TRIBUTE: Storydancer Terry Alvarez

Sharing a joyful, giving life


Several years ago a radio interviewer, Emily Guerra with KRWG, asked Terry Alvarez, the one-of-a-kind, force-of-nature “Storydancer” who passed away on Dec. 8 after a long illness, about a life changing decision she had made as a middle school teacher two decades prior.

“I got my principal’s license and was ready to look for principal’s jobs. Then I decided, Nah!” Alvarez had said.

 She would take early retirement and travel the state as a singing and dancing Romani storyteller with a guitar, drums, and a costume that would take an hour and a half to put on… “two layers of flouncy skirts with a lot of ruffles, a blouse with puffed sleeves, harem pants and boots” and shiny bangles everywhere.

At the time, some may have worried she had chosen a life of uncertainty, entailing endless hours of preparation, driving and waiting for the phone to ring. But her audiences knew that, in fact, she had chosen her higher calling.

Many performers in theaters or at festivals or in classrooms “own the stage.” With her drums, guitar, bangles and persona, Terry could create her stage wherever she was. She was a direct descendant of those troubadours, bards and dervishes who have captivated spellbound onlookers in town squares or around roaring fires throughout the millennia.

She brought audiences to their feet and under her spell with her warmup, a kind of musical, hyperkinetic game of ‘Simon Says’ that would have them joyfully “raising the roof” with their outstretched hands and strutting like pharaohs. She would follow this with tales old and new, from far and wide, that brought hope and joy to her listeners in auditoriums, classrooms and shelters. That was Terry. She nurtured everyone…audiences, students, fellow dancers, musicians and tellers, and most of all, the members of her beloved and supportive family.

Terry was never one to let moss grow beneath her feet. She always sought new challenges. Believing that tales can inspire people of all ages, Terry and fellow Story Tellers of Las Cruces (STLC) member, Judith Ames, launched a series of Stories for Grown Ups programs. Knowing stories can help us come to terms with our past, she created performance pieces about historic events. Her rendition of the tragic Triangle Shirt Factory Fire of 1911 transported viewers back in time and into the footsteps of the victims, as if it were a one-woman Ken Burns documentary. She also channeled her narrative gifts and childhood memories into a novel, “Down Riverside Road: Growing Up in the Borderland.” 

The Doña Ana Arts Council awarded her the Arts in Education Award in recognition of her many community contributions and accomplishments. Terry’s fellow STLC members mourn her loss and celebrate her life.

 “She was an inspiration and influenced all the educators she worked with, as well as entertaining and enriching the lives of children,” Jean Gilbert said.

“She drew others out and inspired them to express their own unique creativity,” Gloria Hacker added.

To Judith Ames, “Terry was a breath of fresh air, a joy to be with, a great late-night telephone companion.”

“Terry inspired others to sing, dance, be joyful, and always be grateful,” Captain Jeff Porter said.

“Terry always saved the best story for last, and at the end of her performance, she would ask listeners to open their hands,” Sarah Addison said. “She would pick some representative kids. She would then place a gold coin in their hands and give them all a blessing.”

And so now as our sister Terry begins this new journey, let us put a coin in her hand and bless her.

“As the African saying goes, as long as you speak their names, they will not be forgotten,” Addison said. “Please join me in saying her name, Terry Alvarez. She has joined her ancestors, but her memory lives on.”

Terry Alvarez