Dancing from the Heart

And other organs, too, as Beth Braun raises money for a UMC transplant program.

As long as Beth Braun could drive a vehicle, she has indicated her choice to be an organ donor. "I always had my little sticker on my driver's license, but I never thought much about it, and I had never known anybody who had received an organ donation," said the Tucson modern dancer, choreographer and teacher.

Until a few years ago. That's when Braun met--through musician and songwriter Arthur Miscione--a young man named Jim Smith, who received a donor heart 14 years ago, when he was 15. Smith, who is Miscione's nephew, was at that time the youngest recipient of a heart transplant.

Now Smith is a new graduate of the University of Arizona College of Medicine who plans to serve his residency at the University Medical Center in pediatric cardiology.

Smith also happens to be one of the dancers in The Journey Continues ..., the third annual collaborative performance of dance and music organized by Braun and Miscione. The concert, credited to the Beth Braun Dance Partnership, is scheduled for Saturday night in the Proscenium Theatre at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

The evening is a benefit for the University Medical Center Pediatric Transplant Fund and the Donor Network of Arizona. It will include as speakers transplant recipients and their families

The performance will feature some of Tucson's top modern-dancers and live music composed by Miscione and others. Dr. Jack Copeland, the UMC surgeon who performed Smith's heart transplant, will be in attendance as the evening's host. A silent auction will precede the performance at 7 p.m.; a catered reception will conclude the evening's festivities.

There's more reason for celebration. Braun's and Miscione's first wedding anniversary is the same day.

Tucson modern-dance fans will remember Braun for her years of dancing with Orts Theatre of Dance, which she left in 1998. She is now a dance teacher at Tucson High School and a member of Zuzi! Move It Dance Company.

When Braun and Miscione met a few years ago, they wanted to combine their respective art forms, but not simply for their own gratification, Braun said.

"We decided that we didn't want to just do a performance, and the natural progression was that we decided to do a concert to raise awareness of organ donations, and we decided to donate all our proceeds to UMC."

The concert will feature performances by 13 adult dancers from local companies such as Zuzi!, New ARTiculations and Funhouse Movement Theatre, nine children dancers (including 11-year-old May Bauman, Braun's daughter) as well as guest artists Helanius J. Wilkins and Reggie Glass of the Edgeworks Dance Theatre of Washington, D.C.

The choreography and music, as one might guess, tells the story of a journey through life, Miscione said, including segments about innocence, despair and sorrow, struggle, hope, enlightenment, joy and love.

Miscione will play his folk-rock compositions live with a three-piece band. Ted Ramirez, an eighth-generation Tucsonan and our city's official troubadour, also will appear.

The event has grown consistently since it began. "When we first got into this we had no idea what we were getting into," Braun said. "Each year we keep learning."

The first two performances were held in 2000 and 2002 at the Zuzi! Move It Dance Lab in the Historic YWCA, which holds about 150 patrons. This year, The Journey has graduated to PCC's Proscenium Theatre, with a capacity of more than 400.

"This year for the first time we really have UMC's total support; they're very enthusiastic. At first when we came to them, they were a little more skeptical. I guess we probably had to prove ourselves to them," Braun said.

But the first concert raised $1,600, and last year it brought in more than $3,000, she said.

After working the first two years completely under the UMC umbrella, Braun and Miscione have started a foundation under which they'll produce the concert--the Artists for Hope and Awareness Foundation.

"We were officially established in February. We're in the process of applying for our 501(c)3 status," she said. "So at the end of our event we will just go to UMC and write them a check. We also have officially established a Pediatric Heart and Lung Transplant Fund through UMC.

"The fund is not for research. It's really for families of transplant recipients. If they need to come in from out of town or face other challenges, a lot of time the families really are in need of financial assistance."

As rewarding as it is to raise money for their cause, Braun and Miscione hope also to raise awareness about donating organs.

Miscione echoed his wife's feelings when he said, "If somebody comes to our event who never, never thought about being an organ donor, and if we change their mind and inspire them to sign an organ donor card, if just one person does that, it'll be enough."

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