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HEALING STEPS
ENSEMBLE PROMOTES WORLD PEACE WITH FREE-FLOWING STYLE

This week, Third Rank Arts Ensemble, the Western New York Chorale and several other performers will present "A Time for Peace: A Multi-Media Performance to Promote World Peace." The program encompasses a wide selection of secular and spiritually influenced dance, song, poetry, storytelling, prayer and live music.

Third Rank Arts Ensemble was formed in 1996, inspired by Artistic Director Anne Marie Worthy's dance therapy work. The ensemble espouses a collaborative, improvisational process in creating dances that celebrate nature and spirit.

The name of the company comes from a quote by Okada Torajiro: "Tanden (the navel center) is the shrine of the divine. . . . People of the third rank regard the belly as the most important part, and here build a stronghold where the divine can grow. From there the authentic being is born."

In its almost 10 years of existence, Third Rank has evolved into a teaching and performing community, with members of widely varying ages and backgrounds. Third Rank performers have a remarkable acceptance for themselves and each other. The age spread of the performers is also highly unusual. "One of our youngest performers was 17," says Worthy, who is 54. "And currently in the group is Bobbie Grimm, who is 83."

"The really amazing part is that none of us is a professional dancer," says Sabine Van Wyck, 46, an original member of the group. "Our focus is not about perfection or precision. Because it's not about that, there is so much room for expression."

Worthy's work as a dance therapist at BryLin Hospital, where her clients were mostly grappling with eating disorders, helped her to realize that the success she was having might be applied to a more general population.

"Dance therapy is a way to help the whole person," Worthy says. "Verbal psychotherapy works mainly at a mental level. When you set a body in motion, you can work at every level."

Worthy's husband is also a member of the group. Stan Worthy, 48, was primarily a poet before meeting his wife through the arts community. He began taking her movement class early on, and credits the experience with opening him up to singing and dancing, as well.

"I liked the freedom and unstructured atmosphere," he says. "The class was geared toward inner feelings, and not highly technical. If you wanted to be still, you could, if you wanted to move . . ."

Anne Marie Worthy has been involved with dancing all her life. Like many young girls, she had ballet lessons, then in high school, took up modern. In college, she discovered the field of dance therapy, which combined two of her most passionate interests.

Today she is a working psychotherapist. She studies forms of alternative therapy, and is writing a book on the healing powers of dance. She has also never stopped dancing herself, branching out to other forms including African, Middle Eastern and Brazilian.

Aside from their performances, the group presents weekly Spirit dance sessions. Worthy and other members of the troupe teach, lead and participate in exercises and improvisations. Anyone who is interested is welcome.

"(The Spirit dances) have an atmosphere of welcome and support," Worthy says. "When any of us teaches, we make it clear that it's about your inner dancer, not about learning steps. We give lots of options."

"We are basically nondancers -- regular people," adds performer Van Wyck. "We don't have perfect bodies, we are of all ages. We are just doing it -- and loving it."

"A Time for Peace: A Multi-Media Performance to Promote World Peace" takes place at 4 p.m. Sunday in Westminster Presbyterian Church, 724 Delaware Ave., and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in SS. Peter and Paul Catholic Church, 5480 Main St., Williamsville. Tickets are $8 to $10; 12 and under are free. Call 560-3039.

Third Rank's weekly Spirit Dances take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the Nichols School, 1250 Amherst St. Call 560-3039.