Tag: Dance (page 1 of 2)

Guide to Dance Education in America

Last week while at the National Dance Education Organization Conference, I realized we attendees were just a sliver of dance education and were not talking about the field and its actual scope. Many tracks were not present. In addition, we never addressed the issue that students cross and combine tracks; I talked to some of the students of the public school programs, and found out that roughly 50% of them were also taking classes at private studios, interested in commercial as well as concert dance, and wanted to choreograph works that expressed their complex identities and experiences.

What I am about to present may seem a dangerous exercise in stereotyping, but the intent is actually the opposite. As generalizing as this may be, I hope to bring an awareness of entry points and barriers in the field, and I encourage you to clarify what you see as the value & weaknesses of all pathways in dance education. I hope my inaccuracies provoke good dialogue.

As dance educators, we will encounter students on all different tracks and curved roads. We cannot and should not dismiss an arm of our sector just because we disagree with it, or don’t understand it. Millions of children in this country are dancing; they and their teachers all have merit.


TRACK ONE: #smalltownbigdreams


Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics twice a week for tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, tumbling.

Age 7, at Star Systems in the nearest big city, your first competition, you receive Platinum scores and win your category, placing 3rd overall solo for your age bracket. Two weeks later…at Headliners, you are 1st place Overall!!! And the Petite Miss Headliner Regional Title Winner!!!

Age 12, go undefeated in all regional competitions as well as nationals, add on special teachers and physical therapy.

Age 14, while your parents budget for the entry fees, costumes, makeup, shoes, private lessons and travel costs, you learn new styles and combinations on YouTube (SYTYCD, DM).

Age 16, start working on audition skills, headshots, etc.

Age 18, audition and work for cruiselines, music videos, Las Vegas shows, amusement parks, professional sports teams, Rockettes, and more.

Age 22, major in chemistry and donate the trophies and costumes to charity.

Age 26, work locally and, as a secondary job, return to Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics as a teacher.

Age 29, join Headliners organization as a judge, touring the country.


TRACK TWO: #gottalovethestandards


Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Pre-school, dance routine for the school holiday show, where dad says you were the best.

2nd Grade, creative movement in school, exploring non-locomotor/axial movements, locomotor movements and pathways to create a sequence with a beginning, middle, and an end based on weather patterns. View a dance film and relate it to literature.

5th grade, dance integrated into your math class and now, with it in your body, math makes more sense.

Age 13, audition into the public high school dance company, where you dance nearly every school day and learn about use of weight in transitions, dance history, composition, anatomy, world dances, good health habits in dance, constructive criticism, and more. Start classes at a private studio as well.

Age 16, consider a dance career.

Age 17, attend Monroe Community College and transfer to the state university.

Age 20, dance with a local company while pursuing a nursing career and teaching Zumba classes.

Age 24, start to offer dance workshops for seniors and ongoing classes for children.


TRACK THREE A: #respectthebun


Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, change to the Academy of Ballet in the next town over in order to have more focus on ballet.

Age 14, attend pricey summer intensives for advanced pointe and partnering (on scholarship but still ponying up for related costs), meet Misty Copeland in person.

Age 17, train, train, train, audition for apprenticeships.

Age 20, become ensemble member of a regional ballet company, living out your dream.

Age 28, retire from professional dance and get your degree in engineering.


TRACK THREE B: #respecttheform


Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Age 11, excel in track & field.

Age 13, you have to take a dance class in school and realize you love it, work hard and take classes wherever you can.

Age 18, major in dance in college, studying Cunningham, Graham, Horton, somatic practices, dance history, kinesiology, composition, dance teaching, and more. Wonder why there are labels such as traditional, folkloric, and ethnic.

Age 22, build a network of friends in professional modern dance, Butoh, and performance art in the region.

Age 26, become a company member of a midsize dance company, living out your dream but paying back your student loans.

Age 28, start to choreograph and produce your own work questioning what is classic, what is colonial.

Age 30, MFA

Age 33, get hired for a teaching position at Benefits University and start talking about that family you want.

Age 37, get Laban and CMA certified, pursue a tenured position.


TRACK FOUR: #broadwaybaby


Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics three times per week for tap, ballet, jazz/musical theatre and tumbling.

Age 10, get serious about acting and voice lessons.

Age 16, star in your high school’s production of 42nd Street.

Age 18, take workshops on auditioning tips, consider getting an agent.

Age 20, star in your university’s production of Brigadoon.

Age 22, circles of showcases, auditions, agents, moving apartments.

Age 26, land a role in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway, join the union.

Age 29, land a role in the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. but your family is not sure what to make of it.


TRACK FIVE: #borntodance


Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Age 3, show off your moves at the family picnic and mom puts you on YouTube.

Age 6, start taking classes from Benny at the community center in animation, locking, b-boying, house, and more.

Age 12, your crew competes at VIBE XX.

Age 17, participate in your first real cypher.

Age 20, get a job at a local performance venue, teach on the side, start a family.

Age 25, land a few huge but short gigs around the US including dancing on the Grammies and an Off-Broadway fundraiser.

Age 27, dance with Rennie Harris RHAW and tour the country and 3 countries.

Age 30, take one year to tour judging dance competitions / teaching at conventions as the “hip hop” representative.

Age 31, return to teach at the community center.

Age 36, build your own organization.


TRACK FIVE: #danceislife


Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for a year of tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, undergo a dose of trauma (disease, war, jail, loss of a parent, abuse, disempowerment, poverty, violence, homelessness…)

Age 12, meet a teaching artist who “gets you” as you struggle with your identity as a Latino-Arab person coming of age in contemporary America.

Age 18, consider getting your minor in dance but decide to go for the B.A. program. Create your own pieces for the student choreography concerts.

Age 20, choreograph for local and regional festivals.

Age 28, be selected for individual artist awards, small grants, and residencies.

Age 33, consider filing for 501c3 status and offer workshops for young people in the area.


TRACK SIX: #danceasheritage


Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Age 6, auntie gets you a spot in the Chinese American Community Center Folk Dance Troupe.

Age 12, want to quit but  friend convinces you to keep going,

Age 19, you win the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant while double majoring in philosophy/economics.

Age 25, tour the world as the member of an “ethnic dance” company.

Age 28, teach at the Chinese American Community Center when you have time in your busy schedule.


There are several other important tracks not explored here, including the domains of recreational and park district programs, dance for athletes, praise and liturgical dancers, ballroom dancers, tappers, pow-wow dancers, steppers, vogue dancers, burlesque and go-go performers, carnival/samba dancers, improvisers, swing dancers, bellydancers, flamenco artists, Mexican folkloric dancers, Bharatanatyam dancers, cloggers, Irish step dancers, non-dance choreographies, and so many more.

Dance is everywhere. Dancers in some of these tracks swim in a pool of popularity and dollars. Others swim in waters of relevance and reciprocity. Some value competition, others collaboration. At the end of the day, we are dancing circles around one another and have to find a way to move together towards change and progress.


