The last two weeks have been filled with giggles and goofiness, honesty and vulnerability, risk-taking and bravery, and the absolute in-my-face realization that this program matters. I’ve been allowing the youth to pick the music we warm up to, as well as call out movements to do across the floor, and this little bit of choice in the beginning of class sets the tone for the rest of the session. It’s quite beautiful to see the difference it makes when they dance to music they choose–the smiles and movements and interactions are so genuine.
I’ve been doing my regular Tuesday classes and private lessons with one student for the last two weeks, as well as small group classes with two others. One is a natural mover with a lot of pent up energy, and I’ve begun to hold space in my heart for him after we had a hard conversation a few weeks ago. He had used some truly harmful slang that really bothered me. In the moment, he seemed irritated (and possibly ashamed) when I gently called him out on it, but he stayed in class anyway. The next week he used one of the slurs again, but immediately caught himself, turned to me, and apologized without a prompt. I’ve felt nothing but respect from him since then, and this small shift has been on my mind daily.
One student is wiry and energetic, and he’s a on the young side. I get the sense that he’s been picked on a lot in his life and that his hardness is a survival skill. He always wants to come to dance– I really believe he loves it. In fact, he asks nearly every day if I’ll come get him the next day. Sitting still is so hard for him, and I think he’s used to feeling like he’s a little too much for some folks, especially in school. It’s clear that dance has become a safe space for him to do something positive with his extra energy. I often have him demonstrate movement or try things with me before I teach it to the others, and I think he takes pride in this. He and his dance classmate have become like assistants in some ways, always ready to teach the movement to new people, try out my ideas if I’m not sure how they’re going to work, partner up with whoever feels left out, etc… It’s such a positive space for them.
Yesterday one student let me know that they would be going to another facility soon. I always know that my time with these kids is limited, but that didn’t stop the flood of sadness and anxiety from hitting me right in the heart. I worried about him all night, doodled his name on an index card, and wrote him a little note to let him know I was thinking of him. I took it with me to Denney this morning.
We’ve become aware that several students have asked to not be transferred from Denney because they don’t want to stop taking dance classes. There is so much beauty in Denney, and when the kids have been there for awhile I sometimes forget that it is such a tiny part of their detention journey. When they are getting released, I know there’s a possibility of dancing with them on the outside because I will always make myself accessible to those who want to dance with me. But when they are sentenced and transfer to another facility in Washington, there’s no telling if or when I’ll see them again. I’m crossing my fingers that we find the funding to extend our program to juvenile rehabilitation centers across the state for youth our special ones at Denney who finally found a positive space they want to be in. In the meantime, send some thoughts and prayers out that this next step in his journey will treat him kindly. We’ll all miss him greatly.