Rhythmically Speaking is a Twin Cities-based 501(c)3 nonprofit dance organization with a | MISSION | to spark vibrancy and connectedness through performance and outreach work inspired by jazz and American social dance ideas. Using the rhythm that is at our shared human core to groove together, the | VISION | of our work – since our founding in 2008 – has been cultivating vibrant, embodied human connection in the Twin Cities and beyond. Our creative work emphasizes the concepts of groove, interaction and improvisation – key among jazz and American social dance forms – and is inspired by both social and concert dance movement and driven by classic and contemporary jazz music alike.
We | VALUE |:
- Access: Everyone can groove to a beat, and should have opportunities to do so with others
- Inclusiveness: Grooving together socially builds community
- Diversity: Through jazz, tap, hip-hop and other styles that share the elements of groove, interaction and improvisation (present in all American social dance styles), we find unity in difference, and that makes for vibrant art and relationships
- Equity: We prioritize rooted innovation in jazz that centers and celebrates its African diasporic roots, and position this in relationship to equity-building measures
- Resourcefulness: Improvising with the tools at hand
- Playfulness: Not just for kids!
- Joy: An important human emotion we feel is far too underrated in capital A Art
Touted by Dance Magazine as “revitalizing jazz dance in the Twin Cities area,” we are the only organization in Minnesota and one of few in the nation dedicated to creating, presenting and conducting outreach work inspired by jazz and other American social dance ideas including tap, hip-hop styles, and many others. From our co-founding by Erinn Liebhard and Heather P. Westerlund in 2008 through our 10th anniversary in 2018, our programming focus was an annual production that featured 7-9 dance works by different line-ups of mostly local and some visiting artists each year who each had their own casts, celebrating the breadth of what ‘jazz and American social/ vernacular’ ideas in dance can mean.
After 10 years of successfully producing this programming, we decided to innovate around our core mission and shift into a model sustaining a cohort of Twin Cities-based dancers. Since 2019, our programming has included performance and education-based outreach work and two evening-length productions per year, providing regular training and performance opportunities for local dancers while continuing to offer a presenting platform to local and visiting choreographers through our annual summer production The Cohort.
We acknowledge that our work occurs on the traditional lands of the Dakota people, and honor with gratitude the land itself and the people who have stewarded it throughout the generations, including the Ojibwe and other indigenous nations. We also acknowledge that as a company built around jazz and American social dances, forms with African diasporic roots and branches, anti-racism and intersectional justice efforts must also be central in our work. We view bettering these efforts as an ongoing journey, and welcome you to read more about this at our Anti-Racism page.
| PEOPLE |
Artistic/ Executive Director Erinn Liebhard:
Erinn is a dance artist (MFA University of Colorado Boulder, BFA University of Minnesota) making opportunities for people to experience the reflective and connective power of groove through performance and education. Having grown up dancing socially at her dad’s rock band’s gigs, she discovered at a young age the exhilaration of playfully experiencing groove alongside others. Guided by this inspiration and a fondness for jazz and American social dance ideas and their shared elements of groove, interaction and improvisation, she’s worked with creatives as varied as hip-hop dance theater artists Rennie Harris and the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers Appalachian clogging company. In performance, Erinn makes and performs new staged works and presents those of others through Rhythmically Speaking, is a member of Afro-Brazilian company Contempo Physical Dance and performs as self-created character entertainer “Nerdette” for Saint Paul Saints Baseball’s Entertainment Team. In education, she is an active jazz dance residency artist in higher education and for professional dance companies, works as a Teaching Artist for the Cowles Center for Dance and is on faculty at Zenon School, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and Winona State University. She is also an active writer and conference presenter. She’s driven to help connect people to themselves, one another and the moment through rooted and innovative embodiment of groove.