A Parent/Teacher’s Guide to Dance Compeitions

So you think your kids can dance? Yes! Every child should be dancing. And there are so many options. This is just one of them…


Photo credit: Nexstar National Dance Competition


I worked (with quoted contributions from several friends) to create this quick guide for you. Actually, this is for myself if I decided to ever teach in a competition studio again, or if I have a child.



  • Classical Ballet Schools and Modern Dance Training and Apprenticeship Programs – routes to professional careers in concert dance (Cecchetti or Vaganova method with examinations, Graham, Horton, etc. and often attached to professional companies such as Joffrey, Bolshoi, American Ballet Theatre, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey, or Dance Theatre of Harlem)
  • International Ballet Competition Circuit
  • International Ballroom/Salsa Competition Circuit
  • High schools for the performing arts
  • Gymnastics or Ice SkatingTraining – competitive and incorporating dance training
  • Recreational or Outreach/Community Dance Programs and Studios – often develops skills as collaborators, composition or social awareness, often less rigorous in nature or expectation for developing skills as professional dancers or college dance majors
  • Dance in schools (dance integration with other academic subjects, gaining choreographic skills, robust cognitive abilities and artistic voice)
  • Training in Folkloric or Rhythm Traditions – some of which offer their own competition circuits (Mexican, Afro-Caribbean, Arab/Bellydance, Khattak, Bollywood, Flamenco, Irish, African, Swing, Circus arts, Vogue, Step, Stomp, B-boyying and other urban dances)
  • Dance for fitness, health, spiritual or physical wellbeing (Liturgical or Praise dance, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, Creative Movement, Sufi dancing, Dance Therapy)
  • Musical Theatre World – vocal lessons, acting classes, dance training, sometimes modeling, constant auditions for local and touring productions
  • Pageant World
  • Cheer/Pom/Dance Teams
  • Dancing socially and at home through free online instruction and games
  • Conventions/Competition Dance Circuit (well-rounded curriculum consisting of commercialized and often whitewashed versions of jazz, contemporary, tap, acro/contortion, ballet, hip-hop … often training that prepares them primarily for commercial dance careers)

“I wish I would have had such an opportunity as a child.  I love to dance, but I’m also competitive and loved to play sports.  [Dance competitions] are the perfect combination for a person such as myself.  Why can’t art be competitive?  Why does it just have to be art?  With a competition, a child is able to perform multiple times a year instead of just at the end of the year or a Christmastime for the Nutcracker.  In all honestly, I compare her experience in competitive dance to another child’s experience doing club travel soccer.  It’s pretty much the same thing (though as my daughter gets more into this, the hours and money will likely escalate considerably).”

“When my daughter started dance at the age of 3, I never had intentions of it getting “serious.”  I took dance as a child, and felt it was important for my children to do the same.  I didn’t necessarily plan on her starting to dance at age 3.  However, I felt dance class was a great way for our developmentally and physically delayed cancer survivor to get a little social interaction and physical therapy at the same time.  Never did I ever envision her getting into competitive dance.  I didn’t even realize this type of thing existed!! Comparably, my daughter is probably a late bloomer in the competition world.  She started the company this year, in third grade.  She’s competing in three dances – all group dances, no solos or duets.  I talked to a father today whose daughter had her first competitive solo at the age of 4 (?!!???)”

“My daughter has never competed.  She trains in advanced classes at a preprofessional ballet school where her director feels competition is not the best use of students time and it is not encouraged. When “Dance Moms” came on TV, she was attracted to the performances and begged to join a competition studio. I kept her from it for a couple of reasons, mainly cost, but also because I felt the training was too varied (multiple genres) when her main/only interest was ballet, and I really didn’t like the emphasis on tricks and overstretching that I was seeing.”

“Financially dance is affordable because we take advantage of our local recreation program. All of her teachers are college dance majors and work with local ballet company’s throughout the year. Cost for classes and costumes is very low compared to other studios. We just make sure we save what is needed so that every fall we can place her in classes. I believe dance in important for [my daughter] because it gets her moving during the winter months. It gives her at least 4 hours of good physical exercise a week rather than being pinned in the house. She also truly enjoys the stage and being the center of attention. She loves her teachers and the other girls that are in her classes. I believe is it also allows her to express herself through dance.”

“My girls aren’t in dance, but they do dance around the house. It’s the excitement, motivation, and thrill they enjoy. Wish I could do more. If I had the extra money to enroll them I definitely would. I know they would really enjoy and love to be in dance, it’s not cheap.”


If you decide competition is the right choice…



In a land where everyone is a winner…

“I truly think the way they “place” these children are ridiculous.  Let’s see if I get this right: The very best is an “Elite Top 1st.” Then the step down from that is a “Top First.” After that a “First.” Then downward to “Second” etc, etc, etc, I’m just wondering whatever happened to 1st, second, and third. Or Gold, silver, Bronze? I clearly get that they are trying to make these children sound like they are all “first place” winners but to me, there’s really only one first place.  The best routine.”
After the results, on the drive home or during the next class, take time to reflect on which dancers the judges chose as winners and why they might have made those choices. Try to talk through assumptions and feelings/evidence of injustice. Talk honestly about what techniques and tricks were applauded and which were awarded. Talk about what the criteria and scoring system would be if redesigned. Learn together the language of dance and talk about what you seen in synchronization, precision, formations, full expression, line, extension, transitions, tension and release, control and risk, uniqueness and trendiness, 2D versus 3D, use of weight, lift, traveling and command of the stage, dynamics, working in and out of the floor,…
Ask your child what routines he/she enjoyed and why. Would you have picked different winners than the judges picked? What did you notice? What surprised you? What did you see that was uncomfortable? Who was missing?
Talk about what one thing your child is most proud of during the competition weekend; celebrate that thing your child has articulated (rather than the trophy) with a milkshake or a social media post.



Dancers grow up in front of mirror, with their bodies constantly open to self and external critique. Sometimes this leads to confidence and comfortability through puberty and their development into young adulthood and sexuality, but sometimes it backfires into eating disorders, self-abuse, depression, or unsafe sexual encounters. Stay aware. Are “successful” dancers being defined and promoted as being of a certain body type, with plus-size dancers having lower expectations and placed in the back rows or not given solos? Are dancers encouraged to dance through injury? Are shaming or threats being used as teaching strategies? Do the teachers use derogatory language or biased/bigoted remarks? Are the dance floors or tricks unsafe for dancing bodies? Are dancers learning to embrace their growing breasts and hips: what to wear as proper undergarments?
Know when this is happening to growing dancers. Talk openly with all teachers, children, and other dance parents. Make sure that the tricks and styles they are learning will not be detrimental to them if they chose to pursue a professional career in concert dance. What competition style will they need to unlearn in college?
Also know that even great dance educators can be distracted by competition and start to look past dangerous bad habits your child may be developing, such as ankle pronation (or supination) and tibial torsion. Know ways to prevent common dance injuries.
normal-300x241 tibial-torsion
Competition dance teachers were often competition or commercial dancers themselves and do not have CPR /First Aid training, anatomy, dance history, pedagogy,… Encourage teachers to sign up for classes such as those offered by the National Dance Education Organization.



