Tag Archives: John Munger

Learning from life

A year ago my friend, choreographer, and fellow dancer John Munger passed away. I wrote about it last year, which you can read here, or watch the memorial video created by James Peitzman here.

Mosquito dance ARDC

John and I dancing “Mosquito” with the American Russian Dance Company at the Festival of Nations

I’ve thought about John a lot this past year. Moments of missing him. Thoughts about his embracing life with joy, excitement, and frustration. Thinking about his perspective on life and the zeal with which he always ensured dance was part of that life. And thinking about the fact that life comes to an end for all of us, and there will be a moment when we are the ones that others are reflecting on. Thinking about what we said we wanted, what we did, and whether we were happy.

Odd as this may be, today feels like a good day for me to say thank you to the people in my life who have passed away in the past few years. To the ones I knew well enough that I feel like I can have the above thoughts without being a superficial jerk, but instead learning from them – their joy of life, their dreams both realized and unfulfilled, and for sharing their lives with other people. With me.

I always selfishly want everyone I care about to be around forever, but even when they are gone, I am grateful. I am grateful for the remnants of them in my heart, my soul, and my mind as I make decisions about my life. And I know that they continue in similar and different ways for other people.

Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes learning from life is even harder. And I’m grateful that others have shared their lives with me so I can try to learn from them, too.



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For my late friend, John Munger

A friend and colleague of mine passed away this spring. I kept meaning to write something, but the right thing never came together. As I commented in one of many drafts, “John was one of those people who touched my life in more ways than I realized until it became clear that he wasn’t going to be around much longer. From the responses of many others, I think his life affected a lot of people that way.” There was so much to say, and yet anything seemed like not enough.

But now the Minnesota Fringe Festival is underway, and yesterday would have been his 68th birthday, and it seems like it’s time.

John Munger performing at the Minnesota Fringe Festival

John Munger. Photo courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival


I met John Munger when we were both dancing with a group that changed names a few times but was most frequently called the American-Russian Dance Company. Soon after, he hired me to dance in his company, the Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble, and thanks to John, for a few months I was able to pay my rent by being a modern dancer (granted, I lived with 3 other people in a small apartment, but still – dancing was paying for the roof over my head).

Skip forward.

John loved the Fringe Festival. He was a passionate dance advocate and loved to create shows that might entice people to give dance a try. For six years, he hosted a version of a Dance-Shows-That-Got-Into-The-Fringe preview night at his ongoing dance series at a local theater/restaurant/bowling alley. He had already booked this year’s show before he passed away, so this July April Sellers and I continued the tradition.  I took his place and emceed the show, filling in between the dance pieces with excerpts of his dance-at-the-Fringe-focused blog.

One of the things I love so dearly about The Fringe is that it reflects real life on so many levels. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the fabulous. That’s how art should be. It should be real. (Fringe Fried, 8-11-2009)

Last night I was sitting backstage at The Lab Theatre waiting for my next cue…It occurred to me that I was privileged. Audiences who are not themselves performers as well don’t sit where I was sitting, seeing what I was seeing, experiencing what I was experiencing. I don’t own the backstage. Only divas of either gender think they do. But I know that as a performer in this show, and as a long-standing performer in many shows, I know my way around in the dark back there. I’m allowed.

I became very grateful. I realized that this is exactly where I want to be. I know this backstage world, and I know the onstage world as well. I am very, very comfortable in these worlds. At my age and in my declining physical condition (I’m 66) I am grateful that I am still welcome here. (Alone In The Dark, 8-10-2011)

John also loved to talk about dance. He liked to deconstruct the mystery of show production and would frequently call his shows from a microphone onstage. He loved picking music for new pieces, and I have many fond memories of rehearsals when he was about to start choreographing a new solo on me. I would arrive at the studio and he would be sitting happily on the floor, piles of cds surrounding him. He would always have a few top choices, but for solos he wanted to know what felt right at that moment for both him and the dancer.

John, myself, and Alissa Karges in a Third Rabbit performance 2004

John, myself, and Alissa Karges

The last solo John choreographed on me was in 2007. We listened to a few pieces, and eventually settled on a fado piece. A lover of musical genres from all over the world, John quickly gave me a detailed history of the Portuguese music as we listened to the different options. Over the next few weeks, he choreographed, I danced, and eventually I performed the piece in our spring show and his show at the Fringe Festival that year. The development of each piece was different with John. This time, although we knew the basic persona of the character, we didn’t discuss the details. At one point a ways into the rehearsal process, it came out that both John and I had come to the same conclusion without talking about it – that she had just buried someone she loved and was both grieving and trying to show strength for those around her. When I heard John was in the hospital this April and didn’t have much time left, this was the piece that haunted my brain. (Here’s the piece, with introduction by John)


This year I’m performing in the Fringe Festival in a show by DRP Dance. It’s a collection of dances by different choreographers. I made two short little pieces that I like to think of as “amuse-bouches” between longer pieces. I’m also dancing a duet choreographed by Danielle Robinson-Prater, the DRP of DRP Dance, and my frequent dance partner. Extra appropriate to this post, Danielle and I first danced together in my first Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble show in 2000. We opened our show yesterday, on what would have been John’s 68th birthday. A random date in the Fringe lottery of performance schedules, but unmistakably appropriate.

I think part of the reason I never knew quite what to say in a blog post about John was that I had already seen the following video, created by James Peitzman for John’s memorial celebration. It’s a wonderful tribute, and if you have a few minutes, please watch it. Whether or not you knew John, whether or not you like dance.

In the words of John Munger, “Fringe On!”


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