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‘Open Hearts’ members empower through dance themes


A troupe of ten people danced and some sang as part of the recent Asheville Fringe Arts Festival. Their inspiring act was called “Exploring Kindness and Bravery Through Song and Dance.” They performed it Jan. 26 and 28, in the BeBe Theatre.

The act was directed by Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre (ACDT) founders and directors Susan and Giles Collard. They noted they had launched Fringe. Giles danced with the Open Hearts performers, and led off in a French-themed dance duo.

Dance-acrobatic solos included by some with Down Syndrome, who were less agile but very persistent. Many had autistic-like specialties in some areas, above others. A few sang. A man named Jose played guitar, and sang in Spanish and English. Yannick Brewster sang and played keyboard well. The group then joined him, dancing.

When Brewster danced among them, he was in back holding a sign that read “strong.” Brewster said after the show he felt “wonderful” when performing on stage.

Most frolicked individually. Some tried couples dancing — most often toward the end as many from the audience joined in when encouraged to. They paired off with the dancers, in a moving moment. Earlier, Giles Collard twirled two Open Hearts people at once.

Two trained performers led the other eight in the troupe. Open Hearts affiliate Cynthu Muthusamy, a visual artist, and lanky Collard mostly stayed in back or to the sides. They said this was to give Open Hearts people the limelight.

When Muthusamy moved from back corner to front corner, however, she could demonstrate the next move which dancers quickly caught onto. She said she was thrilled to see how the dancers “came alive, and get so energized.”

The group’s annual talent show was on Nov. 18.

Open Hearts uniquely conducts arts education in such areas as visual art, dance, movement, music and drama. One of its slogans is “arts, people, empowerment.” The group states how it serves “adults with a variety of challenges including developmental, mental, physical and emotional disabilities — and we have a boat-load of fun doing it.”

Another description is “adults with different capabilities.” The goal is to expand potentials. Thus, OHAC is a “supportive studio and gallery for adults with disabilities with the mission to empower people to reach their full potential through the arts.”

Gritty “alley cat country” singer Taylor Martin performs in a fundraiser for OHAC. That will be Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m. in Pisgah Brewing Co. at 150 Eastside Dr. in Black Mountain. Tickets are each $10.

Non-profit Open Hearts began in 2005, and in June move into a larger and more centralized facility in Asheville — at 217 Coxe Ave. Directors and co-founders are Jessie Francis, Debbie Dearborn Harris and Sonia Nesbitt Pitts.

Francis oversees financial operations. She worked with a an autistic young artist, in an internship while studying human services at Montreat College. She stated she is inspired daily at Open Hearts, with time “bright and bold with color and life.”

Harris coordinates events. She attended the N.C. School of the Arts, and has a fine art degree from “App State.” She stated she enjoys “nurturing their talents, creating events to cultivate their self-confidence and bring awareness to their vast abilities.”

Pitts is over such areas as human resources, program operations and “outcome development.” The 2002 UNCA grad has a degree in psychology, concentrated in creative arts therapies.

Visual art is one creative outlet, showcased in a series of art shows in the Open Hearts Gallery often works for sale. The latest exhibit is “Creative License: Expression Color” by Oshin (“Oh-sheen”), a female OHAC client who is 23. She grew up in Jamaica.

Oshin likes to sketch, paint and sew. Her works include her painting of a giraffe she named Tina. Oshin’s show opened Saturday, Feb. 10 and runs through March 30 in the center’s Open Hearts Gallery.

For more on Open Hearts, call 505-8428 or check

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