Anna Halprin had just opened the floor to questions. An elderly man with a walker raised his hand. “Excuse me,” he said. “I just want to know what you eat.”

His curiosity is understandable: Halprin, an icon of American dance and theater, is 86, and she speaks, moves, and, yes, dances, like a woman decades younger. During a 10-week residency on campus this fall, she held court for rapt groups of both Stanford students and local senior citizens.

Stanford’s dance program won a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support Halprin’s visit and to restage a portion of her Ten Myths, which helped launch a participatory theater movement when it was originally performed in 1967. Additional support came from the Stanford Center on Longevity and the President’s Fund.

“In the 1960s, she changed the way people thought about the relationship between performers and spectators,” says Janice Ross, an associate professor (teaching) of drama and a dance historian whose biography Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance is being released in January. “She changed notions about who could be a dancer.”

The Myths reconstruction included parti­cipants from nearby senior centers. They were told, “Everyone can dance if you have two things: a pulse and you are breathing.” Some of their movements were modest—perhaps just arms swaying as they moved in a wheelchair—but they broadened students’ conception of what constitutes dance.

In line with Halprin’s belief that art is best created in conjunction with each person’s personal story, her workshops incorporated many non-dance-related elements. During one, Stanford students wrote one-page letters to grandparents—either living or deceased—and read them aloud. The seniors then responded with stories about their own grandparents or grandchildren. “It’s about personalizing and humanizing the person she is dancing with, rather than having it just be a body,” Ross says.

Halprin will return to campus January 24 for a final talk at the Cantor Arts Center.