JIM SMITH LOOKS like a dancer. He's long and lean and lithe, and when he stands around in stocking feet he curls his toes against the floor just like a ballet dancer.
Appearances are deceiving though. This weekend he makes his dancing debut in The Journey, an evening-length modern-dance collaboration by choreographer Beth Braun and composer Arthur Miscione.
"It's my first dance anything," Smith said sheepishly last week, standing in the Zuzi! Move It Dance Lab at the Historic YWCA, where the concert will take place. Nevertheless, there's a very good reason that Smith the un-dancer is performing in a dance concert: he's the inspiration for its being.
Smith had a heart transplant 12 years ago at the age of 15. Miscione, his uncle, had always wanted to celebrate his nephew's tenacity, and developed the concert along with Braun as a fundraiser for the University Medical Center Heart Transplant Fund.
Now a 27-year-old medical student, Smith decided to join in with the professional dancers.
"Why not? It's for a good cause. It's something I had never tried before. I like to try new things."
Choreographer Braun had thought she'd go easy on the novice, giving him a "pedestrian" part.
"He was disappointed. He didn't want pedestrian. He's not a technically trained dancer but movement comes naturally to him." Smith is one of several non-dancers in the show. "We have different experience levels and ages. I like that. The work is about life and community. They add an energy that's really different from the other dancers."
Braun, well known to Tucson audiences from her years of dancing and choreographing with Orts Theatre of Dance, struck out on her own a year ago. She wanted to devote more time to her dance teaching in Tucson's public schools, she said, and to do more of her own choreography. She and Miscione have collaborated before, notably on a piece staged at the opening of the new Orts space in September 1998, but The Journey is their biggest work yet.
Divided into nine sections, which vary dramatically in length, the dance is performed to Miscione's songs.
"It's about a life journey and each section represents a different part -- innocence, despair, struggle, hope, love, enlightenment," Braun said. "Each dance is representative of that different time. Some are light and some are uplifting."
This weekend's show also marks the first performance by the Beth Braun Dance Partnership, which Braun said is "not necessarily a new dance troupe" but an ad-hoc grouping of performers coming together, so far, just for this show. Like Lee Anne Hartley and Thom Lewis, who "cherry-picked" dancers for their FUNHOUSE movement theatre concert last weekend, Braun has drawn on some of the town's best modern dancers.
From Orts she got Charles Thompson and Matthew Henley, both of whom were in FUNHOUSE, as well as Cora Kannel and Nicole Buffan. Wendy Joy and Nathan Dryden hail from Zuzi; Peggy Paver is a dance teacher at Rincon/University High School; Sarah Small and Sara Anderson are Tucson High students. Several Utterback Middle School dancers and a singer are in the show too.
Most of the choreography is Braun's but she asked four of the dancers to compose their own solos. Dryden dances a trapeze piece, "Suicide Notes," while Buffan, Thompson and Henley perform their solos in turn as part of a trio, all of them occupying the stage at the same time. Braun gave herself a solo as well, "The Space Between Us" because, she said, "there really is no space between us."
Miscione, another non-dancer who, like his nephew, looks like a dancer, wrote most of the music and lyrics, with some tunes penned by John Neighbors, Ruben Riera and Rusty Cline.
"A lot of people call my music a cross between Paul Simon and James Taylor. It's folk but we can really rock," Miscione said. "Some of the songs were written specifically for this performance but some are older."
Five musicians, including Miscione, his fellow composers and Michael Dombrowski, will perform the music live, playing acoustic guitar, bass guitar, piano, flute, sax, harmonica, slide guitar and banjo.
"We know how to put on a great show," Miscione grins. "We're still learning about the fundraising."
A couple of donor network reps will speak before the concert, which will be emceed by Betsy Bruce of radio station KRQ. A reception with refreshments will follow, and concert goers will have the chance to sign donor cards. All profits go to a UMC fund that helps pay the expenses of transplant patients' families, many of whom must live in Tucson far away from their homes while their loved one undergoes treatment.
Smith, who dances in the piece called "The Struggle," cheerfully said he's not yet sure of his medical specialty. Everyone asks him whether he'll go into heart surgery, but he's waiting to see what his rotations hold. "I'm keeping my options open."
And dancing in the meantime.
The Beth Braun Dance Partnership presents The Journey, a modern dance concert with music by Arthur Miscione, at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 1, in the Historic YWCA, 738 N. Fifth Ave. (at University Blvd.). Tickets are $10; proceeds benefit the UMC Heart Transplant Fund. For reservations, call 320-5574 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.