Many times, competition directors and dance teachers make fantastic decisions. Give them a shout out. Encourage them to keep raising the bar for their colleagues. Thank them discreetly and earnestly.

“This weekend, we attended our first competition.  My daughter was in three performances.  After this weekend, I feel complete and utter admiration for her teachers.  The love and support they have for their kids is amazing. “

“At times I wonder if my daughter [as a dancer of color] will encounter discrimination and how will she handle it. Thus far she has been treated fairly. She was Clara in the Nutcracker! I thought that was a courageous decision her teacher made. I’m not sure too many other dance studios would make that decision. That role gave her courage and confidence.”

“I am at a dance competition this weekend.  It is the third my child has done this year.  KAR is the name of it.  It is very very organized. And the locations have been very nice as well.  So the logistics and the producing of this particular competition I would give an A+. “

The dance competition circuit is a money machine.  Not even looking at the costs of costumes, classes, private lessons, doctors’ visits, recital tickets, dancewear and shoes, therabands and props, bun wraps and makeup, photo sessions, travel and hotels, lost time from work and school… the competition registration fees alone are incredible.
“Also, the amount of money that is required to register compared to the amount of prizes, whether it be cash or trophies is also a little absurd to me.  So …..my daughter’s production team (one dance) has 25 kids.  It cost each child $35-40 to register.  So roughly $800-$1000 to do the routine for the local competition.  They received Elite Top First and overall top production (the best that dance could get) and got $100 for the studio. (And one tall plastic trophy)  Not each, but $100 divided by 25 kids!  It’s nuts!”

Come to consensus with the other parents and teachers on how many competitions your child’s class will do: how many regional and how many national and how many routines. What is the worth you are looking for? What type of conventions/competitions do your prefer and why? Are there better ways to co-invest in dance education and training such as skipping one competition and using the funds to create a studio scholarship or to send the teachers to kinesiology class? Or to save up for a career-focused summer intensive?



The career. The sport. The discipline. The passion. The personal development. The college scholarship.

“My child is learning discipline, that she’s not always first or most important, team work, respect for her teachers, and love of her fellow dance team. The kids at her dance company are seriously all professional, polite, etc. I have not seen any airs about the dancers who are top notch dancers at her company. I know this is not the same at all studios. We got lucky.”

“[From a parent whose child is at a non-competitive studio] The cost of dance classes is still not cheap and I have struggled financially as a single parent. I have decided the struggle is worth it. To see the pleasure it brings her & the determination she has for dance is something I never had within me. To see your child know what she wants to do with her future I feel I have to support it. Many people wonder all their life what is their purpose and never find it. [My daughter] has known since she was 2 1/2 her passion and love for dance. We decided to audition for her 1st pre-professional summer intensive and she was accepted! I feel  as though she is about to take that next step up to “committing” to dance. I know I would like her to attend a performing arts high school and she wishes to attend Juilliard or Alvin Ailey after that so, saying that we are in for the long haul of whatever the dance world has for her or whatever she may have to give to the dance world!”

“My daughter aims for a professional ballet career and we feel summer programs are more important to be competitive.  She has thought the YAGP competition could be useful to earn scholarships but again, the costs of preparation, costumes, travel, and entry fees are prohibitive.”

“Times are changing [for dancers of color] and the struggle is real. I encourage her to go for what she wants if there is a will there is a way is my motto. That’s how she is getting to New York, by pure will!” 



Demand better of the teachers, costume designers, choreographers, and judges. Write letters. Organize and make a noise.

“I am so glad that [my daughter] randomly ended up at the studio where she is.  Her teachers are supportive and respectful of their age.  Although they do have costumes that show the midriff, they are relatively well covered meaning that the bottoms go up or over their belly buttons and the tops aren’t too skimpy.  The dance moves taught are age-appropriate with no gyration, butt shakes, pelvic thrusts, etc.  The music is usually either obscure or classic pop remixes and also age appropriate. Some of the other companies?  WOW.  Six year olds in skimpy bikinis shaking their butts at the audience.  One 12-14 number was so racy that my husband felt uncomfortable sitting and watching.  Some of the songs had to do with sex or sleeping with someone.  Were they songs that my kids hear on the radio?  Yes – Do they need to do a performance to said songs?  Oh HELL NO.  The unfortunate thing was that these were the dances that were winning.  Yes, the kids were talented, but why are they not penalized in points for inappropriateness?  Anyone could have showed up to these performances.  There was no fee and no one watching the door.  This was like free porn for pedophiles at times.”

If you see something, say something. If you see that your child is being asked to dress as a Native American, Aboriginal, Arab, Indian, African, Asian, Latino, Black “Urban/Hip-Hop” stereotype with little relation to the authentic dances or collaboration with said cultures, and your child is not of that race or cultural background, just say no. No to feather headdresses and afro wigs. Demand that all costumes, choreography, and classes be as authentic and diverse as possible.

This is where I give Dance Moms some credit for making a bit of progress:

African piece choreographed by Debbie Allen

Bollywood piece choreographed by Nakul

“But I will tell ya, I absolutely enjoy watching the dancers perform.  It brings joy to me and love to watch my daughter,  so I bite my tongue and pay the fees and continue on in my life.”
“I liked it because, well, because it was fun. It was working toward something – perfection maybe. There was always something to work on, get better at . . . I like that. Something to focus an energy on. We were working to achieve something and that feels good. It was fun to win, and crappy to lose, but there was a good emotional lesson there. It was team-playing with girls I really cared about. It was fun to dress up in costumes and get on that stage and work to do your best ever each time. It felt good to be passionate about something. Performing for cheering fans (even if they were only our moms ) felt good. Even being nervous before getting on that stage was a weird-good feeling. It was great fun being with my friends after the fact, just hanging out.”


If you notice that the students or teaching staff are homogenous, start to figure out solutions to increase diversity for the good of all of our children.
“This is an upper middle class “sport” – primarily white.  Primarily suburban.”

We should not be okay with this, and must work together to change it. How can we make our studios accessible and welcoming? What inclusion strategies we can implement for religious or cultural conservations, dancers with disabilities, dancers coming from different socio-economic backgrounds?

