Person of the Week
Linalynn Schmelzer: Shall We Dance?
Deep River’s Linalynn Schmelzer is intent on bringing dance to unexpected stages. (Photo courtesy of Linalynn Schmelzer )
You can dance in a ballroom, on a stage, or even at a high school prom, but that’s not where Linalynn Schmelzer was dancing. She was in front of Earth & Fire Art Studio on Essex Main Street in tights and sneakers performing a modern dance interpretation of local artist Daniel Dahlstrom’s painting, Egret with an Attitude. And like an egret, a Facebook post shows Linalynn standing on one foot.
Sneakers? That’s what you need when you are dancing on cement, Linalynn points out.
Earth & Fire was hosting an exhibition of work by members of River Valley Artists and they had asked Linalynn, who grew up in Ivoryton and now lives in Deep River, to choose four paintings from the show to use an inspiration to create original dances.
“Passers-by seemed pretty interested; some people did a quick double take,” she says.
Finding ways to bring modern dance to a wider audience is important to Linalynn, who founded River Valley Dance Project in 2014, as a means of bringing dance to adults who wanted to perform as well as to children. Two recent You Tube posts on Linalynn’s channel feature a dance called High Tide, performed on a beach, and Reverie in Isolation, danced in the woods.
“It’s important to bring dance to alternate venues. I love to see dance everywhere,” she says.
In more traditional settings, Linalynn he has done performances around the state at arts festivals. Locally she has performed at The Kate in Old Saybrook and in the auditorium at Deep River Town Hall, on whose management committee she serves. She is also secretary of the Connecticut Dance Alliance.
A grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts for which Linalynn applied through the Shoreline Arts Alliance was intended for River Valley Dance Project to choreograph and perform a new work called Second Chance, but COVID has canceled the performance. When Second Chance has a second chance at performance, Linalynn thinks she might incorporate some of the emotions inspired by this uniquely stressful period into her composition.
Dance, she says, often does not have as much of a following as other performing arts.
“I think people are intimidated by it. They don’t understand it. It requires wanting to be challenged,” she says. “You know it’s a bit like when people look at abstract art; sometimes they say, ‘Why a child could do that,’ but it is hard to dance well, super hard.”
Linalynn says she started taking dance lessons at around the age of three. When she was at Valley Regional High School, she was one of the first students to attend the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. She did her academics at Valley in the morning and dance in the afternoon at the arts academy to which her father drove her every day.
Arts training is very much a part of her family. Her father, Frank Natter, Sr., is a classical guitarist and owns a local music store and school, Face Arts Music.
Music was also a part of Linalynn’s training. She played the flute and, when her family moved here from Long Island, her mother got then eight-year-old Linalynn her involved in the Deep River Junior Ancients fife and drum corps. She played fife for some five years with the group.
“I loved it,” she says. “I still love it.”
She recalls the time that the fife and drum corps played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a summer concert at Tanglewood in 1991.
“It was pretty magical to play with them,” she says.
She majored in dance, earning a bachelor of fine arts from the University of Massachusetts and then a got a master’s degree from Pratt Institute focused on dance and movement therapy. She is not yet a board-certified dance therapist, though she says it is a goal. She has worked with both children and adults in movement therapy.
“I get very excited about it,” she says. “It does help people and there is a lot of science behind it, the mind- body connection,”
She has created a studio in a backyard shed that she calls The Cloud and she uses it regularly. Her regime, though, has changed over the years.
“As a dancer you have to move every day,” she says. “But now I have to move smarter.”
She gives more time for warm up and cool down and she has learned how to conserve energy. Still, she points out that age has its benefits for a dancer.
“You are more mindful, you are older, you know what your body can do, and you respect it,” she says.
Linalynn explains that her unusual first name is a combination of her grandmother’s first name and her father’s middle name. She did a computer search but found nobody else with the name.
“I think I am the only one,” she says.
To see some of Linalynn’s dance and choreography, visit YouTube and search River Valley Dance Project.