A woman just came in to Urbanity to speak to me.
I was asked to open early today. We needed to fix the collapsible wall that partitions off the dance studio into two halves so that we can have three year olds learning how to control a prance and give High School arts credit for taking hip hop at the same time.
Our studio is on Washington street in the south end. The clash between wealthy new money and the people displaced to bring it here is incredibly apparent as I walk through the dog park every day on my way in, maneuvering around playful balls of fur and people still asleep on the benches.
We have a show coming up titled Call of Courage. It celebrates youth stories on moments of courage through abstractions of music and dance. These children are able to speak openly and candidly about battles with harassment, identity, self-preservation, and we are able to share their stories and our own through a medium that can invoke intense emotion and empathy. I was writing up a blog post on courage and our process when something…happened. One of those life moments that fills you with too many thoughts for the space and shoves them into your gut.
A woman walked by Urbanity and waved through our glass door, so I smiled and nodded back. She motioned to the cigarette she was finishing and then towards me, asking if she could come in after she had finished.
This incredible woman sat down and told me about her life. I am removing names and details as I would like to protect privacy, but hopefully the experience is intact. She was staying in a woman’s shelter for domestic abuse and hadn’t been able to go back the night before. She went to the hospital and had discharge papers to prove it, called beforehand, but was terrified that they would not let her back in. She sat here and told me, a complete stranger, that missing curfew and not going that night was the worst decision she ever made. She didn’t ask for any help, just wanted a friendly word of encouragement that she could go back and everything was going to be okay.
I looked at this woman, open and vulnerable and stronger than I have ever been, completely awestruck. She had the Courage to fight abuse and all the demons that it causes, she had the courage to admit mistakes in the process of healing, and she had the courage to ask a stranger for help. I could only offer a hug.
As I was typing this to process through what had happened, she came in again. She wanted to know if it would be possible to scan the document and edit the discharge date since she got in later than she told the shelter. The documents had been creased and folded, and I told her honestly that I thought a changed scan would be obvious and look worse than the truth of what actually happened.
I should have scanned it for her. I should have tried. I have photoshop skills. I might have been able to white out the creases and alter the date, print it as if new. Would a shelter kick her out for getting into a hospital after curfew hours? They are supposed to help, but I don’t know.
The smell of her perfume still lingers on my flannel as I type. A dog with an argyle sweater just waddled by.
In that moment I felt anything but courageous. My post felt trivial.
I’m not sure if I did the right thing but as a friend of mine stated, “you did really well in the field of grey.” And I don’t feel like patting myself on the back for the way I handled the situation and my gut is still sloshing around questions. But courage is grey. Courage is illusive and stuck in between the folds of our other emotions. Courage can be hard to feel because fear and embarrassment and anger love to piggyback on it.
I hope this woman knows she is strong. I hope everything works out and those other emotions settle enough for her to feel it.
These are the stories that we are trying to share. These are the voices that are being blocked out. It is the difficult and illusive and confusing stories of courage that need to be felt.
photo by Celso Enrique
Our line-up of Contemporary Dance instructors offer a wide range of perspectives to hone in on advanced and intermediate contemporary dance technique. Each instructor aims to engage and challenge participants while honoring their unique perspectives and abilities.
Meg is a Company Dancer with Urbanity and studied dance at Dean College. Check her out here.
Meg teaches every Monday 7:30-9pm at Urbanity Dance
Tucker is a dancer and choreographer who attended Juilliard and was a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. Check out one of his performances on the show here.
Tucker teaches every Tuesday 7:30-9pm at Urbanity Dance
Genevieve is an Urbanity Underground dancer and trained at The Gold School. She was a choregrapher in residency for Urbanity NeXt.
Genevieve teaches every Wednesday 7:30-9pm at Urbanity Dance
Colleen has participated as a choreographer in residency for Urbanity NeXt and attended and danced at Boston University.
Colleen teaches every Thursday 7:30-9pm at Urbanity Dance
Urbanity Dance has always been committed to engaging, celebrating, and empowering local communities through dance. This year, the companies incredible lineup of performances focuses on the power of collaboration to celebrate our community partners and the Boston arts scene.
As a nonprofit committed to local growth, Urbanity is working to bring imaginative performances that showcase Boston’s diverse voices and create dialogue for social change. Urbanity’s upcoming collaborations include organizations such as the City of Boston, Young Audiences, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, Museum of Fine Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Children’s Museum to highlight the performing arts as a social platform to empower.
Known for its effortless curves and use of breath, Urbanity places a strong emphasis on the foundations of modern, jazz, and ballet, while utilizing the highly detailed gesture work and hard-hitting articulation usually associated with hip-hop. This hyper-athletic fusion creates a unique all-encompassing visual experience. The Company was announced Best of Boston by Boston Magazine in 2015, Boston’s Best by the Improper Bostonian in 2013, recently shortlisted for Bostinno’s 50 on Fire, and named a Top Ten Critics’ Pick by The Boston Globe. Urbanity has presented at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater, the Institute of Contemporary Art, and shown works by Pilobolus, Larry Keigwin, Carl Flink, and Andy Noble. Utilizing its’ public platform and unique hybrid of styles,Urbanity Dance exists to engage, inspire, and empower individuals and communities through the art of dance and movement.
On top of our regularly scheduled public performances, Urbanity is putting on two special shows for school aged children. The first is a matinee of Call of Courage for Boston Public school students. Urbanity is working with the City of Boston to present an original piece using stories from middle and high school youth. Presented at the Strand Theater in Dorchester, this piece celebrates voices of courage and uses dance as a platform to investigate themes of empowerment and bystander intervention.
