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Unique Dance Performance Coming to the College

April 25, 2023

April 27 and 28 are big days for Evie Ruschman. The 8-year-old daughter of psychology professor Jen Wallin-Ruschman will be on campus, performing with her dance group, the Open Arms Dance Project.

“She’s very excited about being on the Jewett (Auditorium) stage,” Wallin-Ruschman laughed. “She loves doing Open Arms and she’s seen The Nutcracker in Jewett a few times and she says, ‘I get to be on the Nutcracker stage!’”

The Open Arms Dance Project is a multi-generational and inclusive dance company that has been based in Boise since 2008. Megan Brandel, the artistic director for Open Arms, is a Caldwell native who attended the College for two years before finishing her dance degree in Colorado. Now, she’s bringing her group to The College of Idaho for two shows titled “Cultivate”: a sensory-friendly kids’ show on Thursday and a full show for the public on Friday.

“Open Arms Dance Project has been sharing our mission to create greater joy and compassion with dance that opens hearts, minds and arms in Boise for 15 years,” Brandel explained. “I believe strongly that the art we create is so important for everyone to see so, this season, I am actively trying to reach audiences outside of Boise. All of this made performing at Jewett Auditorium an easy decision.”

Wallin-Ruschman and her daughter discovered Open Arms through a mutual friend last fall. The younger Ruschman is hooked on the dance and the friendship, while her mother is hooked on the message that Brandel’s group delivers.

“From the first meeting, I’ve been really impressed,” Wallin-Ruschman said. “With my community-engagement hat and my community-psychologist hat, I’ve been so impressed with how she (Brandel) builds community, breaks down hierarchies, and does empowerment for a population of marginalized folks that we don’t talk about enough.”

In fact, Brandel and ambassadors from Open Arms visited campus earlier this year, speaking to an Education class with Dr. Sally Brown and Wallin-Ruschman’s community psychology class.

“They talked about what they do, how they perform, and how these act as a form of advocacy,” Wallin-Ruschman explained. “They also talked about the process they use to create community and safety among such disparate groups. You’ve got 8-year-olds, you’ve got 80-year-olds. You’ve got people with visible disabilities, invisible disabilities, you’ve got people with no disabilities, you’ve got people from different cultures.”

The group comes together to create art and strengthen voices for a section of the community that often doesn’t have one.

“I think you’ll see dance and art performed in a way you’ve never imagined,” Wallin-Ruschman said of the show. “It can be very impactful. I’ve shed tears during performances and I’ve seen other audience members shed tears because the art they create is beautiful. It makes you re-think what art can be.”

Tickets for Friday night’s public show range in price from $10 to $20 and can be purchased here.

To see Open Arms in action, click here.

The College of Idaho has a 132-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit