Sun Sentinel | September 1, 2016 4:05 PM | West Palm Beach
On a wet lawn near the Intracoastal Waterway on Thursday, more than 150 recovering addicts, their families and friends performed a simple dance, with outstretched arms and imaginary hugs, to symbolize their struggles.
They faced west, then south, then east and north, repeating four movements as they listened to a poem about recovery and the names of friends and relatives who had died of overdoses. In their left hands, they clutched black banners imprinted with the names of deceased drug users that flowed in the wind as they danced.
The dance, “129,” created by West Palm Beach choreographer Gaynelle Gosselin, honored the 129 people who the Centers for Disease Control says die in the United States each day of a drug overdose. The group gathered to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day and will perform again at 3 p.m. Friday at Stranahan Park in Fort Lauderdale. The public is invited to join each performance.
To Ali Lennox, 28, of Boynton Beach, the performance resembled the fluctuations of her life. She said she has been in recovery for three years but still is mourning the death of her father, who died of an overdose in 2010.
She said many of her fellow participants had no dance experience but tried to master the basic steps, such as reaching for the sky with the right hand.
“We laughed, it was a little chaotic, then we got the hang of it,” said Lennox, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “It reminded me of the process we are going through. We have good days, we have bad days. I felt closer to my father during it.”
Public health officials say heroin overdoses are devastating families and overwhelming public safety crews. Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue has responded to more than 1,400 overdoses this year, double last year’s level. In Broward, 80 people died of heroin overdoses in 2015, up from 28 in 2014, according to the Broward Medical Examiner’s Office.
Gosselin, who dances with the Demetrius Klein Dance Company in West Palm Beach, said drug abuse has touched her own family, including her son and her niece. She began to brainstorm an artistic approach after attending a meeting of Southeast Florida Recovery Advocates, which decided to stage rallies in West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale on International Overdose Awareness Day.
“I thought, ‘What if we did something public that might change people’s hearts? And we went around in a parade? And we created something that said this is our message?’” she said.
She invited fellow Demetrius Klein dancers, who dressed in black, to join her informal crew, who wore sneakers, sandals, shorts and T-shirts with sayings such as “Heroin Sucks.” They met at Memorial Presbyterian Church and walked 15 minutes to Waterfront Park, at the end of Clematis Street with a view of the Intracoastal.
Lori Brasso, of Loxahatchee, carried a portrait of her son, Tony, 29, a father of two who died of an overdose last year.
“He was funny, a great singer and a great cook,” Brasso said. “I hope everybody realizes this epidemic is spreading like wildfire.”
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