“What is a world without dance?” asks Emma. “Dance is about the relationships you have with other people. Dance is that thing you can do without having anything to say. Dance was a constant in my life, especially during rough times. Dance was my comfort. Dance was my form of acceptance. Now, I utilize the language and art of dance to mentor incarcerated girls. ‘Be who you needed when you were younger,’ is the phrase that drives my passion to be a teaching artist.”
“Youth empowerment. My goal is to enhance students’ experience of the creative process while also enabling them to see themselves as agents of personal and social change. I emphasize personal growth and self-worth while establishing connections between incarcerated girls and their stories. Being incarcerated doesn’t have to define you. The arts help us understand who we are as human beings.”
How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“Students view works by historic and contemporary women in dance, such as Misty Copeland, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Isadora Duncan, Liz Lerman, Nan Giordano, Camille Brown. They hear stories of women’s struggle and achievement. They learn movements in the style of each woman studied, and then choreograph a piece that tells their own story. They learn to work together by listening and responding to each other’s experiences and perspectives. We dive deep into feminist theory, really, without having to say that exactly.
“It takes the pressure off; the girls can identify with these women and not have to talk about what happened to them if they don’t want to. It can be cathartic, to get it out non-verbally, whatever it is.
“The primary objective is to decrease the girls’ sense of isolation, and address the sense of detachment from their physical selves many of them experience as a result of trauma and abuse. Issues such as body image, self-confidence, and physical awareness of self and others are explored in a safe, welcoming, all-female, non-judgmental environment.”
How do you foster youth leadership?
“Students learn to work together using verbal and non-verbal communication. Girls in multiple workshops develop their leadership skills and confidence by helping the newer girls.”
How have you evolved as a teacher?
“I’ve learned to be flexible. Working with incarcerated girls has challenged my assumptions. I’ve become a better listener, and a more empathetic teacher. I’ve gained an appreciation for at-risk youth and the importance of their views. Often times, I’m one of the only adults they trust or are able to talk to. The need for young girls to have mentors has strengthened my commitment to them.”
What’s a good day for you?
“When I see them come in heads down, low energy, and by the end of the workshop they are smiling and want to do one more thing, one more thing, one more thing. They don’t want to leave.”