Profile By: Erin Arellano
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
– from “If” by Rudyard Kipling
If Rudyard Kipling had been writing about Professor Josie Metal-Corbin, he would have spoken of distance danced. Few people can truly admit to making every minute count. But if there is one person who could claim this, it would be Metal-Corbin. Her dancing is not merely stepping and twirling to a song. Her music is not limited to a three-minute record or to musical notations alone. She does not dance simply for the sake of music interpretation, but rather, she dances the dance of life. She considers every musical note, work of art, scrap of fabric, plat of land, breath of air, dancer, student, audience member, person that she meets, and every sixty-seconds of her day as a partner in this dance of life. She sees each moment as an opportunity to learn, to feel, to share what is in her heart – and that is dance.
The Mamie Barth Dance Studio was situated on the second floor of a Liberty Avenue building that also housed a Turkish steam bath in downtown Pittsburgh, PA. Beginning at the age of eight, Josie Metal took a bus, by herself, from her neighborhood in the suburbs, into downtown Pittsburgh for dance lessons. After getting off of the bus, she still had to walk several blocks past stores and theatres, the likes of which she’d been cautioned not to take a peek. Later, as an adult, she learned that her mother called her father, who was a watchmaker downtown, to let him know when Josie got on the bus. Her father would look out for her to get off of the bus and then, unbeknownst to Josie, he would follow along with her on the opposite side of the street.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour. – William Blake
Metal-Corbin asserts that her life is guided by Barry Commoner, renowned physicist and ecologist whose number one rule of ecology is “Everything is Connected to Everything Else.” Of course, this is not a new revelation. It’s been reiterated by the Renaissance man, Leonardo DaVinci; poet William Blake; bio-chemist, Ernest Baldwin; and New Age and alternative medicine advocate, Deepak Chopra. Now it is echoed in the movements, sound waves, and connections created by Josie Metal-Corbin through dance. She understands that we are linked to this world through our every action, which she represents to the world through dance.
Metal-Corbin joined UNO as an assistant professor and associate director of The Moving Company in 1980. Her goal was “[to meet] the mission of the University’s community engagement goal within UNO’s Strategic Plan” (Hunter 409). The Human Touch project was one of many events during the span of her career. Considering the sheer volume of people, organizations, and sites that she has worked with over the years, she has definitely provided visibility for the University.
She can be described as many things: dancer, choreographer, teacher; but she says it was her ability at collaboration that defined her career at the University of Nebraska Omaha. “In my drive to establish new alliances, build audiences, and make dance accessible to all I have experienced an impulsive and compulsive drive to find places and spaces for dance to happen, whether it is for advanced
Metal-Corbin is very proud of the fact that while most university modern dance programs are associated with fine arts or performing arts departments, The Moving Company and Dance Lab remain a part of the College of Education’s School of Health Physical Education and Recreation, which is historically unusual for modern dance. She has always tried to connect dance to the University’s goal of community engagement by connecting The Moving Company to academics and working in secondary schools, combining efforts with other university departments and community-based activities.
Metal-Corbin was engaged in an emerging 21st century genre of research and choreography entitled Public Scholarship and Site-Specific Dance. However, she didn’t realize that she was doing a particular kind of scholarship until one of her colleagues, Victoria Hunter, edited a book, Moving Sites: Investigating Site Specific Dance Performance. Metal-Corbin was asked to talk about
Metal-Corbin was involved in site-specific dance, even before the phrase was coined. Reach for It started out as a program for elders at the old Paxton Manor. She and her husband, David Corbin, volunteered and started to teach dance and exercise to residents. Eventually, they wrote a book called Reach for It: A Handbook of Health, Exercise and Dance Activities for Older Adults to describe their approach. Although Metal-Corbin stopped participating in these lessons, he continued teaching every Friday, working with elders, for 34 years.
Then seven years ago, she started a new Reach for It, though unlike the original, this was a dance class solely for persons with Parkinson’s. She went to New York for training: “There’s a famous dance company, the Mark Morris Dance Group that provides a wonderful Parkinson’s program. Dance for PD® was “launched as a non-profit
The National Water Dance Project was a national initiative. People across the nation were asked to demonstrate the fragility of water as a natural resource. At the time, Nebraska was going through a drought, so the project was named “Drought.” It was one of the landmark productions of Metal-Corbin’s career, because she worked with the City of Omaha Parks and Recreation Department to secure access to one of our city’s landmarks, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge as the site for UNO’s contribution to the project.
Rehearsals took place in the Dance Lab, the hallways of the School of HPER, and on the UNO track. They practiced in sun, wind, and rain which made it physically challenging beyond the choreography itself. The performance occurred in January, something Metal-Corbin had to remind the national organizers because her performers were standing on a bridge,
The Glacier Creek Prairie Project started with an unusual request, which Metal-Corbin couldn’t resist: “There was only one time during all of those decades when someone came to me, this very enthusiastic environmentalist, Barbi Hayes, and said, ‘We are inaugurating a prairie up north, and I would like these dancers.’ She envisioned them as waving blades of grass. She invited me without me being behind the scenes as I usually was. It was such a moment when someone else envisioned dance and invited me” (Metal-Corbin. 26 Apr. 2017). The Glacier Creek Prairie Project is a collaboration with the Rivertown String Band, the NU Foundation, and the UNO Biology and Music departments. “The stage was a tall grass prairie. Some of the grass had fallen over. The surface was spongy, not solid. The dancers didn’t know where they would land, and
Josie Metal-Corbin is cognizant that she inherited a well-established, progressive dance program from her predecessors. “My success is predicated on the work of my successors in The Moving Company: Ruth Diamond Levinson and Vera Lundahl” (Metal-Corbin. 26 Apr. 2017). Ruth Levinson Diamond founded Orchesis in 1935, and directed the University’s chapter of this nationwide honorary club for modern dance, for which faculty sponsorship was provided during the early decades. Orchesis became The Moving Company in 1973 under the direction of Dr.Vera Lundahl.
She is also very grateful to Lauren Kotulak Bartels, who was the first student Metal-Corbin met at UNO. She also has been her Associate Director from 1993-2015. Metal-Corbin said Kotulak Bartels provided inspiration and counsel, and contributed artistically and administratively for the proscenium-based concerts and the site-specific works, the Sunday classes, and the everyday tasks. Without her, Metal-Corbin
Ruth Diamond danced her way into Omaha in 1931, knocking down barriers and disrupting gender norms as she pioneered, introduced, and established modern dance as an art form and area of study at the UnAREAS OF INTREST: Arts, Education