On April 5th, the CDHP crew had the pleasure of conducting an interview with Stephanie Clemens, the Director of the Academy of Movement & Music in Oak Park and the Artistic Director of the Academy’s resident dance company, MOMENTA. Upon arrival, we were given a tour of the Academy, its halls adorned with many photographs carrying histories of their own.
Stephanie points out Doris Humphrey (lower left), Ruth St. Denis (right), and several company alumni, such as Sandra Kaufmann (upper left) and Sarita Smith Childs, Tanya Wideman, and Ayisha McMillan Cravotta (middle, left to right) as she led our camera down a staircase. We entered a room housing the Academy’s vast costume collection. Somewhere in this space filled with miles of tulle and sequined embroidery rests the original costume worn by Ruth St. Denis in her performance of Ishtar of the Seven Gates.
Technically, the Academy began in 1971 when Stephanie rolled up the rug in her living room and started teaching local children. Now, she’s teaching the children and grandchildren of those initial students. With help from partner and technical director Mike Dutka, Stephanie punctuated her stories with memorabilia, including several costumes she had worn in performance. Tears came to her eyes upon showing us her favorite: a simple cream colored, floor-length country-style dress. In this dress she had danced the character of a loving mother and wife in Doris Humphrey’s Day on Earth. As our visit to the Academy came to a close, we returned to Stephanie’s desk, a space covered in layers of thank you and holiday cards from all her former students and collaborators. “These are all my spiritual grandchildren,” she smiles.