Eugene Weekly : Ats Shorts : 11.26.08

International Dance Legacy

Before her death in 2008, Eugene resident Marisa de Leon quietly offered funds to build and sustain DanceAbility International throughout Latin America. 

DanceAbility performs outside the Eugene Public Library

Born in Uruguay in 1911, de Leon had created a school for disabled children in the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, in 1941. 

In 2005, de Leon read about Alito Alessi, DanceAbility’s artistic director, in the newspaper (he had recently received a Guggenheim award) and invited him to the Eugene Hotel to meet. The two formed a ready kinship around their mutual dedication to mixed ability dance programs. 

A stalwart supporter of local DanceAbility classes and performances, de Leon dedicated 75 years of her life to physical therapy for people with disabilities. Alessi remembers de Leon’s late-life realization: Dance should play a foundational role in education for people with disabilities.  

“Dance was always one of Marisa’s passions,” Alessi says. “In fact, her original vision for her school in Montevideo included dance movement for the children, but the government would only fund a school with a focus on academics.”

De Leon’s passion for dance reinvigorated, she funded a small project to send Alessi to the school she founded. After training and support, the success of this three-week project further encouraged de Leon to make a sizeable donation to spread DanceAbility to Latin America. 

“I want you to spread peace and love throughout Latin America,” she told Alessi. 

DanceAbility workshops have been held this year in Mexico City; São Paulo, Brazil; Montevideo, Uruguay; and Buenos Aires and Puerto Madryn, Argentina. 

Alessi seems thrilled that de Leon’s gift allows DanceAbility not only to train communities to use dance in education and therapy, but also allows his organization to give the host site the financial support to keep growing. 

De Leon also left generous support for the Eugene Hearing and Speech Center. Learn more about her legacy at  — Rachael Carnes


A Bitterly Fruitful Delay

DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES, fiction by Jonathan Miles. Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Hardcover, $22.

Hell is other people, right? 

Or maybe Hell is an airline terminal, which has the added advantage of terrible food, no place to sleep and ignorant, rude, officious and unhelpful authority figures who possibly know little more information than does the trapped herd yearning to be free.

So Jonathan Miles outlines in grimly hilarious detail in Dear American Airlines. Miles, who writes about books and cocktails in his life as a journalist, delivers a smart, painful first novel that balances mordant humor with deep despair. Fans of existentialism — and anyone who has had to spend the night wandering Chicago’s O’Hare Airport  — will recognize the infernal buzzing and cavernous hollows of the airport where Benjamin (Bennie) Ford, Miles’ protagonist, waits as he attempts to make a cross-country journey to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. Bennie’s flying from N.Y. to L.A., with a stop in Chicago, a stop that  becomes an epic layover.

The entire novel consists of Bennie’s complaint letter and his demand for a refund — or that’s how it begins, before morphing into the history of his life. Bennie, recovering alcoholic, failed poet and translator of Polish poetry and novels, remains fully aware of how odd his letter will seem to the customer service person receiving it. Miles makes Bennie an incisive and skilled writer, and the authorial gambit pays off handsomely as Bennie’s past and present unfold. For such a slim novel — 192 pages — Dear American Airlines becomes a surprisingly detailed look at a life lived mostly in the grip of steely, seductive alcoholism. 

At one point, Bennie sits in the bar at the Chili’s Express, and though he never explicitly says how great a drink would be, his misanthropic thoughts make his longing clear. He substitutes cigarettes and undergoes the indignity of security-line searches after each time he satisfies his cancer-stick craving.

Miles leavens Bennie’s misanthropy, which could become boring, with humor and occasional flashes of empathy and humanity. Bennie’s interactions with a few other people — an elderly woman, airport police officers and especially a phone conversation with his daughter’s mother — also bring fresh perspectives to his sleep-deprived, nicotine-addled brain. Despite the indescribable tedium of actually being stuck in O’Hare, the book doesn’t get bogged down in its depiction of nightmares within and without. 

In the end, California, as it so often does for New Yorkers,  provides light, hope and a way out of hell. — Suzi Steffen

BOOK NOTES Vincenza Scarpaci reads from The Journey of the Italians in America, 7 pm 12/2, Knight Library, UO. Philip Gourevitch discusses The Paris Review Interviews, Volume III, 7:30 pm 12/3, Powell’s on Burnside, Portland. Poet John Witte reads from Second Nature, 7 pm 12/4, Knight Library, UO.





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