Yes, you can watch Dance Moms, So You Think You Can Dance, Bring It!, Dancing With the Stars, Hit the Floor, but you could also dive into Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive and the White House’s Celebration of African American Women & Dance. Supplement dance training with elements of strong dance education and appreciation efforts. Make sure they are getting the fundamental technique of transition and alignment. Talk about commercial dance (videos, television, cruise ships, amusement parks, hotel shows, Vegas, events, professional sports entertainment) but only in equal proportion to concert dance and musical theater opportunities. Attend VIBE or ADF or ciphers and concert dance performances. Talk about choreographers, designers, managers, researchers, composers, educators in dance, just as much as performers.
What about instead of trophies, the money collected by the organization went to a collective cause? What if the performance promoted social awareness or philanthropy? Are there ways to gain technical proficiency outside of competition?  Non-competitive ways to learn technique? Can we make a community-based performance be just as high stakes and motivating as a pricey competition?
Competition life can be great, full of drive and camaraderie. But there are simple ways to make it healthier, less financially wasteful, and more connected to the needs of our shared society. What do you think?




What We Can Do to Help Syria

I was in college during the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. As a theatre major/dance minor at a liberal arts school who was admittedly immersed in herself, in Millikin-world,  in a strong education and new ways of thinking, I barely remember the news. Class assignments and rehearsals and flirting and friendships all took priority of my consciousness. The closest I got to thinking deeply about others and about being a global citizen was when I took Ethics with Dr. Money. I loved the class discussions about abortion, corporal punishment and more…  we did not, however, talk about wars and the U.S.’s indirect or direct contributions to  conflicts such as Iraq, nor our responsibility to help. No class or professor or classmate even mentioned Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Sudan…; if they did, I wasn’t listening.

I have no defense. Being an artist (or a student, or both) is no excuse for being completely arts-absorbed, deaf to the world.

Decades later when I read “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power and traveled to Bosnia, and also Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Northern Ireland, I was devasted by how much was happening in the 1990s that I had been unaware of at the time. I didn’t even know when I was party to gentrification or privilege. I didn’t even see what was happening on the other side of the river in Saginaw, MI.

Well, now one big world crises is Syria. And it is serious. It is devasting. And I hope we as artists are listening.



Photo by Mohamed Radwan


According to the UN and Amnesty International

  • More than 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced.
  • Around 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
  • One-in-every-two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year – half a million people – were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country.
  • While waiting out the long resettlement application process, more than 4.5 million refugees from Syria are in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just US$0.70 cent a day for food assistance, well below the UN’s poverty line of US$1.90.
  • The United States has approved only around 2,500 Syrian refugees for resettlement here, mostly women and children whose fathers and older brothers are still in process and living abroad.
  • Shamefully, the high-income countries of Russia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places.

The U.S. could set a better example by welcoming more refugees and also strongarming the leaders of the high-income countries mentioned to do something.

We, as the artist community, might not be rich and may be (like me) unemployed or underemployed, but we are wealthy in potential contributions of another kind.


Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan


In Chicago, there are 25 refugee families; my friend and I found out during a holiday event for the cause. Their services are managed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Syrian Community Network (a small, local nonprofit organization run by an amazing woman and her mother). You can read example stories of the families on their website. We asked what they needed: English tutoring, quarters for laundry, gift cards for groceries, and feeling welcome among their new neighbors, new homes.

After some further investigation, I found out the families live within walking distance of the small dance studio where I used to teach for nearly a decade and continue to sub. I love this school. They said yes right away to my proposal of hosting the Syrian refugees in the studio.

I have volunteered to offer a series of English language learning dance workshops (free of charge) in this space (also donated) where the children and their parents will mingle with other dance parents (mostly Jewish and Christian), as well as to collaborate on a community performance opportunity in June.


Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

We started last week and it was amazing.

One of the students I supported in Egypt is now in Chicago getting his masters as a Fulbrighter; he is volunteering to help with translation and facilitation during the workshops.  Other guest teachers and facilitators have also signed on to volunteer.

We just need a little help.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One of my intentions is to make the experience as authentic as possible. I want the workshops and performance to be as close to what the paying students get. The Syrian refugees are real dancers and I want to treat them as such, Although we incorporate certain social-emotional skills and language goals for these particular students, we provide them disciplined dance classes in ballet and jazz, fused with the assets of their traditional Syrian dances and culture. Sweaters and jeans won’t do.

Plus, I cannot fathom the visual of all the other dance students in polished outfits while the “poor refugees” are on stage in t-shirts and socks.

What we need…

  • 10 sets of skirted leotards and tights for the younger girls (in process)
  • 5 sets of long-sleeve leotards, long ballet skirts, and dark tights for the older girls – size adult S, M
  • 15 sets of boys’ white or black t-shirts and black dance pants – child S, M, L
  • Girls’ and boys’ jazz and ballet shoes in a range of sizes
  • Girls’ and boys’ costumes (in matching sets of 3+) or a connection to a costume company who could donate matching costumes for the entire group
  • Monetary donations or gift cards for the volunteers and the families

Donations can be sent to my name at Performing Arts Limited, 2740 W. Touhy Ave., Chicago, IL 60645.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

If you can, I ask you to also look for the refugee communities in your area and see what they need. Welcome them into your dance, music, theatre, and visual arts worlds. Look into the possibility of bringing ourselves as artists to refugee camps. At the very least, continue to open our ears to crises and to be a voice in the face of fear and Trumped policy.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One Way of Being the Change I Want to See in the World

My parents did everything they could to make it financially possible for me to dance growing up in an increasingly expensive sector. They made sacrifices and worked multiple jobs. I am an only child.

When I was 15, I had the opportunity to attend a summer training opportunity in the Edge studio in LA. I never knew how my parents financially made this happen for me, but it certainly changed my life, my sense of worth.  I got to go with my friend Candy and I stayed with her and her mom. [Side note: Once of my most vivid memories was Elizabeth Berkley aka Jessie Spano training for Showgirls  in one of our jazz classes wearing Calvin Klein undergarments as dancewear.] It was an early 90s, commercial, white, pop world at that time.

Beyond race, I grew up with a strong understanding that to dance was a privilege. If your family could afford private lessons and summer intensives, you were on the path to succeeding professionally. Like other performing art forms such as music, the game is rigged in America. The more you are willing to spend, the more you are given opportunities to develop your artistic voice and rigor of technical talent. This always seemed backwards to me. Why would a society only want to develop the artistic voices of the upper class, especially in dance?

Now it is 2016 and I am doing my small part to help support the next generation, to be the change I want to see in the world. I believe in us, that together we can create more equity of opportunity and access.

Three talented and under-resourced dancers have come into my life in different ways and encounters. They each need $3,000-6,000 to attend a summer dance program (even with scholarships). Advanced summer training is an increasingly crucial step in the field, much more than in my day, and is just within reach for these girls. This will be a turning point for them. We can’t sit back and watch socio-economics stop them now. Can the world pool resources together to make a difference for three girls at a pivotal time in their lives? Can we make three dreams come true?

Sure we can!

We each have three choices:  donating, sharing, or connecting us to potential funders.


