We were honored to have Cleo Parker Robinson, founder and executive creative director of the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, speak at our agency staff meeting on Thursday, March 2. Founded in 1970, Cleo’s dance ensemble has toured the world and earned international recognition. Among Cleo’s many honors, she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame, named to the National Council on the Arts (by President Clinton), and awarded a Kennedy Center Medal of Honor.
As our president & CEO, Shepard Nevel, told the staff, “We invited Cleo to join us because we can always benefit from inspiration in the important, sometimes challenging work at JFS. Cleo also exemplifies what so many of you represent—the very impressive capacity to consistently bring expertise, compassion, inclusiveness, vision, impact, and energy to one’s job over a period of time that often spans decades.”
Cleo inspired and captivated the staff as she shared pieces of her life’s journey, struggles, and challenges she has overcome both personally and professionally. She related those to the struggles our clients endure. She advised us to think about the times and spaces our clients have been through, and to have empathy with what’s happening in the world around them at the time. She commended us for creating a safe space for people when they are going through a vulnerable time.
Cleo openly revealed many difficulties in her life, such as facing extreme prejudice for being mixed-race (or “half-breed” as she was sometimes called) and not fitting in with African-Americans or Caucasians. She has also been exposed to several religions, including Judaism, and identifies with more than one. She explained, “I dance to feel present, grounded, and centered. It helps me feel spiritually, mentally, and emotionally present, and I hope I help others feel this way through my dance classes and performances. I also dance to free myself from societal ‘boxes’ and categories like race, gender, religion, and ethnicity.”
She feels her role is to connect people, which she mostly accomplishes through dance. Relating to the clients we serve, Cleo said, “When you’re in trauma, you’re not fully in your body or feeling connected. When people are isolated, whether they are older adults or part of an insulated community, they’re less in their bodies. We all heal in different ways. Your jobs are to help individuals have the tools they need to heal.”
Cleo concluded with some impactful messages:
- We all need to do more to take care of each other in society. We need to come together to create a more compassionate world.
- Speak out and stand up for injustices.
- We’re all the same through the journey of our hearts.
- Believe in people every day. Everyone has value.
And of course, a dancer can’t do a presentation without adding some movement! Before she left, she engaged the staff in some rhythmic moves.
Thank you to Cleo for taking time from her very busy schedule to share her remarkable story and inspirational insights with us!
You can also experience some of Cleo’s magic by attending her upcoming show, “Romeo and Juliet,” playing April 28-30 and May 5-7. For a special JFS $5.00 discount off a full-priced adult ticket, go to www.cleoparkerdance.org/romeoandjuliet to purchase tickets. When prompted, enter the code “JFS” to receive the discount. Limit 4 tickets per person.