In this guest blog, Emily Rowe, one of the amazing alumni of Dandelion’s Performance Company, reflects on how Dandelion had a positive impact on her life. Keep reading to learn how Emily carries her Dandelion experience with her through to this very day.
I first joined Dandelion when I was five years old (back then, it was known as Tournesol), and then had the privilege of being in the Performance Company throughout high school. When I think back to how Dandelion changed my life, one thing stands out: the way that Dandelion helped me to overcome my fear of public speaking. For my entire life up until grade eleven, I was afraid of public speaking. I would panic to the point that I would go numb, violently shake, and even go absolutely blank while presenting, due to nerves. My stomach would hurt from the moment a teacher would announce that we would have to give presentations, until the presentations were over. I would either barely pass or, at times, fail them. My anxiety progressively worsened to the point that I went to a psychologist for help. This step was important to me, for many people self-diagnose or romanticize mental health challenges. I didn’t want to make that mistake. After a couple of days of testing, I was diagnosed with social anxiety and was given an Individual Education Plan (IEP) for school that exempted me from class presentations. From then on, I managed to avoid class presentations. But one day in grade 11, Kelsey (the Performance Company Director) asked me to introduce the Performance Company at a nuclear disarmament conference. Because I was one of the older members, I felt it was important to show my leadership, so I agreed. I remember writing the short speech, repeatedly practicing it, and then finally introducing the Performance Company to the audience. To this day, I don’t remember how it went, but I’m certain it was not the best and that others in the Performance Company could have done a better job. Nevertheless, Kelsey trusted me with the responsibility from then on, and asked me to introduce the Performance Company at the majority of the events that year and the year after that! Knowing that I was so nervous, everyone was so supportive and reassured me every single time that it went well. Dandelion provided me with such a safe and supportive space that I was able to slowly develop my public speaking skills and gain confidence in myself and what I believe in. Years later, I now genuinely enjoy public speaking and even joined the debate club! Although I still have my moments of nerves, I have built the confidence to know that I have legitimate passions and opinions that deserve to be heard.
I am now attending university at McGill, and last year I made the decision to major in political science and minor in economics. When I got to Montreal, I wanted to find a community space that would remind me of my time at Dandelion, especially as part of the social justice Performance Company. In my first year at McGill, I decided to join various clubs relating to social justice, like McGill UNICEF and Amnesty International, to stay connected to those passions. Through these clubs, I was part of a collective effort to raise money and awareness for the Rohingya crisis, and the need for increased access to education for young women and girls in developing countries.
High school is arguably the most difficult and critical time in a young woman’s mental and physical development: insecurities rage, emotions run wild, social groups change, and personal identity and purpose are unclear. It would be an understatement to say this is an overwhelming period. Going through the Dandelion program, I can see not only how it helped me personally, but I also witnessed the positive impact it had on so many others. From helping young women find their voice and passions, to providing emotional support and advice during trying times, and encouraging each member to celebrate every other girl’s successes like they are her own, Dandelion supports its students in a way that I don’t think is easy to find in our world. In a society where girls and women are often pitted against and compared to each other, it is imperative that girls learn from a young age how to build each other up, instead of tearing each other down.
Dandelion’s Performance Company closes every performance with a piece called Prayer for the 21st Century. It is a dance to a poem written by John Marsden on his hopes and dreams for the future. While dancing this piece, I always thought about what I wished for the future. Today, I would say that my prayer for the 21st century is for an ever-growing space where young girls and women feel safe and supported, where young women have their voices heard and respected, and where the voices of youth are not written off as “cute,” but are valued. Dandelion is that space. Therefore, my wish is that it continues to grow and remain available even to those who cannot afford it, so that other young girls and women are able to experience what I was fortunate enough to receive myself.