Ashley in performance with others

Girls Leading Girls: the power of dance

Happy ­and busy ­February from all of us in the Dandelion Dance Performance Company! We have quite the schedule this month and we are excited by the momentum that continues to be generated by connecting with so many youth in our ‘Girls Leading Girls’ tour across Ottawa.

We have already completed the first of two February tour dates, right in the midst of the oh­-so-­wintery weather of late. On February 5, the Company was determined to trek out to Elmwood School, despite it being a snow day for many of them. We were so glad the show went on! We have been buzzing ever since then from the experience and the rewarding feedback we received from Elmwood students.

We have now completed four school visits ­ performing and leading workshops for more than 500 students. And the Company members are shining in their roles as artists, leaders, and community shapers.

Dandleion dancers engaging with school audience

At this point in our tour, I have been reflecting further on why our programs focus on dance, especially since the tour has profoundly reinforced my belief in the power of dance. There is a power in a moving body that tells a story, and a power in how dance can access feelings and insight for both the dancer and the spectator.

The teen years can be overwhelming

I remember as a teen feeling all sorts of intense, mixed emotions, and yet, I had no idea how to articulate all that was going on inside me. We know that as teens cross over the bridge that takes them from childhood to adulthood, they generally do not yet have the words they so desperately need to express their inner world. When I was 14, the world was opening itself up to me for better and for worse. Everything seemed possible and many things were terrifying. To hold these opposing emotions, without the wisdom that comes with age, is a challenge, and the tentacles of perfectionism, anxiety, and a whole range of other mental health issues can quickly take root.

The students I have met throughout the Girls Leading Girls Tour are smart, but often feel insecure. Beautiful, but sometimes they say they feel ugly. Forward­ thinking, and yet they sometimes feel stuck. They are asserting themselves through the clothes they choose to wear, the music they listen to, the pictures they post on social media; but they also feel cornered by social media trends and influencers. They are asking big, important questions, and they are full of thoughtful ways to make our world more just and more hopeful. But at the same time, they too often feel confused, overwhelmed, trapped.

So many teens feel this way. They feel trapped by their thoughts and trapped by message after message that our society bombards them with. Messages that insist they are not enough. But dance can be this wonderful experience where the dancer gets to let it all go and just connect with the very thing they are often stuck doubting: their own body. When we dance ­ in a non­judgemental, inclusive, and free environment, our body takes care of us. It allows us to process what we are feeling, without even being aware that is what is actually going on.

The power of 'flow'

There is research that speaks to a “state of flow,” a state of being really present, and an experience in which the person is not controlled or inhibited by external, predetermined parameters (Csikszentmihalyi 2009). The flow state is an experience that can allow a person to let go of self­-critique, or of trying to do something right, and instead feel good in however their body wants to move.

And that’s what audiences witness when they see the Dandelion Dance Performance Company share its work. They watch twelve girls all in this state of flow, and it is so powerful.

My gosh, do I wish Dandelion had visited my school when I was a teenager! Despite being privileged enough to have access to technical dance classes, I was still very much caught in my inner world and feeling alone in my struggles. For me, ballet and jazz classes reinforced what I understood to be hard rules in dance: you have to be thin, strong, coordinated, “perfect”. I also had no idea how to navigate the hurtful dynamics that manifest in high schools when groups of friends don’t know how to communicate.

The 'Power of Dance' on performers and audiences alike

dandelion dancers performing in front of  othersIt’s not easy to cross the bridge into adulthood, and our adolescents are coping the best they can, which sometimes means not very well. But it feels so good to know that our diverse and bold Company members show teens that there are ways to healthily navigate the unknowns; that there are places of creative expression and community where we are allowed to process, to FEEL, and to let go of stuff that otherwise can get stuck and fester; that the courage of the Company members gives permission to each one of us to feel deserving. The fact that a girl that looks or acts just like you, got up on stage and danced with her heart, opens the door for you to see yourself differently.

As Performance Company Director, I have been told so many times that just the experience of sitting and watching Dandelion dancers bravely be exactly who they are, on stage, creates an opening for anyone to recognize, on some level, that it’s ok to be just the way they are. Each one of us is looking for acceptance, looking for someone or something to let us know it’s ok to be whatever it is that makes us each feel good and happy.

And that is what the Dandelion Dance Performance Company does. The dancers’ courage and authenticity on stage, their honesty in the Unapologetic Beauty documentary, and their openness and confidence during our hands-­on workshop, allow girls across Ottawa to feel a little bit more courageous in taking their space and in celebrating all that makes them each the person they are.

Nothing says it better than the testimonials of the audience and workshop participants themselves. I will leave you with some of my favourite reflections and a few photos so you can have a sense of the power of our dancing!

Girl creating heart shape with her hands

"After watching the Dandelion Dance Performance Company, I see my body as a tool to express so much that cannot be expressed with words."

"[After the performance and workshop] I feel more comfortable in my skin."

"I feel like I have gained a better understanding and respect for my body and myself."

"Dandelion showed me that to be a leader you need to have self­love. That way, you inspire not only others, but yourself also."

"[After the performance and workshop] I have realized that all body types are beautiful, because I saw that beautiful comes in many shapes and sizes."

“The documentary was especially helpful in seeing how I am not alone and other people/teenage girls also experience body insecurities. Seeing the interview portion of the video helped me realize how irrelevant body shame/size is for beauty and confidence. I overall feel much more comfortable in my body after this workshop. Truly! I am not just writing this! Thank you so much!"

To see the Company perform live, join us for our 2020 Performance Company Year-end Show. It’s your chance to see us in action!

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