Maurissa - Lily - Chloe


MAURISSA (Turning 15 on Feb 24) – Madison, WI. Admitted to Pennsylvania Ballet Summer IntensiveBallet Chicago Summer Intensive, and Oregon Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive and with this funding can decide which offer is the best fit for her artistically and financially. “My dream has always been to be a professional ballet dancer and to serve as a leader for kids in my community. Any donations I receive will go toward my room and board, flights, and tuition not covered by scholarships, and to purchase the pointe shoes I  need. I would be so thankful for any help!” 

LILY (Turning 13 on Feb 24) – Chicago, IL. Admitted to Alvin Ailey Dance – Junior Division Summer Intensive in NYC, a city she would be visiting for the first time in her life. “I started dance lessons at two years old. Since then I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer. Dance is what I breathe and eat. It is a way of being free to me. I have only been taught by one dance school, because of our financial situation we have not been able to afford any other dance lessons. I feel going to dance with Alvin Ailey will develop my professional career so I can one day dance with a professional dance company. Then maybe one day I can inspire and give back to someone like me.”

CHLOE (14, Born in Haiti) – Ontario, CA. Admitted to Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive as well as Princeton Ballet School and with this funding can decide which offer is the best fit for her artistically and financially.“I love dance, specifically ballet, because it takes an enormous amount of dedication. It’s something that you can never be perfect at, which always keeps you striving for more. My biggest challenge as a dancer is comparing myself to others and being realistic with what my body can do and achieving my personal best.” She is excited about the possibility of attending DTH because, “This summer intensive is any amazing opportunity to train with other dancers of color.”

There are shockingly few pre-professional opportunities for dancers of color and even fewer for dancers with financial difficulties. Single-parent and multi-child households, in particular, are asked to make heartbreaking sacrifices to keep their kids dancing and summer training is nearly impossible. They are selected but are rarely able to actually attend. We are going to change that this year!

Scholarships for summer intensives do not cover all tuition, travel, room and board for the 5-8 weeks, nor the necessary but expensive dancewear for growing girls. Here, we have identified three future dance leaders from around the country who have auditioned and been selected for specialized summer programs with scholarships. We are immensely proud of them and have pledged not to let them down.

These girls are going places and I am humbled to play this small part, but I can’t do this alone.

Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/goingplaces2016

We have a big goal but if all of America and beyond cannot successfully support the dreams of three girls, there is something seriously wrong in society.

A Dancer, Two Hostage Governments, and a Pizza Place

So thanks to the Binational Fulbright Commission in Egypt, this week I am attending the 36th Annual Fulbright Conference in Washington D.C. The conference is taking place near Capitol Hill. And the government is shut down. Not a lapse of appropriations, but an actual government shutdown. Only other time that happened was 1995. And this is the first time it is happening by a refusal to fund passed legislation.

With The Sequester, Benghazi, plus The Shutdown, the US has closed 19 diplomatic posts in the Middle East and South Asia. Fulbright program has been cut by 1/4th. United States Institute for Peace (USIP) and Wilson Center have been zeroed out.

Heart. Sink.

Public employees and civic heroes across the land are working for no money. Places and services severely hindered or completely unavailable. No museums or parks. But the DC Jumbo Slice experience is hot and ready 24 hours.

In today’s opening session at the conference, Congressman Jim Moran (VA) spoke generously, and then he rushed back to the irrational Hill. He started out by apologizing for the government and said that what was happening was inexcusable. As he was speaking and I was taking notes, the lines between Egypt and America started to blur in my mind. I knew he was talking about one country, but his ideas could easily be describing the other.

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  • Our government has ground to a halt on the basis of ideological fundamentalism.
  • Should we make the Presidential election the referendum?
  • A conservative fraction that is inexperienced politically
  • They cannot be challenged electorally. They represent an ideological point of view and the more extreme you get, the safer you are.
  • Taking the government hostage
  • Isolationist and anti-government
  • The military industrial complex
  • How to appropriate the funds from the spoils of war
  • Military funding strong but diplomatic efforts stripped
  • [Speaking to the Liberals, Artists and International Scholars] “Thank you for being who you are.” “You got to engage! Get out of your comfort zone. You are more numerous than you think. We need you. desperately. now.”

Now you might ask what a dancer is doing writing about governments or politics. You will understand in a minute. Keep reading.

At the conference, we are talking about Education. Brandon Busteed of Gallop explained that the top two reasons people say a post-secondary degree is important are…

1. To get a good job (however you define “good job”)

2. Make more money

*Note that in the mid-1960s, the top answer was “to develop a meaningful philosophy of life.”

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There are many ways to define a “good job.” Dr. Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, told us he defines a good job as one you would want your children to have. I thought of my parents. They would probably at-first say they want me to have a good paying job, financial security, health insurance. I am currently uninsured and was for years earlier in my career. Luckily, I live in Egypt and have access to affordable care.

Beyond the salary, my parents they would probably add something about a job that makes me happy, puts my talents to use in the world, offers opportunities they never had, keeps me dancing, and keeps me physically safe. And to be on that road to a good job, I had to go to college. I was the first person on either side of my family (and remain the only one) to attend a 4-year university. The only one to graduate. The only one two live abroad. Twice. The only one with a Masters degree. I am the only one in the arts. My family contributes so much to this world and their paths are all different (community leadership, nursing, technical training, sports, retail, faith, parenting), but Academia and the Arts Academy haven’t been a part of their lives.

I am not here as a representative of Academia or the Arts Academy. And I am not talking about the arts conservatory model. That’s not my interest. I’m not talking about e-learning, or blended learning. Or a form of education delivery that can often morph into something elitist, expensive, pretty, insular, history-focused, antiquated, and disengaged from the real world. I’m not talking about what Dr. Cabrera referred to as our “romanticized” ideas of the liberal arts classroom. Because many of our classrooms and conservatories have little to no quality human interaction in actuality.

I am responding to Congressman Moran’s call for agency. “Thank you for being who you are.” “You got to engage! Get out of your comfort zone. You are more numerous than you think. We need you. desperately. now.”

And the idea I am speaking about is  redefining a “good job” both in Egypt and the US. Helping families and students define it for themselves. Help governments, investors, entrepreneurs, educators, and funding bodies create “good jobs” and “good education” to match. Appropriations and programs to match. Especially in the arts, in dance.

I am saying that if we focus on Dance History , we also need to offer Dance Present and Dance Future, Dance Diplomacy and Dance Civics.

Someone needs to start fixing what’s broken in our two countries. It might as well be dancers.



P.S. Getting a replacement camera next week. Next blog post will have pictures.




How to Dance With Kids With Cancer

*Seven bits of advice accumulated after a few years of work on two continents.

