Dimitra Sundeen Reber passed away on Saturday, November 11, 2023 surrounded by the love and comfort of dear friends, her daughter, Madeleine Reber, Madeleine’s partner Amy Short, and the support of Hospice of Dayton. Dimi was known to many as a beloved teacher and mentor of dance, a passionate activist for the environment and peace, and a thoughtful friend, mother, aunt, and colleague. Her interests were wide-ranging, including gardening, reading an eclectic range of subject matter, playing piano, walking in the Glen and the streets of Yellow Springs, singing with groups of friends, and generously connecting people around food.
Dimi was born in Duluth, Minnesota on October 17, 1940 to Arnold Sundeen and Belle Goodelman. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a community with progressive politics. Her love of music was nurtured in this household by her mother who was an accomplished pianist. One of her aunts was a folk dancer who also studied with famed modern dancer, Martha Graham, and other family members were painters and sculptors. Her artistic life was supported and encouraged early on. Dimi studied dance at the High School of the Performing Arts, and at Bennington College, from which she graduated in 1961. She began teaching at community centers and schools in the early sixties and served as Jane Dudley’s assistant at City College. She was also a member of the New Dance Group, where she had the opportunity to study with José Limón and Donald McKayle. The New Dance Group’s emphasis on socially conscious work and racial integration were congruent with her own values.
Dimi met Bernie Reber through mutual friends while she was still attending Bennington College. They married in New York City and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for many years. With a shared love of singing and good food, they were known to break into old Irish ballads while sitting around enjoying sumptuous meals and sharing stories with friends.
Dimi contemplated an offer to teach in Sweden, but then met a group of Antioch College dance students who performed in a company called South Blloon. She was excited about the students’ experimental approach to dance, and decided at age 30 to take a job teaching dance at Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She and Bernie moved to the village in 1970. Their daughter Madeleine Reber was born in 1973 and grew up in an extended family of current and former students and village friends. Bernie was an inveterate storyteller and humorist, an artist, and a compassionate listener. He died in 1998.
At Antioch, Dimi developed a robust dance program that included modern dance, improvisation, composition, somatics, ballet, history and culture, and West African drum and dance. She hosted guest artists such as Twyla Tharp, Nancy Stark Smith, and Steve Paxton along with many other independent, contemporary choreographers. Her teaching attracted both majors and non-majors. She also welcomed community members to participate in classes and concerts, cultivating the South Gym as a cultural resource for the community and educating several generations of dancers and choreographers. Every term, she presided over a dance concert that included her own choreography performed by students, as well as student and community member’s work. Audience members came from surrounding cities to experience a dynamic and fresh program in movement that was shaped by Dimi’s fostering of authentic expression, unencumbered by traditional or cliched tropes. Dimi wrote: “The longer I work in dance the more impressed I am with the ways in which our bodies speak of who we are.” This was her ethos as a teacher and as an artist.
A former student, Rebecca Nordstrom, who became a dance professor at Hampshire College in Massachusetts wrote: “I remember the combination of rigor and fun that she fostered in her classes. Dancing with her was serious business but also such a joy! I especially loved her composition classes because, though she gave us wonderful choreographic tools and strategies to explore, she also encouraged each of us to find our own individual voice and our own sources of inspiration. The greatest thrill of all was to be a dancer in Dimi’s choreography. I learned so much about dancemaking and performing by participating in her creative process and watching her ideas take shape.”
Dimi retired from teaching at Antioch College with Emerita status in 2001. She continued to teach “Body Learning” classes in the community focused on alternative approaches to functional and expressive movement. She was interested in creating a space that fostered a spirit of creative exchange and dialogue. “Dancing is a vehicle for personal development. It is a great vehicle for people to explore…to feel whole.” Dimi also taught individual lessons focusing on movement ease, integration, and body awareness. Her students valued the sensitivity of her guiding touch.
Singing was an important part of Dimi’s life. In 2005, along with Marianne Whelchel and Susanne Oldham, she founded a women’s vocal ensemble dedicated to the music of Eastern Europe. Known as Sokolitse, the group gave concerts in the area for more than a decade. Dimi loved all kinds of folk music, enjoying her favorite Irish songs in weekly meetings with a few friends in her last years.
Many people in the Village know Dimi for her Letters to the Editor in the Yellow Springs News. Her letters were clearly articulated and persuasive in their challenge of conventional and narrow thinking. She was a persistent advocate for the creation of ecologically sound practices in housing development and was an energetic activist against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dimi was remembered by her niece Lisa, and nephew, Kenny Weinstock as a “thoughtful, loving person with the ability to listen, think and discuss issues large and small” and as “a beautiful human. She lived a big life in a small town. She was fiercely, authentically herself, loving her people deeply and openly. Stubborn and joyful.”
Dimitra Sundeen Reber was preceded in death by her parents, her husband, and her older sister, Connie Weinstock. She is survived by her daughter, Madeleine Reber of Yellow Springs, niece, Lisa Weinstock and nephew Kenny Weinstock. She was interred in Glen Forest Natural Cemetery on November 14th in a private ceremony.
Family and close friends will celebrate her life at a private gathering in mid-December. In lieu of flowers, please remember Dimi with a donation to Glen Helen Association or Tecumseh Land Trust.