The first time I met this youth at Denney, he scared me a little. He cussed under his breath as I approached to show him the details of the relatively simple movement we were doing. He refused to make eye contact, and his hands were clenched into fists. It was easy to see he was boiling inside, about ready to blow. He did NOT want to participate, and I didn’t push him.
Fast forward a bit. He has only come to dance a handful of times, and he hasn’t been super excited to try much, but the guards keep telling me he needs to be active. This time I have a game plan to give him a special part and see what he does with it, and he absolutely crushes it! He even reveals that he has some crazy athleticism and gymnastic ability. His friends are clapping and cheering for him, and I’m jumping around, ecstatic (I lose allllllll illusions of coolness when I get excited). He is possibly proud of himself, but mostly he’s anxious. I can see the tension in his chest and his eyes are down, wild and panicked. I ask him a little later to do this special part when we perform the routine, and he agrees quietly after a little bit of encouragement.
Fast forward to today. I invited him to the gym early to show our 5 MINUTE duet to Tory before the rest of the group got there. He came in all smiles, surprised, and when I asked him if we could show her, he said he’d give 60% but not 100%. I countered with 65%, and he said okay with a laugh. He maintained eye contact throughout the entire interaction. He never stopped smiling. He did the dance nearly full out (maybe 85% 🙂 ) and joked with me afterward about how much credit he would give me for the choreography. Tory was impressed and excited and gave him compliments, which he accepted without panic. He even helped me in class when the rest of the group got there— I asked him what the other kids should do for specialty parts, and he came up with movement for them, taught it to them, and cued them when it was time to move.
It is a truly remarkable thing to see how much he’s grown during his time at Denney. I know that growth isn’t solely based on our time dancing together, but I also absolutely believe it has helped him beyond measure. We only have funding for me to do the full group class and two private lessons per week at Denney, but at this point I’m volunteering 3-4 hours per week on top of that, being as accessible as I possibly can, and dancing nearly daily with him (and ROS). These relationships matter so much, and dance is the vehicle that drives them. It blows me away every time he comes in with a smile, relaxes his shoulders, and looks me in the eye while joking about how he’s doing all the work and I’m slacking. It’s so beautiful to see him PLAY, and my heart turns to puddles when I remember where he started. I’m so grateful for his trust and his light and his courage to open up to/with me. I’m so unbelievably lucky to do what I do.