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Meaningful movement: Through dance, Grand Forks native Job Christenson portrays his journey after stroke

Job Christenson had just finished performing in a musical production in Baltimore in December 2012 when, while standing in the theater lobby, he collapsed.

Job Christenson watches as the North Dakota Ballet Company rehearses "Solitude and Solstice" that will be performed as part of a larger performance, “Dancing Through Time: Celebrating the Artistry of Movement,” which traces the history of dance from the 1400s to today. The performance begins at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Empire Arts Center. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Job Christenson watches as the North Dakota Ballet Company rehearses "Solitude and Solstice" that will be performed as part of a larger performance, “Dancing Through Time: Celebrating the Artistry of Movement,” which traces the history of dance from the 1400s to today. The performance begins at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Empire Arts Center. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
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Job Christenson had just finished performing in a musical production in Baltimore in December 2012 when, while standing in the theater lobby, he collapsed.

"I couldn't move half of my body," said Christenson, a Grand Forks native. "The wonderful thing is, I was surrounded by people who helped me sit down."

In an instant, a massive stroke had robbed him of the use of his entire right side and his ability to speak.

He was 38.

Christenson, who as a singer and dancer performed on Broadway and in touring theatrical productions, has created a modern dance piece, "Solitude and Solstice," which depicts his experience with stroke and his journey to recovery.

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The piece will be performed as part of the "Dancing Through Time: Celebrating the Artistry of Movement" program at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Empire Arts Center. North Dakota Ballet Company dancers perform vignettes reflecting the history of movement from the 1400s to today.

Looking back at the moment the stroke happened, Christenson said, "It's interesting how I could become focused in a short time but I had no way to speak on my behalf. It was surreal."

"Almost immediately, I started vocal and occupational therapy," which meant 9 to 10 hours of therapy daily, and the beginning of a long journey to recovery, he said.

"Every stroke is different. Nobody knows what you're going through. You go through myriad emotions daily, hourly."

It also meant redefining himself as an artist. The theatrical director, singer and dancer has become a playwright whose works have been produced on stage recently.

In "Solitude and Solstice," Christenson choreographs his recovery in terms of seasons, concluding with spring as a time of rebirth. He is played by dancer Sue Moe of Grand Forks.

"I'm not 100 percent better, but I'm talking, walking; I'm able to drive," said Christenson, who makes it a point to encourage others recovering from stroke.

Acceptance of his situation was an important step in his recovery, he said. "I psychologically came into myself, and a full acceptance of the new me. "The new me would be different from the old me."

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If you go:

• What: North Dakota Ballet Company's "Dancing Through Time: Celebrating the Artistry of Movement."

• When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Ave., Grand Forks.

• Tickets: $15 for adults, $12 for students.

• Info: www.northdakotaballet.org .

Job Christenson shares a laugh with Sue Moe on stage during a rehearsal for "Solitude and Solstice." Moe is portraying Christenson in the modern dance piece he created to depict, through dance, his experience with a stroke and the journey to recovery that followed. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)
Job Christenson shares a laugh with Sue Moe on stage during a rehearsal for "Solitude and Solstice." Moe is portraying Christenson in the modern dance piece he created to depict, through dance, his experience with a stroke and the journey to recovery that followed. (Jesse Trelstad/Grand Forks Herald)

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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