- Luther Bell: Owner @ Twin Lake Media, A/V Technician @ Freelance and Founder @ Inspiration Fund (Philanthropy, Production & Entrepreneurship)
- Hannah Elias: Development Operations Associate @ Planned Parenthood North Central States (Development & Management)
- Kristine Frank Elias: Communications Consultant (Marketing, Development & Management)
- Brian J. Evans: Assistant Professor of Dance @ Bates College (Artistic & Production)
- Erinn Liebhard: Artistic Director @ Rhythmically Speaking, Dance Artist @ Freelance (Artistic & Production)
- Kristoffer Olson: Associate Director, Analytics @ ICF Next, Kristoffer Olson @ Funny Magician (Data, Tech & Entrepreneurship)
- Janette Davis (Advisory): CEO @ FlightDeck One Consulting (Development & Management)
- Zoe Sealy (Advisory): Professor Emeritus @ U of MN Dance Program, Retired Artistic Director @ MN Jazz Dance Co (Artistic, Production & Management)
- Reilly Liebhard (Legal Advisor): Attorney @ Liebhard Law Firm LLC
Our work is also brought to life by the incredible choreographers we engage to create and revisit dance works for our summer show The Cohort, the musicians and composers we work with from project to project, the dancers that perform them and our audiences, who help create the electricity of live performance that we all get the joy of sharing in. Our current collaborating dancers:
Nieya Amezquita is a Minnesota-based professional dancer working with Threads Dance Project, Rhythmically Speaking and Alexandra Bodnarchuk. She has also performed works with Concerto Dance, Yuki Tokuda and Off-Leash Area. In 2019, Nieya earned a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Georgia. There she had the opportunity to perform nationally and internationally with founding company CADE:NCE before studying in Portugal with the Addo Platform. Most recently, Nieya was a featured artist in the Blackness Is Arts festival produced by the Guthrie Theater and is currently a selected choreographer for Alternative Motion Project’s upcoming production.
Rae Charles Harge:
Rae is a local choreographer, scholar, and dance educator in the Twin Cities. Currently working on a PhD in Dance Education at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, she is dedicated to advocating for racial equity both on the stage and in the classroom. Charles Harge is a graduate of MSSPA/PiM, New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the University of Michigan. She locates her own choreography at the intersection of jazz and modern and is greatly influenced by her work with artists and companies in New York as well as Minnesota including Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Maria Bauman or Urban Bush Women, MBDance, Robert Battle, Camille A. Brown, Ron K. Brown, Karen L. Charles/Threads Dance Project, David Dorfman, Alonzo King, Rhythmically Speaking, Sydney Skybetter, and Kate Weare. raedances.org.
Doug graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelors in Dance. He has had a variety of professional performing opportunities, including with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, touring with Broadway show Blast!. Local works of note include Dancing People Company, ARENA DANCES, Paula Mann, The Minnesota Opera, Threads Dance Project, and Shapiro & Smith. doughooker88.wix.com/doughookerdance.
Amy graduated with a degree in Theater/ Dance from Luther College and has performed concert and commercial contemporary, jazz, hip-hop and ballet in NYC and Minneapolis. She is also a pilates and aerial fitness instructor.
A native of Wisconsin and a graduate of University of Iowa (BFA in Dance Performance, BA in English), Sara has danced and toured nationally and internationally with Kayle & Co., 10,000 Feet Dance Company, The Architects and Threads Dance Project, among others. Upon relocating to the Twin Cities seven years ago, she has worked with regional and local choreographers; and is in her sixth season with Threads Dance Project and her seventh season with Borealis Dance. Sara is also a 400 hour certified yoga instructor and has taught workshops and classes in Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Kelli is a Minneapolis-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and arts manager. She graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the Spring of 2018 with a BFA in Dance and a minor in Leadership. Throughout her training, she has spent time dancing in New York City, San Francisco, Nashville and Israel. She has had the honor of performing works by Ohad Naharin, Banning Bouldin, Uri Sands, Gina Patterson and Angharad Davies. Kelli is constantly inspired by way in which this movement form sparks conversation, invokes visceral reactions and creates community. miles104.wixsite.com/kellimiles.
Javan Mngrezzo (he/him) relocated to Minnesota in 2021 by way of Portland, OR. He graduated from Western Oregon University in three years, magna cum laude, with a Bachelor of Science in Dance and Sociology. At present, he dances with Rhythmically Speaking, Black Label Movement, and Collide Theatrical. He has previously been a company dancer with Threads Dance Project and BodyVox. He has also had the privilege of performing as a guest artist for numerous companies such as Analog Dance Works, ARENA Dances, Ballet Co.Laboratory, Heidi Duckler Dance, Cynthia Gutierrez’s Company Movimiento, and Dar Vejon Jones Dance Ensemble. Javan is a certified instructor of The Ellové Technique®, has taught at dozens of Oregon studios as well as local studios. He is super jazzed about dancing within the Rhythmically Speaking Cohort!
Born and raised in Minnesota, Jake is a teacher and performing artist in the Twin Cities. Having tap danced since the age of three, and being trained in ballroom dance, modern dance, as well as having an interest in physical therapy, Jake graduated from St. Olaf College with degrees in Dance and Exercise Science. Along side being a member of Rhytmically Speaking, Jake has danced with Threads Dance Project, Flying Foot Forum, Katha Dance Theatre, Eau Claire Dance, Stephan Koplowitz’s Northfield Experience, and has danced in Au, a Live at the Shed work with Hatch Dance and Honey Works. Jake also teaches tap dance at Praire School of Dance as well as Ballare Teatro Performing Arts Center.
