My Tumblr used to be called VintageAccent. Didn’t use it much other than to save ‘likes’ and reblog now and then.
However, as a former Mod for a ProBoards forum, one of the three who ‘got the boot’ in the middle of the night for no reason and without warning, I’ve changed my Tumblr account to…
Amateur photographer Bill Gracey turned his lifelong love of shell collecting into an absolutely gorgeous photo series.
Using artificial lighting and backdrops, Bill shows off the intricate patterns and shapes of the exotic seashells he’s gathered up and down the Mexican coastline.
America, the land of the free, has the highest incarceration rate for young people in the world. On any given day, 70,792 youths find themselves locked up in the U.S.
For those who believe in the transformative nature of dance and are moved to change the world, teaching dance in prisons is about giving movement to all the ways we are held captive by our lives and circumstances.
Ehud Krauss and Janice Ross
Ehud Krauss has been teaching dance to incarcerated youths at the San Mateo and Santa Clara County juvenile halls, and at the alternative Gateway School for 18 years, in a class called Juvie Jazz. Krauss’ class is one of the outreach programs offered by Zohar Dance Studio in Palo Alto, California.
An Israeli native, Krauss earned his degree in dance from the Haifa Institute of Art, and later studied in New York with Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, and Gus Giordano.
In his Juvie Jazz classes, Krauss uses improvised dances, exercises, rhythm and memory games, and sports activities to help the youths become more in tune with their bodies, and thus more in control.
Krauss is now recovering from knee surgery but will return to teach classes at the Santa Clara and San Mateo juvenile halls in January. He teaches classes of 10 to 15 students, boys and girls separately. Many classes are improvisation based, and Krauss is open to what students want to do. To get ideas and inspiration for classes, he listens to popular hip-hop songs, and on occasion, based on his students’ recommendations, checks out the latest dance styles at clubs. This, Krauss believes, helps him connect with the youths at their level and helps connect them to the lives they led prior to detention.
His goal is to bring art into his students’ lives (to give them another way of imagining themselves), help them develop curiosity and creativity, and teach them how to learn. So when Janice Ross, director of the dance division at Stanford University, approached Krauss in 1999, and asked him to partner with her on a class called Dance in Prisons: The Arts, Juvenile Justice, and Rehabilitation in America, he agreed. Krauss thought this 10-week service-learning seminar would expand the worldview of both the incarcerated youth and the Stanford students.
Krauss worked with Ross to incorporate the dance program at juvenile hall into the Dance in Prisons curriculum. He arranged to have the Stanford students come in for a semester to observe, take class, and interact with the detainees. This gave the college students a different view of the ways in which dance can be transformative, and offered ideas and methodology for using dance in different venues.
The detainees found in the Stanford students a set of peers with whom they could discuss their aspirations, and who appreciated them for who they were rather than judging them by what they had done. Many of the detainees said the program and the interactions with the Stanford students inspired them to want to study and encouraged them to follow their dreams.
Ross, a dance scholar and writer, has taught at Stanford for more than 20 years. She was inspired to create Dance in Prisons on a “retreat led by the director of the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford, who approached me about developing new curriculum that might link the arts with public scholarship and community engagement,” says Ross. Over the years, the Haas Center has provided grants of $3,000 to $5,000 each year for class expenses.
In 2011, Ross received the Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize for “integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society.”
Ross says, “It was the most remarkable experience of any class I have offered—it transforms students’ conceptions of what dance might do in the world outside the academy. It has sparked new directions in study and career paths for students and brought me much more deeply into a discovery of the huge topic of incarceration in America.”
Over the years Ross has revised her course to align with the juvenile halls’ rules. For example, she wanted the students to record the life stories of the young prisoners, but pens and recorders weren’t allowed into the facility. Then state budget cuts and security concerns canceled Krauss’ class at the Santa Clara County juvenile hall, so the students went to a last-chance high school, Gateway School, instead.
Former Dance in Prisons student Angelica Almira Zabanal, currently a law student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, graduated from Stanford in 2009 with a BA in political science and a minor in dance. She says Dance in Prisons “was a life-influencing part of my undergraduate career.”
The Dance in Prisons curriculum includes reading assignments, guest speakers, and a final project; in addition, students attend weekly classes with the youths in the juvenile hall. Zabanal says, “During our dance classes, we would teach dance basics or follow Ehud’s lead on different dance styles. We learned the new dances together at the hall, which contributed to the community feel of the experience. By the end of the semester, it was often the youth who were teaching us.”
