A 13-year-old Bismarck dancer put on her dance costumes and ballerina tutu and leaped in front of bison and stood on the edge of a cliff — all part of a project to showcase the beauty of the country and raise money for arts education and national parks.
Ieree Lundin, an eighth-grader at Horizon Middle School, has been dancing for 11 years; she gave her first performance when she was 6 years old. Ieree specializes in lyrical dance, which incorporates ballet with jazz and contemporary dance.
Ieree was chosen to be part of the "Dance Across the USA" project that involves the project's photographer Jonathan Givens traveling to all 50 states and taking photos of dancers in national and state parks or other historical monuments. The photographs will be compiled into a photo book, and a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit the parks, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.
Some locations include Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Olympic National Park in Washington, the Dry Tortugas islands in the Florida Keys and Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
Last weekend, Givens visited the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to photograph Ieree in North Dakota's Badlands.
Givens is an entertainment photographer based in Florida. His work includes capturing images of singers, dancers and actors at Broadway shows and Cirque du Soleil.
“Basically, most of my work ends up being acrobatic dancers,” he said.
Since July, Givens has traveled across the country photographing dancers. He tracked them down through a post on his social media page that has nearly 35,000 likes. He had 3,000 dancers apply for the project, but narrowed the list based on the dancers' photographs and videos.
He also wanted to find unique people to shoot, based on their talent level and their stories, he said. For example, his oldest dancer is 74 years old and the youngest is 3.
“They all have something that spoke to me as a performer — I was a performer for a really long time — and, as a photographer, something that would make a compelling shot," Givens said.
His trip involves about 22,000 miles worth of driving, with his last session on Sept. 27. Last week in Billings, he traveled about 12,000 miles.
“(I'm) a little tired,” he said, laughing. He's the only one from his company traveling to save on costs.
Along the way, Givens said he's met diverse groups of people, and he's gotten to know some of the dancers and their families. In fact, the dancers in Montana gave him a place to stay.
“The dancers and their families have been really instrumental in bringing this all together," he said.
The project is funded by donations. Givens has set up a CrowdRise website as a way to raise money for the trip, and his company EPS Entertainment and Photography is financing the rest of the project.
Ieree spent all day Saturday at Theodore Roosevelt National Park with Givens, getting up at 6 a.m. for a sunrise photoshoot and again at sunset. They took photos at the park's Wind Canyon Overlook, with the Little Missouri River in the background. Her mom, Melissa Lundin, begged her to not "forget about the bugs" as she stood at the edge of the cliff wearing a bright red costume, the sun setting in the background.
Besides just a few mosquito bites, “it was an amazing experience," Ieree said. “I’m excited to represent North Dakota in the book.”
For more information on Dance Across the USA, visit www.danceatusa.com.