1. Dance with the kid, not the cancer.
Smile and look them in the eyes, not in the tumors. Some will look sick, some won’t. Doesn’t matter. Play with the kid as you would any other child that age. Don’t patronize or fake a smile. Bring your boogie. Bring your own joy.
57357 Children's Cancer Hospital Egypt - Photo by Mohamed Radwan

57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt – Photo by Mohamed Radwan

2. Dance with their physical abilities, not their limitations.
Most patients have some sort of physical challenge they are needing to overcome due to their treatments (nausea, loss of balance and coordination, pain in one leg, inability to hop or run, on crutches or in wheelchairs, favoring one side, etc.). Their challenges come and go. Start with their abilities. Introduce movements that can be modified and made fun for all participants. But also push them a bit to go beyond what you or they think their bodies can do.
Forget cancer, we be dancing. - Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago

3. Leave out your own fears of death.
Terminality (I think I just made up that word) is a part of life. Realize you will lose patients and those who survive may have life-long side effects from their treatments. Choose your words wisely and don’t assume you know how they feel. Keep religion out of it as that is the role of other adults in their lives. Help these children “live until they die” as my wise friend once said. And if a child’s lifetime is short and comes to an end, continue to say his or her name. Stay in touch with the family. Also realize that when a dancer stops attending your workshops, it could be a very good thing. Remission. You can work towards a performance but be very flexible because circumstances can change in an instant.
57357 Children's Cancer Hospital Egypt - Photo by Mohamed Radwan

57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt – Photo by Mohamed Radwan

4. Get the whole family on the dance floor.
Parents, nurses, siblings, volunteers, doctors, therapists, staff, visitors… the whole hospital family. Have a few chairs available if some patients or adults may need to sit down; but even if seated, every one in the room participates. That’s the rule, given with a smile.
Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

5. Keep them developing.
Focus on (re)developing balance, coordination, upper/lower and brain/body connection, dexterity in ankles and wrists, cross-lateral movement, core strength, stamina and stretch/stillness. Use activities for a range of ages. Remember that the cancer is the beast within, so facilitate movements that bring these kids back in love with their body after surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy, and other treatments. Learn from dance therapists, physical/occupational therapists, and Brain Dance. But none of these areas are enough for what you will be doing. You will need a broader, more joyful palate of activities to dance with the group.

6. Keep them healthy.

Breathe. Often.

Don’t smoke anywhere near the hospital or workshop venue. Wash your hands before and after the session (don’t forget thumbs and fingertips). If you feel like you have a bug of any kind, wear a face mask. Model healthy eating and self confidence. Limit physical contact between dancers. Check the room for any slippery spots, sharp edges or other dangers.

Donna Quirke Hornik and I - Performing Arts Limited, Chicago, IL

Donna Quirke Hornik and I at Performing Arts Limited studio in Chicago, IL. 2009.

7. Follow their lead.
Ask questions and listen to the answers. Keep the session calm and organized so that, together, you can follow the curiosity or burst into laughs. These kids know have to have fun. Learn from them. You will be the better for it.

Do They Dance in Dagestan?

Baku, Azerbaijan is between Dagestan and Iran on the Caspian Sea. This is the South Caucasus. The landscape is dotted with oil rigs. It is a newly rich place. Since 1991, Azerbaijan has been an independent republic. The name of the country derives from “The Land of Fire” in Persian. Eternal flames (natural gas burning) emerge from the rock. Pipelines connect Azerbaijan to Turkey, the world.

And it shows up in the art.

"The Caspian Sea in the Evening" oli on canvas 1959, Sattar Bahlulzade

“The Caspian Sea in the Evening” oli on canvas 1959, Sattar Bahlulzade

Baku is odd. Culturally Schizophrenic. Azerbaijan is a secular state and ensures religious freedom but has been predominantly Christian, Zoroastrian, and is now 95% Muslim. I could see the border with Iran from the air. Azerbaijan consists of the second largest Shi’a percentage after Iran but is far less culturally conservative. Imagine Turkey plus Iran plus Doha plus post-Soviet. You can almost taste the anti-Armenianism in the air. But children laugh freely. Baku, the capital, is launching a tourism push.

One street feels like Paris or Barcelona: Dior, upscale ice cream, and Apple Stores. In the tourist part of town, facades have been pasted on to the Soviet-era constructivist buildings with various European styles.

One street is from the 14th Century but is juxtaposed by the ultra-sharp contemporary architectural projects. Several other sites, though polished and impressive, seem contrived.

Azerbaijanis roam through the longest boulevard in the world, in view of the largest flying flag in the world. The authoritarian hand of government holds the population is tight. A land of strictly enforced rules, from crossing the street to reusing a fork for the next course. Hotel and the government need copies of your passport and boarding pass stubs. You walk where they say you can walk. You leave when they say you leave. When, without warning, they put a beautiful long-stemmed rose in your hand, you must place this rose at the feet of the statue of the republic’s beloved hero president, Heydar Aliyev.

The state-run machine also hit me personally. The Government of Azerbaijan denied the U.S. Embassy’s request on my behalf to visit the children’s hospital and facilitate a dance workshop for the oncology ward. I was so deeply disappointed. Yet there was nothing I could do without taking massive risks. I eventually found out why my request was denied. The Minister of Health (centralized figure that makes those decisions and approves) is away and no one is allowed to make decisions on his behalf.

In any case, the Government of Azerbaijan did provide our World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue delegation with a charter flight, all amenities, as well as multiple experiences to see dance while here this week. We were treated to…

A jovial flash mob by young dancers at the Heydar Aliyev Center.

A jovial flash mob by young dancers at the Heydar Aliyev Center

which my international colleagues thoroughly enjoyed but quickly dismissed as a bit of fun.


An evening of traditional dances (including 20 costume changes) as background to our dinner.

An evening of traditional dances (including 20 costume changes)

which my international colleagues appreciated but mostly missed because it was background entertainment during dinner.


A limited run remount of a 1969 modern ballet production, site-specific on a mountain. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“Shadows of Gobustan” a limited run remount of a 1969 modern ballet production, site-specific on a mountain. UNESCO World Heritage Site.

which my international colleagues found disappointing for a State Ballet Company. Even though the dancers have high technical and performance capacities in Russian-method ballet (amazing feet), the choreography was in a grounded, early-modern style. My opinion: well produced, visually striking, but dated and safe.

“Ballet is one of many arts around the world that measure a country’s civilization.” Abdel Ghafour

In Egypt, the national ballet company is also Russian-trained and funded by the government in a Muslim-majority country. Now democratic. But Egypt tends to stick to standard production of classic story ballets. Plus, the number of skilled female dancers is declining as the society becomes more conservative and influenced by Gulf culture. Lastly, in Egypt, they have declared a strike to stand against corruption and the Botherhoodization of the sector. Can’t see this happening in Azerbaijan.


And a performance by renowned Japanese Butoh performer Ko Murobushi at the

A performance by renowned Butoh performer Ko Murobushi at the Baku Ateshgah “Fire Temple.”

which was far less safe. It was received by both standing applause and snickers. An inaccessible and foreign art form like Butoh for a varied, international audience may require a pre-show introduction.



And a festival in the park loaded with children dancing, painting, and singing.

which took me away from the politics and lack of rights, to a place where dance can be at the heart of a community. With a happiness that could not be faked. All students here get an education in both national and Western art forms.

