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Jeri McAndrews: A woman of many muses

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local Artists – September 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

ERI McANDREWS is cruisin’. Her new dance studio is up and running. Her new book is finished and ready for publication. Her poetry readings are becoming more popular, and she has completed her first year as a certified teacher.

She also finds time to be a firefighter and raise a daughter.

McAndrews has lived in Crestone for eight years, after a decade in Telluride. She’s originally from New York, where she trained in ballet and modern dance.

She worked and trained with many dance companies, including the Nancy Spanier and Cleo Parker Robinson troupes.

“Telluride was the first time I lived in the mountains,” she says. “When I saw the mountains, the waterfalls, and everything, I wanted to dance there, too.”

So began McAndrews’s outdoor dance series. In 1990, she marked the summer solstice with a performance at the Great Sand Dunes — audience included.

“People came and camped for three days and we danced,” she remembers. “We had long, Thai silk banners and costumes for men and women, and everyone got involved.”

Similar dances were held in waterfalls near Telluride and at Arches National Monument. The most challenging though, was in Telluride, where McAndrews arranged a dance with members of the Ute, Zuni and San Juan Pueblo tribes. “It took about 90 phone calls to get the Utes out there, because they’re still pissed off about the land,” she says. “Once they were out there, we did a circle dance and had a three-day gathering with teaching and dancing.”

McAndrews furthered her Native American studies by teaching dancing to Navajos at Shiprock, N.M.

“I learned a lot from them,” she says. “For instance, there was no age separation in the school. Mothers brought their babies to class and told me to bring my daughter. It created a feeling of community.”

The birth of her daughter, Mariposa Wolford, in 1982, sparked the beginning of McAndrews’s career as a poet.

She’s seeking a publisher for her second volume of poetry, Never Live Anywhere That Isn’t Beautiful. Her first work, The Museum of Outside Art, is now out of print. “I knew Ed Abbey and I gave him a copy of my first book when it was published,” McAndrews says. “He said it was `good, healthy, angry work.'”

She got into performing with poet Art Goodtimes from Norwood and reads with him occasionally at Crooked Hearts in Salida.

She likens her reading style to Peggy Godfrey, who is also a performance poet.

“Reading and dancing seem similar to me,” McAndrews says. “Maybe that’s why I haven’t had trouble performing like other poets have.”

This past summer, she was busy with her first batch of students in her new dance studio. The straw-bale structure has radiant floor heat and blindingly white walls and floor. Crestone Mountain Dance offered classes in jazz for kids, teens, and adults, and a class in modern dance and creative movement. (For information on future classes, call 7192564861.)

In collaboration with Daniel Shahid Johnson of Crestone, McAndrews is also choreographing and casting dance numbers for an original play, which should go into production in the near future.

McAndrews was graduated from Adams State College in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She worked as a substitute teacher (“a permanent substitute”) at Moffat School last year.

She volunteers with the Kundalini Fire Department of the Baca Grande and does occasional free-lance writing. Her work has appeared in the Durango Herald, the Crestone Eagle, the Telluride Times and others.

To conclude our interview last spring, McAndrews dances. In street clothes, on the still-drying floor, she twists and flies in the new room. The windows, covered with dust, sport encouraging words, “jump” and “stretch.” She obeys, reaching for the ceiling, testing the corners, claiming her space.

“Never Live Anywhere That Isn’t Beautiful” is more than a book title in McAndrews’ life; it’s a motto. “I believe any place that’s wilderness is incredible,” she says.

Marcia Darnell publishes SLV Magazine ($10 a year for six issues, P.O. Box 491, Alamosa CO 81101) in the San Luis Valley. Her dancing is limited to vacuuming the house and negotiating winter sidewalks.