Kathleen Pender is a performer, dance educator, and arts administrator with a B.A. in Dance from St. Olaf College. She teaches for Young Dance, where she also works as Program Manager. She has performed in works by local choreographers Erinn Liebhard, Suzanne Costello, Gretchen Pick, Julie Warder, Taja Will, and Pat Taylor/JazzAntiqua (LA), among others. She has performed in several Rhythmically Speaking productions since 2013 and has been a member of the Rhythmically Speaking Cohort since 2019. She is graduating this Summer with an Associates of Applied Science in Massage Therapy from Northwestern Health Sciences University. Kathleen is passionate about community and relationships cultivated through movement exploration, education, and performance.
Betsy Schaefer Roob:
Betsy was born and raised in Elm Grove, WI. Now based in Minneapolis for over a decade, she has worked with ARENA DANCES, Rhythmically Speaking, Threads Dance Project, Dance & Other Behaviors, as well as nationally and internationally based choreographers Sasha Kleinplatz, A.T. Moffett, Salia Sanou, and Pat Taylor among others. Her own work with faux pas, a duo with Julie Marie Muskat, has been presented as part of CANDY BOX Dance Festival at the Southern Theater. Prior to landing in Minnesota, Betsy lived and studied in Michigan, Oregon, and El Salvador. She graduated from the University of Minnesota with a self-designed Bachelor of Individualized Studies in English, Dance, and Sustainability Studies. Alongside her dance career, she is a certified practitioner of The Roll Model® Method and manages the Children’s Literacy Program for Hennepin Healthcare System. She also enjoys many moments dancing around her living room with her toddler daughter.
Crissy Tolson has worked with numerous Twin Cities companies and artists such as Rhythmically Speaking, Alternative Motion Project, Loom Lab, Borealis Dance, Pedro Pablo and Laura Selle Virtucio. She is also a founding member of Painting the Room, a Minneapolis based music/dance/text improvisation group. Her performance has been highlighted by the Star Tribune: “She commanded such presence… articulating emotions with precision …downright terrifying”. Off the stage, she’s co-produced and directed three shows for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. Crissy holds a BFA in Dance from George Mason University and recently went to Amsterdam to study improvisation composition under Katie Duck.
| WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING | :
- “What a truly amazing show you have put together! It brings all the parts about jazz dance that make it so unique – it’s sense of community, the essence of cool, the communicative use of call and response, the improvisational elements, and of course it’s connection to the music! You and the roster of guest choreographers have put together something so magical, it had me moving and grooving in my seat, not to mention wishing I was on that dance floor!” – Crystal Secor, Audience Member for The Cohort (2019)
- “I am so glad that I got to know you this summer/work with you. Seriously, keep doing what you are doing. You have a great mission, amazing work ethic, and you are creating some amazing opportunities for artists out there. I feel lucky to be a part of the Minnesota family.” – Rohan Bhargava, Choreographer for The Cohort (2019)
- “Saw this last night… it was fantastic! There’s so much diversity with the various dances and music. I loved how some dancers shared insights into their creative process/motivation using spotlight/ voiceovers. I also loved the live JAZZ. It all flowed effortlessly! Thanks performers for a great evening.” – Colleen Schaefer, Audience Member
- “Congrats on a wonderful performance! It was lush, polished and generous. It was clear from the opening curtain speech the love, care and passion that was poured into the evening.” – Carl Flink, Dept. of Theater Arts and Dance, University of Minnesota
- “Thank you Rhythmically Speaking for your support of rhythm-based choreographers and your work to bring this diverse community of unique and passionate artists together.” – Karla Grotting, Past RS Choreographer
- “Erinn was very interactive and had great questions that made our residents think about how to engage with jazz music and dance. I think residents would benefit from more of this kind of interactive programming! We hope to have Rhythmically Speaking back again soon.” – Molly Stoltz, Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Sholom Home West Senior Care
- “Thank you so very much for the great experience this past week. From start to finish, the show was run impeccably. You have a truly fantastic thing going here. The show is eclectic, professional, and currently provides a vital foray into otherwise uncharted territory in this community. Bravo. You’ve allowed me to continue a crucial aspect of my personal technical and creative journey, and present that to an audience. Thank you again for a fantastic experience.” – Jeffrey Peterson, Past RS Choreographer