives taking place across the US health care system. The class introduces social dance and creative dance activities while strengthening coordination and motor skills. The creative possibilities of dancing keep the veterans coming back every week. Dance for Veterans seeks to improve the mental and physical health of veterans through weekly group dance classes designed to create community culture, social cohesion and positive individual health.  As a dance-based model, the program de-emphasizes pathology and illness by using dance concepts to build individual and collective expression, awareness, and bodily authority.


Project Facilitators:

Christine Suarez is a Los Angles-based choreographer, performer, educator, and community activist. Best known for dancing in unexpected places with unexpected people and for her seamless combination of dance, music and words, Suarez’s past work has been hailed as “ingeniously crafted… poignant… [and] hilarious” by the Los Angeles Times, “savvy” by The New York Times and “smart and stylish” by the Village Voice. Her work has been seen in theaters, galleries, Churches, houses, sidewalks, parks, and beaches. She has created with parents and children, high school students, teen mothers, veterans and seniors. She has created twelve evening-length dance-theater works, numerous site-specific events and dozens dances for the theater and film. While living in New York City from 1994-2006, her work was presented at Danspace Project, P.S. 122, HERE, Joyce SoHo and Dixon Place. In 1998 she founded SuarezDanceTheater, a not-for-profit, ensemble of dancers, actors and musicians. In Los Angeles her work has been seen at REDCAT, Highways Performance Space and the Miles Memorial Playhouse. Her work has toured nationally and internationally to over 20 cities. Her work has received funding from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Meet the Composer, the Center for Cultural Innovation and the Association for Hispanic Arts.


Sarah Wilbur is a choreographer, performer, dance educator, and academic currently completing her PhD in culture and performance studies in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. A dedicated facilitator of movement experiences across ages, cultures, and levels of dance experience, Sarah is particularly drawn to dance projects that target previously uninitiated dancing populations. Her choreography has been funded by California State University Long Beach, the Wisconsin Arts Board, Milwaukee County CAMPAC, and the United Performing Arts Fund, and her collaborative work on community-based dance programming has won support from the Helen Bader Foundation, and Time Warner Cable. Prior to moving to Los Angeles in 2007, Sarah developed The Wide Sky Dance Project in 2005 as an extension of the Danceworks 50+ Initiative, a NEA-funded dance education program geared toward expanding participation in dance practice and performance among boomers and senior adults in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Sarah earned her MFA degree in choreography at UCLA in June 2012 on fellowship from the Jacob K. Javits Program, and her doctoral research at UCLA looks at the infrastructural politics of dance production across the fifty year lifespan of the US National Endowment for the Arts.


Dr. Donna Ames is a psychiatrist, Professor at UCLA and the program leader for the Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Center (PRRC) at the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles.  She is an internationally recognized clinical researcher whose research for the past thirty years has focused on improving the lives of veterans and patients with severe mental illness. As the director of the PRRC and a member of the Integrative medicine steering committee at West Los Angeles VAMC over the past 5 years, she has expanded her treatment model to include holistic and complementary intervention programs.  As a recipient of funding from the V.A. Center of Innovation for Patient Centered Care, (Sandy Robertson, P.I.)  Dr. Ames has worked Dr. Robert Rubin and with an interdisciplinary team of mental health professionals to develop and disseminate “Dance for Veterans,” throughout the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System.   Dr. Ames also is a member of the Greater Los Angeles employee wellness committee where she advocates for therapeutic lifestyle changes for employees.  Integration of activities that may include exercise, enhance socialization and spark creativity--such as dance may provide health benefits not only for patients but for care providers.



Dance for Veterans’ public presentation is presented with generous funding from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and in partnership with the West LA VA Medical Center.  It is directed by Christine Suarez, Sarah Wilbur and Dr Donna Ames.

Dance for Veterans’ public presentation. takes place on Monday, November 3 @ 12 pm in 1281 room in building 500 at the West LA VA Medical Center, 11301 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90073. Admission is free.






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