Arts June 26, 2018

Force of Nature

Celeste Bolin's many lives

Anybody who’s taken one of Celeste Bolin’s dance classes with music blaring and bodies pumping and sweat flowing knows she’s a ball of energy. But “big room Celeste,” when Bolin kicks it up a few notches while leading 200 dancers at Yogafort, is a whole other animal.

“I look out at all those faces, and I see them diving in and getting that raw, unfiltered wildness out, and it amps me up even more,” Bolin said. “All of those faces are part of a room feeling that high-energy vibe, and it fuels me.”

Dance instructor Celeste is Bolin’s most public-facing persona, but it’s only one aspect of the unusual amalgam of talents and ambitions. Scientist Celeste, or Dr. Bolin, holds a Ph.D. in toxicology, has taught at universities, including Boise State University and College of Idaho, and has coauthored peer-reviewed articles with such heady titles as, “The impact of cyclin-dependent kinase 5 depletion of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase activity and response to radiation.”

Then there’s One Stone Celeste, who teaches at the Boise alternative high school and who has rediscovered her zest for education.

Then there’s Yogafort Celeste, who co-founded and co-organizes the growing series of dance and yoga classes that have become a staple of Treefort Music Fest. Yogafort is a labor of love for Bolin and Marisa Weppner, who owns and teaches yoga at Sage Yoga & Wellness in Boise. The pair developed a partnership while teaching yoga and dance sessions at retreats around the world. Planning Yogafort, which had 16 sessions, 10 instructors and about 2,000 attendees this year, requires Monday night planning sessions almost year-round.

“We couldn’t do it without each other,” Weppner said. “It’s an ultimate trust. Whenever I drop the ball, she’s always there to pick it up. Never hard feelings that come with it.”

Bolin, 38, teaches classes with titles such as Dance Fit, Dance Party Toning and Power Party Sculpt. Most of her students are women. The classes aren’t about dance as art, though Bolin and many of her students are talented. She doesn’t encourage students to drop inches off of their waists, or for mothers to get their pre-pregnancy bodies back. Instead, Bolin strives for therapy. She seeks to help students use movement to connect with their bodies and to feel good about themselves. She gives a lot of hugs.

“I teach very few steps,” Bolin said. “The point is: This is what it feels like to be with a bunch of people, moving and sweating, hooting and hollering, being together in the soup.”

Kelsey Nunez said she was going through a rough time personally and professionally when she signed up for one of Bolin’s classes in 2011. After her first session, Nunez felt better and more optimistic than she had in months. She’s attended classes ever since and has become close friends with Bolin. “I feel my body. I feel the friendship,” Nunez said. “Celeste has that energy. I leave all of the yucky stuff on the dance floor.”

Bolin grew up in Boise and graduated from Boise High School. She embraced art thanks to her mother, who enrolled her in her first dance class at age 3, and her master luthier father, John Bolin. Some moderately successful musicians have played Bolin Guitars over the past 35 years, including the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

Bolin was the first in her family to attend college. After earning her Ph.D. and serving a series of prestigious fellowships, including one in Paris and another in Australia, Bolin returned home to be close to her family and to work a series of visiting professorships at College of Idaho and guest lecturer gigs at Boise State.

Bolin said she “nerded out” on hard-core science topics, such as cell biology, animal physiology and the molecular structure of cancer, and enjoyed it. But she also spent most of her time in labs, by herself. She felt lonely. She tried to help her dance students live their most joyous lives, but she was failing to take her own advice.

“It was the Dr. Bolin life. Celeste just wasn’t there,” she said. “I needed to find a way to let my personality out. I was looking for a change.”

To say Bolin found a change by joining the small staff at One Stone teaching high school students would be an understatement. The school is a nonprofit and offers free tuition. Students don’t receive grades. Its staff are called “coaches” rather than teachers, and students and adults call each other by their first names. It’s also student-directed, with more than two-thirds of the school’s board chaired by students. Students were among the first to interview Bolin when a friend convinced her to apply to teach science classes.

The unconventional approach turned out to be a perfect fit both for Bolin and her students.

Jared Perkins, a second-year One Stone student (the equivalent of a high school junior) said he’s become fascinated by neuroscience thanks to one of Bolin’s classes.

“She took something that I had no interest in, and something incredibly complex as brain chemistry and transformed it into something I find incredibly engaging,” Perkins said. “That is pretty cool.”

Another second-year student, Lucian Davis, said Bolin, as an advisor, is a strong advocate for students. Helping students find their voice is particularly important at a school that demands students shape their own education. “She’s a really cool person to be around,” Davis said. “She has a Ph.D. She organized Yogafort. But she’s always super approachable. I never feel intimidated by her even though she’s this super impressive person.”

Bolin understands that students at One Stone and her dance studio draw from her seemingly endless enthusiasm. On days when she drags a bit or doesn’t feel her stellar best,
Bolin said she’s learned to trust her body to take over.

“I’m so engaged with my students and my classes, and I have moments where I feel so tired,” she said. “But I get to the studio, and by the end of the second song, time disappears. I’m elated to be there. Even if my body is tired, it’s completely rejuvenating, from the hugs coming through the door to the music that’s up so loud that it’s a problem.”

This article appears in the Summer 2018 Issue of Territory Magazine.