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HOOFING VETS DEMONSTRATE DANCE BENEFITS.

World War II Navy veteran Vivian Eagan, 78, began taking tap class ten years ago and she insists it changed her life. "I could never have gotten up in front of a group of people if I hadn't learned to dance," said Eagan, who has served as chaplain at her Saratoga, New York, American Legion post's ceremonies since 1995. Many benefits of the performing arts as therapy were apparent in Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Hall, where 120 military veterans, including Eagan, exhibited their talent and spirit October 21 in the concert finale to the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival.

The entertainers, as well as the visual artists whose works adorned the hall's lobby, had been culled from a massive, yearlong nationwide competition open to anyone receiving medical treatment from one of the Department of Veterans Affairs's ninety facilities. Emceed by actors Jane Powell and Ernest Borgnine, who propelled the acts along at an energetic tempo, the nearly three-hour show offered a wide range of talent. Not everyone was combat-wounded or visibly disabled, and there were some world-class artists on stage--pianist Odell Brown, for example, the Grammy-winning co-composer of "Sexual Healing," who infused "America the Beautiful" with a powerful glamour.

Like other musicians in the show, Brown had been assigned an MOS, or military occupation specialty, in a musical field during his service; it allowed him to develop professionally during those years, an advantage no military dancer has enjoyed. Perhaps that's why musicians dominated this concert, which showcased fewer dance numbers. These included the concert's curtain raiser, a swing exhibition by Neal Lewis and his partner Shirley Duncan. Since retiring from the Army, Lewis has been so successful as a dance instructor that he has a reputation in Baltimore's African American community as "the black Fred Astaire," and his smooth moves did indeed recall Astaire's easy grace.

The three dance ensembles that followed were equally impressive and represented more personal triumph. Backed up by a gospel choir and ambulatory partner Debbie Beckward, Korean War veteran Lee Williams interpreted "I Believe I Can Fly" with a pas de deux that worked his arms and upper body so vigorously he nearly soared out of the wheelchair he has been using for the past twenty years. A red-bereted trio called the Blind Beat Dancers clapped the rhythm as they syncopated their shoulders and hips with their two-step in "Madison VA Style," a lowdown, teasing line dance. "My disability alters my life," one dancer told Borgnine. "It doesn't stop it."

Despite a recently broken hip, Eagan hoofed through an "Anchors Aweigh" and "Sailors' Hornpipe" duet (with Dorothy Stekeur, 80) that ended in a snappy salute and brought the audience to its feet. "Nothing was going to stop me," beamed the pint-sized dancer after stealing the show.
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Title Annotation:veterans perform at arts festival
Author:Durbin, Paula
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:462
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