Dancing to Connect programs demonstrate the power of dance, especially for youth

English is my primary language, but even if I didn’t speak some Arabic, Greek and French too, I’d still be multilingual. As a dancer, dance educator and choreographer, I have always believed that I speak the universal language.

Movement is life. As living beings, we move even before making our presence known to the world. But some take the art and sport of movement as their life’s work, and use dance to assert their presence – and sometimes, help others to do so, as well.

Battery Dance, a professional company in downtown New York City, launched its Dancing to Connect programs over a decade ago. With these programs, company members travel abroad to conduct week-long dance workshops for underprivileged and at-risk youth. It very much reminds be of the work I myself did as an intern for the Hayatuna program launched by the Swedish NGO, Spiritus Mundi.

Instead of simply asking the children to watch and copy movement, the educators give the kids their own choreography wands, allowing and asking them to invent their own movement vocabulary. When I worked with the House of the Roses volunteer dance company, also a New York City-based organization, we employed this dance education method, and it proved extremely effective.

In creating their own movement to express emotions, ideas, etc., the children recognized in themselves greater potential and felt more closely tied to the project, more needed.

In Moving Stories, the documentary recently made following Dancing to Connect in Iraq, India, Romania and South Korea, we see the same trends and behaviors: dance stirring joy and awakening creativity in the young participants, and gaining appreciation by both the performers and their communities alike. It is clear that dance truly is a way we can communicate regardless of geographical or linguistic boundaries, and also that art is vital to our collective human culture.

Watch the Moving Stories trailer here.

I love what director, Rob Fruchtman said in an interview: “Dance is both a way in and a way out.” In addition to developing a greater understanding of oneself, dancing provides an outlet through which one can release stresses and emotions normally buried within.

It is so commendable that Battery Dance seeks out areas where there is the greatest need for something as freeing and healing as dance. The communities highlighted in Moving Stories have suffered more than most.

Gender violence, abuse, war and poverty are prevalent in the lives of these children. In India, for example, Dancing to Connect works with young women who have suffered sexual exploitation. In Romania, many of the children are gypsies who were raised in slums.

Working with kids is not always a walk in the park; attention strays, feelings get hurt, manners are lost, tempers flare, etc. Add to that the fact that the target population for these programs has been disproportionately affected by serious issues, and there you have a massive challenge. Battery Dance does not give up, though – another thing to admire.

After going through an intensive week filled with dance, the kids perform for an audience. It is clear, by the time of the shows, that the children have grown individually but also socially. A sense of accomplishment and pride is palpable. New friendships have been forged.

So much good comes out of Dancing to Connect, but a week is fleeting. Battery Dance works to make these programs sustainable by training people affiliated with the performing arts in these international locales under the company’s leaders during the workshops. The hope is that these close to home, native language speaking teams will grow the program, or something resembling it, as life continues, that the week with Battery Dance will not be remembered as a singular rare opportunity but as the start of much more.

The performing arts serve not only as entertainment; they also naturally lend themselves to therapy and act as a launchpad for social change.

As someone who has experienced their power firsthand, I can only hope that they will continue to be shared, and with growing zeal.

I read up on CMRubinWorld about Dancing to Connect. The title of the article there is, “The Global Search for Education: Is Now Our Time to Dance?” To which my answer is: Yes, it has always been our time to dance.

Top photo from Battery Dance website; next photo from The Dance Enthusiast

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