Now I do not yet know if and how people dance in neighboring Dagestan/Chechnya, but I know that in Azerbaijan, life for those whose pockets aren’t directly connected to the oil is made more full with dance and Islam.

Unfortunately, a foreigner such as I am not allowed to bring dance to children with cancer.


View my full photo album here.


Full Circles

One of my first blog posts from Cairo last Fall described an encounter with a special man and an initial tour of the High Institute of Ballet. He had made an impact on my impressions of this place.

“The office, which had been abuzz with activity of both female and male faculty rushing around negotiating student files, now becomes unusually still and quiet as the Director of Cairo Opera Ballet enters. He is a bit of an aloof and cultured character. I cannot figure him out just yet but am impressed just by the aura. He wears a brown vest and light wash jeans, is gallant yet slim, and when introduced to me, says nothing, kisses the back of my hand, slowly and certainly.

Prestigious. A long tradition of it.”

Last week, I attended the final performance and the final exams of the students I taught this Fall. I hadn’t seen them since January. For the performance, the students took to the grand stage of the Cairo Opera House. Audience was invitation-only, parents and afficianados. Flamenco, traditional dances from Upper Egypt, male ballet students flying through the air, special appearances by elite professionals, and a high-energy all-girl take on Gangnam Style.

But during Act II, the recital rook a somber turn as the High Institute remembered a special man who had recently passed. An enormous portrait was lowered onto stage as a backdrop. This was the same man I had met during that first visit to the Institute office. Abdel Moneim Kamel. The esteemed director of the Cairo Opera House for decades, a first-rank ballet dancer, and a loved dance educator.

May he rest in a dancing peace.

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A few days later I returned to the Institute to watch the examinations of my former students. I hadn’t seen them since the end of the first semester. If you read my previous post about my feelings of the exam process, you know this was a pedagogical challenge for me. I wasn’t sure what sort of impact I had had. Was this Fulbright experience worth it? Worth anything? For them, the other teachers, for me?


As I watched the students, I definitely saw more bolder movement and a willingness to step up to the lead even if they weren’t the best dancer. Those are two things I had hoped to bring to the Institute: an equality of expectation and a push to dance with full capacity. Then the students performed one of the routines I had choreographed (but this time to techno music instead of The Decemberists).


The backdrop for all this was a bit of disturbing news for us foreigners in the city. An American citizen and director of the CASA program being stabbed in the neck. A planned bomb attack thwarted. Some of the same alertness that we had here in September following the events at the embassy. This time around, I am in love with the people and the good I am able to share.

I am also still leading dance activities at 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt and today was the best dancing day at the hospital ever! I wish I could have stopped and taken a picture. The outpatient playroom where we dance every Tuesday was packed. No one was sitting out, which typically happens. And when a young boy with a mass of a tumor growing on his jaw grabbed my hand to try his first leap-turn combination, I could actually feel his joy. Staff and parents were fully supportive.

My plan has always been to build a more sustainable dance program at 57357 with other dance practitioners. I don’t want the dancing to end when my time here does. But this has been more difficult than expected. Dancers here are incredibly busy. Plus there is little history of dancers and artists in hospitals, schools, and other public places. I led one professional development workshop in December, but most of the participants were too young, there was no translator, and nothing ever came of it.

At least I thought.

Today I walked into the volunteer office inside 57357 and a woman says, “Hi Shawn! Great to see you! Do you remember me?” (translated from Arabic). I had found her face familiar but wasn’t able to place her. Turns out she is a graduating student who was at that workshop in December. She had decided to follow-up on those ideas and was there at the hospital today to start her volunteer application process!

Hopefully she will be one of many dance practitioners at the 57357 Volunteer Appreciation Day next year.


Volunteer Appreciation Day at 57357

I am ending this blog post with an appeal. Every year, a few times a year, I raise funds for different causes. My Facebook friends have come to expect year. Like a cycle, I have raise at least $3,000-5,000 for the past five years. But this year is harder for several reasons. My goals are binational, both monetary and terpsichory.

Please click here, read what we are trying to do, and donate what you can. Any amount. Any currency. Doing good is not a one-time thing, not linear; it is a repetition of dancing circles.  

A Brain Tumor At My Dance Recitle

Last week, 16 years after graduating, I went back to my old dance studio. The building is different and the technique has been turned up, but the environment was just the same. The culture, the 1986 trophies, my picture on the wall, the notice about competition fees and Cecchetti ballet exams, it all brought me home. This is how I grew up. I danced on the pre-Dance Moms competition circuit for most of my life. [You can watch humbling evidence by clicking here.]

This is where I fell in love with dance, with challenging my body, with entertaining a crowd. This is where I criticized myself in a mirror for over a decade. My teachers (Karolyn, Renee, Donna, Linden) pushing for me and my dance pals to take big physical risks and to dance with everything we had, from brain to pointed toes. This is where I eventually turned away from the mirror and the competitions, and toward artistry and altruism.

Bohaty’s School of Dance in Mid-Michigan. This is where I met some of the greatest and long-lasting friendships I have ever known. If you or your children dance, you probably know what I mean.

Yesterday I walked into the studio and hugged my former student Kelly, who is now a lead teacher. An impressive one at that. I participated in the stretches and exercises then sat on the side to observe. Kelly informed the students that there was a large card on the floor they all needed to sign after class, because one of their friends has a brain tumor. Tomorrow this tiny dancer, Lauren, would be facing another brain surgery.


I accidentally dropped my pen. Struck by the words. Another dancer. Another brain tumor. Another relapse. Another surgery.

Childhood cancer striking another dance studio.

This is Lauren. She is 10.


As you can see by her self-made photo, she hearts dance. She also kept getting headaches. The doctors found a lemon-sized tumor in her brain 19 months ago. They did brain surgery right away and her family was told there was only a 1% chance the tumor would return.

But it did.

And so this dancer is facing another brain surgery.

This news hit a particular spot in me. Donna was a student of mine. She danced every week, despite having a brain tumor. She had a relapse. She had another surgery, and another. She learned to walk and talk all over again, several times in her four years. Read her cancer story here. She was amazing. She continues to inspire me, friends and strangers around the world to do Good Things in her name. Maybe you’re one of them.


Donna and I on her 4th birthday.

If you’ve been following my blog, you probably know my mother is fighting breast cancer and that my father and grandmother and aunts also battled cancers. My heart and support is with them. But when it comes to this cause, my dollars and energy go to the kids.

Like the color for breast cancer is pink, the color for childhood cancer is gold. There are no NFL players wearing gold socks; no gold buckets of chicken from KFC; no overpopulous of gold ribbon water bottles. Many national cancer organizations use children’s faces but little (half a penny for every dollar donated) goes towards treatment, research or trials for children’s cancers. I wrote about this desperate underfunding in a previous blog post.

