For one Provo couple, life is a modern dance duet. And despite the constant balancing it takes, they do it passionately.
Kathie Parsons and Pat Debenham got their start together in 1975, along with a fledgling modern dance group at BYU. The Dancers' Company, Kathie's master's degree project, became a permanent fixture. The two made their partnership permanent in 1976, the same year Pat became a fulltime faculty member and artistic director of the company.Since then, the Debenham name has become synonymous with creative dance in Utah Valley. Not only do they have their BYU projects Kathie is assistant director of the Children and Teens Creative Dance Program but they are involved in community awareness, teaching, and performing, always trying to educate and convert people to the virtues of modern dance.
"The basic way to tell if it's modern dance is if the dancers are barefoot," the affable Pat will tell an audience in a lecture-demonstration. And then he'll go on to teach them the elements that combine to make modern dance the creative experience he loves.
Pat and Kathie have traveled around the world with The Dancers' Company, going into schools and giving kids esteem-heightening, firsthand experience with creative movement. (South American countries are scheduled for visits in May.) They've been all over the state with the Utah Arts Council's Artists-in-Education program, showing teachers how to use movement to teach anything more effectively. And they and their choreographic works have been seen on stages throughout Utah Valley.
It would be easy enough if all they had to do was dance or teach about dance. But they also have three daughters: Whitney, 10, Marney, 8, and Kelby, 5. Kathie explains, "With every concert we've done, we haven't had the luxury of having only that performance to worry about. We're also juggling teaching, family, and church responsibilities at the same time.
"The big negative in our lifestyle is that it's labor-intensive. It takes so much physical and mental energy, it's hard to provide the stable base the kids need."
But if their lifestyle requires time away from their family for rehearsals and tours, Pat feels it's also given him and his wife flexibilty. They've been able to alternate teaching schedules so one parent can be with the girls most of the time. Because Kathie's needed to be away, Pat feels he's been involved with his family more than he otherwise would have been.
"We do things together that other families don't do," added Kathie. She's danced with all three daughters in "Woman: The Pioneer," and the girls and their guests have enjoyed summer productions at Sundance, where Pat choreographed "Annie" last year and will do "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" this year. Guest artists who've stayed in the Debenham home have given the girls a broader exposure and experience with people, Kathie said.
The Debenhams joined forces with Doris Hudson-Trujillo two years ago to form Contemporary Dance Works, "to provide a forum in Utah Valley for choreography and performance on a professional level."
"We didn't realize how important it would be to us until we began working together," said Pat. "Unlike working with students it is much quicker, and there is more assurance of the outcome in performance."
As much as they enjoy dancing, both have focused more on creating dances in recent years. Pat, known for his humor in both his choreography and his performance, has invented dances for things from BYU musicals to concert solos to on-the-spot creations in workshops.
Pat describes his own style: "Whether it's dramatic or humorous or a piece for sheer movement's sake, it has to do with body wit." The kinesthetic element in his choreography has members of the audience responding with movement to what they see. "There's an articulation of an idea that has a clever presentation." He admits that a short memory helps him take a fresh approach every time he starts a new piece. "I'm always looking at things with new eyes," he says.
Pat enjoys teaching, "but my passion is choreography." Kathie agrees. "Choreography is Pat's real gift. He's good at teaching, but his heart thrives when he's creating." They're both happy that Pat finally got up enough courage to change his major to dance in his senior year when he saw all the opportunities it offered his creative abilities. So is the college, which cited him with its creative achievement award recently.
For her part, Kathie has done more choreography in the last year than in the five previous, much of it for children and teens in BYU's program. She has especially enjoyed collaborating on choreographic works of religious significance: "Rejoice in the Lord," "Thy Sister, Thyself," and the new "Parable."
She develops a movement phrase, based on a sense of breadth and weight, combined with snatches of visualization. "I let the dance find itself first," she said, then shapes it to the music. The past four years, Kathie has also taken on the challenge of building a dance program at the Waterford School in Provo, developing a curriculum from age 3 up. "That has been a signigicant stimulus for me."
As for being married to someone in her same field, Kathie feels lucky. "I don't know many women whose husband shares their passion."
Said Pat, "When you dance, and you're as involved in it as we are, I can't imagine there's anything I'd really rather do. I don't think I could be anything else."