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Empowered ME

Brian Mengini has been a portrait and dance photographer in Philadelphia since 2007. His work has been published such notable journals and newspapers as Pointe Magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance Studio Life Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Stanford Living Arts Magazine, Oxford Hill Press, Dancing Times (Great Britain), Auditorium Magazine (South Korea), Town & Country Magazine (Philippines), Connecticut Magazine, NY Times, Miami New Times, Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, just to name a few.  He has photographed an amazing collection of dance companies and dancers that have included the Pennsylvania Ballet, Boston Ballet, Boston Ballet II, Ballet X, Trey McIntyre Project, Urban Ballet Theatre, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Avi Scher, Boston Conservatory, Eglevsky Ballet, Ballet Fleming, Dance Theatre X, Ballet Bag (London), Rennie Harris PureMovement, RHAW, Group Motion Dance, Illadelph Dance, Jeanne Ruddy Dance, Koresh Dance and Eleone Dance Theatre.

Brian has always merged photography, dance and social issues in his work.  His newest project, Empowered ME, has offered an entirely new approach in portraying those who are battling cancer.

On August 26, 2011, Brian’s birthday, he flew to Salt Lake City, Utah to volunteer his time and services for the organization Dancers Against Cancer.  The organization was hosting a benefit for a young woman named Sarah, who was battling stage four cancer.  The trip had a profound effect on Brian. “When the time came for me to meet Sarah, the young woman who we were helping raise funds for, I could not speak or hardly look at her.  I was so overcome with emotions.  You can see in her eyes the spirit within and it was overwhelming.  She was such a beautiful person and just meeting her made me a better person.  Honestly, that entire trip was life changing for me.  I left a different person. “

Despite all that Brian had contributed to helping Sarah, he still felt as though not enough had been done. “Our fundraising effort fell short of expectations and I felt more was needed by me, so I decided to create a few cancer based images to send back to Utah as items for raffle or silent auction.”   Brian began to sketch out his ideas and invited dancers in to shoot. As the project developed, “it took on a life of its own”.

Brian is not a stranger to the effects that cancer can have on someone’s life as well as those surrounding them. His step father is a survivor of throat cancer,  his grandmother has been winning her battle and during the  lay over on his way to Utah for the benefit, he learned that one of his oldest childhood friends lost his decade battle with colon cancer.

However, Brian does not see his own personal connection with family and friends battling cancer as the impetus for his recent project.  He goes on to add “I think it’s more of a general feeling towards cancer and all of those who are affected by it. I think it was more about using my art for something that is much bigger than me or what I am dealing with.  It’s never been about me and my own experience.  It’s bigger than that.  When I create content, I don’t think about my family, I think about others – those who I don’t know. “

Brian was hesitant about doing “a cancer series”, concerned about being cliche or not doing justice to such a tragic disease.  But as he worked with the dancers and images, it began to “seem natural” and fall in to place.  Brian elaborates, “When you look at a ballet dancer for example, they display poise, grace, strength, determination, beauty, courage.  These are all the attributes that someone who is battling cancer displays.  Obviously, they are done in a severely different spirit, but there are parallels there that can be drawn upon.  In creating the photographs, there was a need to be tasteful but also to draw upon the dancer’s presence and acting to extract the emotions in these images.  I did not want them to just be dance poses.  They had to be more.  They had to really speak to the emotions of these warriors. “

A difficult task, Brian sought to capture the spirit of those battling cancer, “those moments of tenderness and vulnerability but also strength and empowerment. “ Brian credits the dancers he worked with in adding their ideas to the project but also for digging deeply in to their own emotions on this difficult subject matter.

Brian is currently seeking venues to exhibit this series as well as a more permanent home. They will be shown at the upcoming Koresh Showcase in Philadelphia on January 21st & 22nd, 2012.  Brian hopes to find a permanent installation at area cancer centers.  He adds, “For me that is the ultimate.  I want these to be seen by those warriors battling the disease.  My hope is that if these do make it into the centers, that the patients will feel some kind of comfort or something positive from them.  Hopefully the spirit of the project will shine through and maybe make them smile at the very least. In addition, we are looking for a permanent online home for this project”

While drafting this article it was learned that Sarah had just lost her battle with cancer.  Sarah’s blog may be viewed online at http://haysincharge.blogspot.com/

More Empowered ME photos may be viewed online at

- Steven Weisz

Founder & Editor
While not a dancer himself, Weisz’s love for the arts and dance started as a child growing up in New York City. With parents, who were strong supporters of the arts and part of a community with an incredible array of notable artists in music, dance, theater and fine arts, Weisz’s access and affinity for the performing arts took root. Upon attending college in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid 70’s, Weisz started performing as a puppeteer, magician, juggler and fire eater as a means of supplementing his income. This soon grew in to what became Rainbow Promotions Inc., one of the largest entertainment and special events producers in the region. It was here that he began to promote and book dance for major events throughout the city. Many of the dancers he worked with in the early days of his company are now major choreographers in Philadelphia. At the same time, Weisz’s interest in computers and the early developments of what is now known as the Internet, led him to also start another company, Delaware Valley On Line, which became one of the first regional ISPs. It was this combination of event production, internet development and event marketing that led him to examine the use of the internet as a means to promote the arts. Dance continued to be a major interest for Weisz and in 2005 he founded PhiladelphiaDANCE.org as a major online resource to promote dance in the city. It was soon after that the Dance Journal was also founded as a way to provide an outlet for writing on a range of topics that encompass the ever growing and emerging dance community in the region. Weisz continues to run both PhiladelphiaDANCE and The Dance Journal on purely a voluntary basis with no income derived from any of his projects. He is also the Artistic Director of Graffito Works, a unique platform for dancers and performing artists to create site-specific work and to make it readily accessible to the public.

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