  • worldwide, a child is diagnosed ever three minutes;
  • brain tumors have a 50/50 cure rate in the US, and some childhood cancers, like DIPG, are known to be fatal with no known treatment or cure;
  • 73% of kids who survive their cancer will have chronic health problems as a result of their treatment.

And if you know this issue, you know that kids are not just mini-adults. Their cancers require specialized treatment.

St. Baldrick’s is one organization doing the most for childhood cancer. On March 24 last year, during an event produced by Donna’s Good Things, I shaved my head for the cause. We raised over $79K and witnessed the oncologists and researchers receiving the actual funds. Dr. Lulla is using the grant money for a “A Longitudinal Study of Biomarkers in Pediatric Patients With Central Nervous System Tumors.” Other programs include research in how to maybe preserve fertility for these children, as well as a nurse or specialist to better explain the processes to the kids. St. Baldrick’s is the number one funder of research for childhood cancer outside the US, granting over $125 million since 2000 to labs and hospitals.


The First Annual Donna’s Good Things – St. Baldrick’s Event 2012

Next month, Donna’s Good Things is again hosting a St. Baldrick’s event, with shavees ages 11 to 89. I will be back in Egypt and won’t be shaving this year. But I am inspired that a childhood friend of mine has decided that she would be gracious enough to step in. She has committed to driving hours to Chicago and shaving her pretty locks. An act of courage and love, believe me. You can donate to her campaign here. Right now. Click the green button and give $5 or whatever you can.

If Donna can no longer dance, maybe we can make it possible for Lauren.

And to Lauren, we say, “Keep your dancing shoes on, gal. Keep hoping.”


Beyond Belief: The Holy Land, part 3

 Part 3 – Dance & More Dance

Almost a year ago, I flipped on CNN and caught a short feature about a dance educator in Palestine. She is an entrepreneur who founded the Ramallah Ballet Center. I immediately sought her out on Facebook and sent her a friend request. She could not have been more open and we became fast friends. When my Fulbright ended a few weeks ago, I knew I had to go to meet her and her students.

So I went.

First day of the new term at Ramallah Ballet School and Dance Center.

And on the way, I met old friends and new in both Palestine and Israel. And I learned that dance and more dance is vibrant on both sides of the wall. On all sides of the politics.

In the heart of the old part of Tel Aviv is a complex of buildings dedicated to dance. The illuminated old square holds performance space, rehearsal space, workshops and administration for two main companies, Inbal Pinto and Batsheva. Both companies are world-reknowned, and favorites of mine. The theatre there also brings in international performances constantly. I didn’t stay in Israel for long because I was already familiar with traditional Israeli dances from my time in Chicago and was aware of the work of the main companies. But I had little knowledge of what was happening in Palestine.

On the mountains of Bethlehem are four enormous modern buildings, being built by the Russians. They will hold arts classes and other services, but unlike other constituencies helping boost Palestinian programming, they will be competing with Palestinian civil society organizations. This is a growing concern and controversy.

On those same mountains of Bethlehem are buildings for the Palestinian civil society organization, Diyar Consortium. One of their divisions offers free dance and football (soccer) lessons and clubs. Soon they will also offer art and music classes. The Diyar Dance Theatre  is their flagship program. There is a semi-professional adult group, all volunteers, along with a junior troupe. This is a diverse group of Christian and Muslim Palestinians from different economic backgrounds. Some dancers come from a nearby refugee camp. I saw them perform in a church in Chicago. Amazing. Mixing traditional Palestinian dance (dabkeh) and powerful dance theatre.

Their words describe the work much better than I ever could…

“The Diyar Dance Theater believes ardently in the value of preserving the culture of the Palestinian people. Passing along culture through the visual and performance arts, food, and literature has been a primary means by which Palestinians have held on to their identity, values, norms, and traditions, not only in the occupied territories but also in the Diaspora. Protecting this culture is essential in the struggle for independence, for it is a source of hope, a fuel propelling the Palestinians from the past into a more promising future. It reminds them they are more than their present circumstances: there is vibrancy in who they are as a people.

For Palestinian youth in particular, dance and theatre are important vehicles not only for cultivating cultural identity but also for creating and sustaining mental and emotional health. As tools of expression, dance and theater become outlets for those wishing to release the stress accumulated from years of living behind concrete walls. Working out issues through art builds self-awareness, and dancing away the week’s worries aids with self-esteem. At Diyar Dance Theater, youth can create movements for justice and gender equality that are more powerful than rocks and angry words.

But perhaps most importantly, coming together to produce a performance piece teaches youth how to mobilize themselves around a shared vision… At Diyar Dance Theater, youth are catalyzing change in themselves and in their community….What happens on stage tethers the two in a way discourse and debate often cannot.”

During my visit, I had the honor of teaching workshops and classes both at Diyar Dance Theatre and the Ramallah Ballet Center. 10 children in one begining ballet class, 25 teens in a swing and musical theatre class, and 10 adults and young adults in an “Intro to Jazz Dance” workshop. All joy.

With Diyar Dance Theatre in Bethlehem

The day after, I received the following message from one of the teen dancers:

hello  i ‘m from Dyiar dance theater …. i wanted to thank you for the amazing dance lesson ! AWESOME !hah
very nice meeting you
lots of love ,

In the city of Ramallah, there is an organization called Sareyyet Ramallah (First Ramallah Group). Every April since 2006 they have produced the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival with the help of the regional Masahat Contemporary Dance Network which includes not only Sareyyet (Palestine), but Maqamat Dance Theater (Lebanon), The National Center for Culture & Performing Art (Jordan), and Tanween Dance Theatre (Syria). According to its mission, “the Festival aims at promoting dialogue and cultural exchange between the Palestinian people and the peoples of the world. It also aims to introduce a variety of contemporary dances to the Palestinian people and to develop the capabilities of those who work in the dance field in Palestine. The Festival targets the Palestinian public in general and the youth sector in particular.” During the Festival, there are performances, workshops, a Dance & Society conference and an International Dance Day celebration. This is much more progressive and put together than anything I’ve seen in Egypt.

Sareyyet Ramallah also provides dance classes (Dabkeh, ballet, contemporary) for about 120 children. Beginning as a Scouts organization, they now also do basketball, swimming, summer art camps, theatre, karate, clay and wall painting, football (soccer), and much more. Every year they host the Martyrs Basketball Tournament.

In my last blog post, I wrote about genocides. I believe the arts have are a mighty tool in both preventing and reconciling genocide. Recently came across this project and found it intriguing. http://www.artstoendgenocide.org/stomp-out-genocide.html Maybe I should reach out to them.

Yes, dance is almost everywhere. Yes, dance is mighty. Yes, we need collaboration more then competition.

Yes, we need more dance that brings together Israeli and Palestinian citizens, Jewish settlers, and Palestinian refugees. Somehow. Let’s do it.

Keep dancing.


Previously posted… Part 1 – Pilgrims & Settlers and Part 2 – Halves & Holes

You can view the full photo album on Facebook.




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