Dancing alongside her classmates and the incarcerated youth, Zabanal came to understand that all the dancers shared a common experience; all of them, she says, were seeking to “express ourselves, to socialize, to learn, and be encouraged in uncomfortable or unfamiliar experiences.”
Zabanal also came away with a deeper understanding of the toll incarceration takes on individuality, and the lasting damage it can inflict. “Experiencing and seeing first-hand the subtle effects of incarceration on these youth and their confidence was mind-blowing,” she says. “The more I learned about their communities and backgrounds, the more I saw the injustice of the entire system.
“One of the most special aspects of the course,” Zabanal continues, “was its ability to weave a variety of core human values into one class. We learned about compassion. The fragility of the human experience. The history of the prison industrial complex. Dancing and culture. The effect of socioeconomic status and education on justice. Teaching pedagogy. Access to justice. The demographic makeup of the incarcerated population. Being nonjudgmental and open-minded.”
And this is Ross’ hope for her students: that they “learn the unique capacity of dance to effect individual and collective change.”
For 17 years, Susan Slotnick has taught modern dance in prisons. Primarily a self-taught modern dancer and choreographer, as a little girl she briefly studied ballet. But, she says, “I was a terrible student and lazy kid,” and she quit. After marrying and settling down in New Paltz, New York, she began taking classes with Brenda Bufalino, who taught tap, modern, and jazz there.
Slotnick began teaching in the community and taking classes at Clark Center for Performing Arts in New York City. She fell in love with Horton technique, studied African dance, and continued training with Bufalino.
Now a choreographer and school owner, Slotnick says dance freed her from the difficulties of her childhood; she made it her mission to bring the same sense of freedom through dance to others. Her social justice background is informed by the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam—“to heal the world.”
Because of her knack for attracting boys to dance, she began teaching 12- to 17-year-old boys at Highland Residential Center, a juvenile detention facility in Highland, New York. “I started to teach Horton technique, and it was so beautiful; they were so valiant, so open.” Slotnick taught there for five years, including Sundays and holidays, and worked with the boys for three hours at a time. After performances, Slotnick says, parents would come to her filled with emotion, and say, “I’ve never had a proud moment with my son. This is the proudest moment of my life.”
In 2004 the program was dropped, with no explanation. “[The program] was the high-water mark of my life in dance and social justice,” Slotnick says, and she was devastated.
Undeterred, she approached Katherine Vockins, executive director of Rehabilitation Through the Arts (RTA), an organization that uses creative arts as a tool for social and cognitive transformation in prisons. Slotnick was given the go-ahead to start a dance program at Woodbourne, a medium-security correctional facility in southern New York. The program has been operating for the last seven years, under the auspices of RTA.
Slotnick works with an adult male population, 14 to 20 inmates, every Sunday throughout the year. The training is classic Horton. “They look so good, people think they are retired members of the Alvin Ailey company,” Slotnick says of Figures in Flight 5, the company within Woodbourne she directs with her teaching assistant and former student, Bethany Wootan.
Now 29, Wootan says, “Susan did more than teach me dance; she also taught me philosophy with an emphasis on social justice. The rewards of teaching in a prison have been and continue to be vast and surprising. It has influenced who I am as a teacher, a woman, and a human being.”
Andre Noel, a former member, in-house assistant choreographer, and director of Figures in Flight 5, is now the founder and director of Figures in Flight Released. His company’s mission, Noel says, is “to prove to our society that not all men should be viewed as hardened criminals or [are] to be feared. What better way to eradicate this popular belief but to dance our hearts out in front of members of society?”
Since his release two years ago, he and members of Figures in Flight Released have performed at Vassar and John Jay Colleges, Columbia and Fordham Universities, SUNY New Paltz, and the National Museum of Dance. They also collaborated with House of the Roses Volunteer Dance Company, which runs workshops for homeless and at-risk kids.
Even though the company lacks rehearsal space (they have rehearsed in basements and backyards) and time (all of the men work), Noel says “nothing is going to stop us from practicing before a show. We are brothers who fully understand each other in more ways than our own families. A bond was formulated in prison through dance. Nothing changed except the environment.”
Slotnik hopes to teach modern dance in prisons as long as she can, and it’s because of men like Noel. Her goal is for the boys and men she has worked with “to re-create themselves into people who do tikkun olam, and take that re-creation with them when they walk out of prison and do something wonderful.”
Keshet Dance Company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offers daily dance classes to incarcerated youth as part of a high school curriculum at Youth Diagnostic and Development Center (YDDC), a state juvenile detention center. Keshet Dance, in 2009, received the Coming Up Taller award from First Lady Michelle Obama for its work with YDDC.
