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Complete the phrase: "We are all ... "

Tarn Ream asked more than 200 people to take a crack at it. At the Missoula Senior Center. At Opportunity Resources Inc. (ORI), the nonprofit that works with people with disabilities. She asked people on the street, too.

"It's a sudden question," she said. "You have to come up with something right now."

Answers range from phrases ("human beings, trying to do the best we can") to the concise ("together," "unique") and the candid ("weird," "depressed").

Ream, a longtime Missoula dance instructor, would follow up with another question: What would that look like as a dance?

"You get something different than if they had a lot of time to think about it," she said.

She recorded video of all these answers and used them to build a choreographic piece for all ages and abilities as part of a field project. She was selected as a Teacher Leader in the Arts for the Montana Arts Council.

The public premiere occurred on Wednesday during lunch at the Missoula Senior Center, using dancers from ORI, University of Montana dance students, and community members from the UM New Visions dance class, and was designed for locals with disabilities and more.

Wendy Erhardt, a supervisor at ORI, said all her folks looked forward to their classes — Ream came once a week and worked with a different class.

"They have fun and they worked very hard," Erhardt said.

Tiki Preston, a UM dancer-volunteer, said she's enjoyed working with ORI.

"Right when walked in the door, we got mobbed with hugs," she said.

One of the New Visions students, Kyle Fortner, said he'd never danced before this class. He was visibly excited before the performance. Like everyone else, he had a custom T-shirt that let him fill in the blank at the end of "We All Are." His completed the phrase with "drummers," a sentiment many musicians would benefit from contemplating.

At a quarter to 1, the group assembled into rows facing their audience, with folks who use wheelchairs in a row to the front. Heidi Eggert Jones, the UM professor who teaches the New Visions class, helped lead the group. Ream queued up Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" on the sound-system. There were arm-flexing hand gestures during the line, "lean on me/when you're not strong." Many of the dancers broke into pairs for some Western swing-style loops. In the flurry of excitement after their bows, Fortner was doling out high-fives.

Ream is working with videographer Molly Stark-Ragsdale and photographer William Munoz to document the project.

They'll perform the piece again on Friday, April 13, at 6:30 p.m. in the PAR/TV Center's Open Space as part of the University of Montana dance program's "Studio Works" concert. Admission is $5. The evening features student and faculty work, presented and performed by students, in an informal studio setting.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.