Perry Hall woman's dance company engages with the community

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The Deep Vision dancers might turn up engaging passersby with outdooor performances.

If you tell Nicole Martinell you don't dance, she won't believe you. The Perry Hall resident, who founded the Deep Vision Dance Company, said everyone dances, though they may not realize it.

"We have a vocabulary that's shared by all," she said. "Dance is movement with intention."

This philosophy shapes Deep Vision, a nonprofit company, and the dancers who are attracted to its mission. Some dance companies are molded by discipline or self-expression, but the crew Martinell has assembled over the past seven years is driven by engagement with the community.

The Deep Vision dancers may be found rehearsing in a studio at the Center for the Arts on the campus of Towson University, where Martinell teaches. But they might also turn up engaging passersby with outdooor performances in Baltimore's Station North neighborhood.

Deep Vision's assistant director, Kelly Weckesser Hall, a 2012 Towson University graduate who is in the process of moving to Glen Arm, agreed that outreach is key to the mission.

"We are community based. Almost any aspect of what we do is reaching out and getting the community involved," she said.

Martinell has been on the adjunct faculty at TU as a dance instructor for seven years. "It's my home," she said. But it wasn't always.

A native of Johnstown, Pa., and the oldest of six children, she caught the dance bug early when her mother took her to classes. She trained with ballet companies in central Pennsylvania until, at age 16, she took summer classes at the Ailey School in New York City.

She later attended Penn State University, where she took a degree in kinesiology in 2004. She taught for a while at Texas Woman's University until, after moving to Maryland to support her husband's career, she met Susan Kirchner, chairwoman of TU's department of dance.

"My relationship with Towson was almost immediate," she said.

She began organizing Deep Vision in 2010 and incorporated it as a nonprofit in 2011.

What was the impetus?

"I love to create movement and I love to work with people. I put those two things together," she said.

At a rehearsal in a TU studio, a group of young dancers glided in seeming random orbit with each other, only to come together in tight choreography, rolling against each other, then moving apart, then back together.

Martinell observed closely, giving instructions. She said a choreographed movement usually starts with a theme.

"How is this topic interesting? How does it work in time and space? It takes a while to evolve into a work of art. ... It's almost like we work in chapters. I call them creative puzzles."

Four years ago, Deep Vision launched Akimbo, a site-specific dance and movement arts festival held annually in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District in Baltimore. The Akimbo project recruits dancers, musicians, visual artists and other creative people for public performances.

The initial public reaction to Akimbo was mixed, said assistant director Hall, and included some "conflict" with baffled neighbors. That has changed.

"Now, folks are contacting us and want to be part of the festival," she said.

One of the dancers, Olivia Serrill, a 2014 alumna of TU, said it was the outward vision of the dance company that attracted her.

"I like companies that offer a more collaborative atmosphere," she said. "It comes from an idea. Then, how does the community comment on that?"

In addition to community engagement and performance, Deep Vision has an educational purpose. It runs classes for adults and mentoring for teenagers at TU and connects with artists in other fields to hold workshops and what Martinell calls "community improvisation jams."

Every summer, Deep Vision holds a fundraiser in the Perry Hall area. This summer it is on Aug. 22 at the Maryland State Game and Fish Protection Association, 8735 Honeygo Blvd.

Details are still being ironed out, but Martinell said those attending can expect food, drink, games, a silent auction, a performance by her husband's band and, of course, dancing. Tickets cost about $35.

Plans are also under way for the next Akimbo event, which will be Sept. 12. Go to http://www.deepvisiondancecompany.org for more information.

As Deep Vision grows in membership and expands its community engagement, Martinell said its mission is going beyond putting bodies in motion.

"As we discover the dance we discover layers about ourselves," she said. "It's more than dance."

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