Seventeen years ago, YDDC contacted Shira Greenberg, Keshet’s artistic director, and asked her to run an eight-week dance program for girls, as a reward for good behavior. Seeing the phenomenal impact the weekly hour-long dance classes had on this population, and understanding that short-term programs often fail to exert long-term effects, Greenberg proposed extending the program.
“When the eight weeks ended, I went to the facility and said, ‘This is a really positive experience, and we feel like there could be a lot more progress. If we can bring in our own funding, can we continue the program on a daily basis?’ They said sure,” Greenberg says.
Within a year the program was expanded to include boys. Over the years Greenberg and her staff have developed a dance-based curriculum that is also designed to help students with math, literacy, and conflict-resolution skills.
Initially the curriculum was developed in cooperation with the on-site teachers. “We looked at what they were working on in their academic classes, to see how we would fit in best, but also to see where key areas of struggles were that we might be able to address,” says Keshet education director Lindsay Shettlesworth. She oversees this program and its core teaching staff—a clinical psychologist with a dance background, repertory company members, and Keshet Dance instructors.
Once it was decided which academic standards would be covered, the Keshet team matched them with dance styles. The teaching staff worked with students to see which technique best lent itself to each academic subject. “For example, we teach ballet technique in the grammar unit, hip-hop in the poetry unit,” says Shettlesworth. Ballet’s structure and progression, she says, lent itself very comfortably to the structure, rules, and progression of a grammar lesson.
“During the first six years, the curriculum included a good amount of flexibility and adjustments; for the last four years we have worked with a curriculum that is pretty much solidified. We have it broken down to units and have lesson plans for each day of instruction.”
“All of the curriculum is collaborative,” Greenberg says. “Students are creating choreography together—almost a call and response: ‘I’m creating this movement and basing my next movement off yours. How do I remember who is being an obtuse angle and who is an acute angle? If you’re obtuse, I’m acute.’ So as we’re tying in the various academic themes, we’re also keeping the students connected. They are not sitting at a desk, working on a problem alone, they are working together to create things.”
Students can enroll in the six-week academic program only once. Keshet runs two sessions per semester, with 10 to 15 students in each. They are taught ballet, hip-hop, salsa, modern, contemporary, and jazz. Midterm and final projects are full performances created by the students to highlight the work they’ve done; Keshet staff, program funders, juvenile justice staff, and sometimes students’ families attend the final production.
Keshet’s outreach program at YDDC also offers three dance-based fitness classes per week, customized for girls and boys. The boys are “ready to jump right in,” says Greenberg, but the girls have a “layer of armor” that the Keshet staff has had to address. Many of the young women have a history of physical or sexual abuse; the classes help to build strength, confidence in their bodies, and a positive self-image.
Students who have participated in the academic program and/or the fitness classes are eligible for the pre-release program, which was initiated by Keshet but is supported and facilitated in conjunction with YDDC. “Which essentially means we will figure out ways to continue working with them upon their release date,” says Greenberg. “We work with them and their multidisciplinary team, which includes their social worker and parole and probation officers,” to plan what their release will look like.
The post-release program, called M3—which stands for “Movement + Mentorship = Metamorphosis”—consists of about 10 youths per year, and is tailored to each student’s needs. Based on their interests, students can work onsite at Keshet Center for the Arts, taking classes with the same teachers they worked with at YDDC. If interested, they can get involved with studio-produced performances. “We try to integrate them into other programs we have, where they themselves can become the mentors,” says Greenberg.
Keshet’s impact is revealed in a letter Greenberg shares, from a former juvenile at YDDC named Indie, incarcerated at age 13. “Keshet stuck with me all the way until I got out of YDDC,” Indie wrote. “Now I’m 18, and Keshet is still very involved in my life. It means so much to me that Keshet has been there through everything… . Keshet is like a family that a lot of kids in YDDC never had.”
ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess and Post Pardon. She was selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List. Member of the PlayGround writers’ pool, her play Frigidare was staged for the 15th Annual Best of PlayGround Festival. Recipient of the inaugural Rose O’Neill Literary House summer residency at Washington College in Maryland, Arisa has also received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has been published widely and is featured on the recording WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.
Stepping Up To Fashion: House of Worth S/S 2011 Haute Couture, ‘Tutus’
Nathan Sawaya uses Lego to create unique sculptures, from anguished figures to an enormous T rex. Yellow (above) is about Sawaya baring his soul, his best-known piece:
Sawaya enjoys the fact that while adults connect with the figure’s anguish, children are generally thrilled by the spectacle of spilling guts
Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet
ph. Julien Benhamou