Three shows into our Girls Leading Girls Tour and I’ve caught myself thinking, “HOLY COW, this is really working!” This is not to say that we hadn’t thoughtfully crafted a tour set-up for success. We knew exactly what we were doing (creating a platform for girls’ voices) and for what purpose (to showcase and support girls’ leadership). And yet, it is still an incredible thing to observe – first hand – the capacity-building power of our show and workshop.
The Girls Leading Girls Tour is leadership in action and it fills me with hope for the future when I see how confidence and wellbeing emerge when girls are taken seriously and celebrated for who they truly are.
Taking on the role of leader can be energizing and fulfilling. It’s also complex and challenging. Watching the ways in which this year’s Performance Company members have stepped into their leadership roles has been rewarding because I am watching confidence, strength, and vulnerability emerge from each dancer in different ways.
After three performances, my newest dancers are already speaking more clearly and more confidently. Some are taking the initiative to answer questions and others speak with a quiet strength that was always there, but that they didn’t realize they had only three months ago. I have watched my dancers take more and more initiative while co-leading our workshops. They are stepping forward with encouragements, insight, and the courage to share their own stories.
The Performance Company members’ leadership is also exemplified by the grace and ingenuity they show under pressure! When we arrive at a new school there are a lot of unknowns. Facing the unexpected is a regular experience for my dancers and they become more flexible and more resilient after each tour stop.
For example, sometimes (who am I kidding, all the time!) we encounter tech problems, like a sound system that stops working in the middle of a piece! Instead of floundering and allowing these moments to derail a performance, we take the opportunity to explain that we actually like these moments because they allow us to acknowledge that life is messy and that we are not perfect. Not being perfect is something that we embrace!
There are also times when a dancer has to miss a show last-minute due to sickness. When this is the case, there is a flurry of arms and legs and whispers, as the girls sort out who will fill in for the missing dancer. If you can believe it, I have seen the Performance Company members rework an entire 45-minute show in 10 minutes! In fact, just last week, one of the members, Serena, filled in for one of her fellow dancers as the lead role in our dance Unapologetic Beauty. Serena had never danced this role before and she took our breath away!
And then there are the workshop participants who are feeling nervous or insecure. Many students who attend our workshops don’t see themselves as dancers and are nervous they will have to dance. Others are girls who may not yet see their capacity to be a leader. It’s a beautiful thing to watch the Company come alongside these participants.
The Dandelion dancers look for things they have in common with these more nervous participants, and find ways to help these girls to feel welcomed and comfortable enough to come out of their shells. Eventually, as nerves melt away, the workshops become filled with laughter and creative ideas get flowing! Often the participants who were nervous when they arrived, are not only dancing and sharing their creative ideas by the end of a workshop, they ask when they can do this again!
Our workshop participants reflect on their experiences with us in an end-of-workshop questionnaire. We are invigorated by the reflections that girls have been sharing with us, highlighting the leadership capacity ignited or fueled in many students. Here are a few to share with you!
One student expressed that the workshop made a difference for her because, “ I learned to be more open and confident.” Another girl explained that the Dandelion Dance™ Performance Company’s visit made her, “love my body more and know that everyone is different, not everyone has to have small arms and small legs.” Yet another girl explained that the performance and workshop helped her “accept myself more,” and that because “the dances and video were very powerful,” they made her think differently about who can be a dancer. She now sees that “anyone is capable of doing anything!”
By inviting youth to the table and allowing them the practice room to take initiative and problem solve, we recognize the contributions each young person can make when they are taken seriously and listened to. And not only are our communities better for it – better reflective of the needs and perspectives of everyone – the youth themselves feel seen and heard and become more engaged in their communities. Give youth a platform for their perspectives and ideas and we are fostering not just future community leaders but present community leaders.
At Dandelion Dance we are purposefully leading girls into their leadership. Our work plays a role in shaping communities that are diverse, inclusive, and reflective of our real world – a world full of courageous and insightful young women who have lots to say. I truly can’t think of anything else I would rather do!