Circle extends love for 17 years

Almost every Tuesday for 17 years Don Dolan has danced with the elderly, he's danced with a lady in a wheel chair and he's danced by himself when no one would get up with him.

Dolan is one of a dozen of community members who call themselves the "Extended Circle." The group of singers, musicians, poets and dancers have performed show after show at local assisted living organizations in Ashland, Phoenix and Medford. For 45 minutes every week or so the group brings the cello, banjo, guitar, harmonica, piano and Dolan's dance moves to a group of people now requiring assistance in their every day lives.

Dolan believes that the free performance is one of his ways to give back to the community. He tells stories of dancing with the nicest ladies, of meeting the people and of reaching out to people.

"The people might not understand what's going on," Dolan said. "But is it important to them? Yeah."

Dolan makes it a point to shake hands, touch shoulders and make some form of physical contact before or during the performance. He recalls one time where the performed in an institution where a man who was "pretty much comatose" was in attendance.

"I held his hand and told him to enjoy the show," Dolan said. "He gave me the lightest squeeze, barely anything at all really, but it let me know he was there. That he knew we were there."

After a couple of shows the group resigns to a weeks worth of practice to reshape the show. New songs are learned, new acts performed and sometimes new members are added. One thing that never changes however is the song the group ends with. Dave Marsten, another group member, wrote "Love is a Circle" many years back to explain the way that the circle truly gets extended.

"Their theme song that love is a circle is very important," said Elizabeth Hallett, administrative director at Trinity Respite in Ashland. "It's important for people with memory loss to remember that they aren't out of the circle."

Hallett said that most of those attending the shows by the Extended Circle are suffering from some sort of memory loss.

"With memory loss the biggest far is that they can't celebrate life anymore because they are alone," said Hallett. "Having them come and bring joy into their lives is an extension of what we are trying to do here everyday."

"It might sound altruistic but I really enjoy bringing happiness to these people," said Dolan. "I do this for free, we all do. Find me a football player who is playing for free, they say they will do it but we really are. Besides, I get a kick out of it. I really do enjoy this."

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