The second performance is a matinee of Neruda’s Book of Questions for youth from the Villa Victoria community. This piece is a collaboration with Villa Victoria and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, to create original dance and music inspired by Pablo Neruda’s Book of Questions. Urbanity dancers team with Boston based musician and composer, Beau Kenyon, to celebrate Boston’s diverse community and investigate themes of justice and fairness.
Highlighting the voices of Boston communities and making sure they are heard is crucial. By collaborating with community organizations and local artists, choreographers, and musicians directly, Urbanity hopes to ensure these voices are at the forefront of the Boston Arts scene.
“I looked up on the internet and dance with Parkinson’s was happening in two places. I think one was California, and the other was Shawmut avenue….
Dance with Parkinson’s is a free weekly class led by Betsi Graves here at Urbanity for those with Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s Disease is a chronic and progressive movement disorder. Typical symptoms include trembling, stiffness in limbs, slowness of movement, postural instability, and impaired balance and coordination. In addition, many people with Parkinson’s experience depression and emotional changes.
Urbanity’s classes are part of a program developed by David Leventhal of Mark Morris Dance Group in conjunction with the Brooklyn Parkinson’s Group to help combat these symptoms. The curriculum operates under the theory that professional dancers are essentially experts on movement. As stated by David, “The fundamentals of dancing and dance training—things like balance, movement sequencing, rhythm, spatial and aesthetic awareness, and dynamic coordination—seem to address many of the things people with Parkinson’s want to work on to maintain a sense of confidence and grace in their movements.”
The curriculum was developed to guide participants through exercises designed to enhance and maintain mobility, flexibility, balance, coordination, and strength, all modified for various levels of mobility.
…Besti is amazing… she works with a narrative.. you want to take an apple off the tree, you want to fly like a bird, you want to gather balls… really childish and wonderful narratives. Everyone is moving. When I first started there was maybe 4 or 5 in the class, we’re about 14 now…
The class functions as a safe and therapeutic space where all participants encourage each other to move and explore creative expression. The targeting exercises help to combat movement symptoms associated with Parkinson’s and dance creates a heightened connection between the mind and body. Learning to control movements, balance, and rhythm helps to give a sense of control and expression in all dancers, leading to increased confidence.
…since I’ve been in Betsi’s class I actually have a collection of CDs. probably 3 or 4 hundred, that I never played. And since Betsi’s class I wake up, play my CDs, and prance around the kitchen. I often wonder what my neighbors must be thinking because there’s no shades in my windows…
What participants appreciate most about these spaces is the atmosphere that dance and community inherently creates.
…What’s amazing is watching; we have people in wheelchairs, we have people who can’t stop moving, but at the end of class everyone is moving, and we are all dancers, and we are all joyous.”- Shirley Kane
Written by Michelle Thomas
“We have known for years that Children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties. Crawling, a cross-lateral movement, activates development of the corpus callosum (the nerve pathways between the two hemispheres of the cerebrum)” – Carla Hannaford
You may ask why dance is important to a 6 months old, or a toddler, or even a child. Why start them this young? What benefits does dance have at this age? Dance is a constant source of movement and activity. Learning takes place constantly as children move based on visual cues and later verbal cues. For young infants and children, exploratory movement and sensory engagement are the primaries ways that they learn. As discovered by Piaget and explained by Sue Stinson in her paper Dance education in early childhood,
children move up and down before they know these words. Next, the words become associated with the movement and the accompanying body sensations; young children cannot think or talk about movement without doing it. Gradually the words begin to stand for the movement: the need to do the full movement disappears, and the movement gets smaller and smaller until it is no longer physically demonstrated…although we are not always aware of it, we still use this internalized movement to think conceptually.
It has been often noted and documented that most people do their best conceptual thinking during a repetitive low level movement. This is why you often have an amazing idea while shampooing your hair or on a quiet walk. “Even Einstein noted that he made his discoveries initially through visual and kinesthetic images of movement; he saw or felt an idea, and the words came later.” (Stinson)
But why move through dance? Dance not only keeps children actively engaged and learning, but adds layers of education through creative movement. Asking children to move in creative ways forces them to explore new options, and starts to develop creative problem solving skills. In addition, children learn to control their own bodies and think spatially. When they dance,
They become aware of how fast they are moving, how to speed up and slow down, how to stop and start, and how to control their bodies when they change direction…Creative dance helps children learn to move in their own personal spaces, to be aware of other children’s personal spaces, and to respect others as everyone together moves in a shared space. When children become used to these unwritten understandings about space and movement, they carry them over to other daily activities (Dow)
Moving creatively is one of the pillars of Urbanity’s teaching philosophies. One of our teachers who best exemplifies creating space where this type of exploration is encouraged is Leilani Ricardo. When talking about her class, she forms an entirely new world for the children:
“I want my classroom to be a Spaceship. Self-contained and self-sustaining. By nature a space that is both highly disciplined and highly collaborative. A space that as soon as you enter, you are insulated from the outside world, but with a mission of exploration and discovery so that when you do re-enter society (whether disembarking from the ship or leaving the classroom) you have something beneficial to share, progress and perspective. Everyone is essential in a spaceship: no one is superfluous and I want a classroom where students feel their importance. A classroom built on the foundation of experimentation, exploration, discipline, growth, and freedom. I want my students to enter the space and drop their baggage and the heaviness of gravity-bound day to day life so they feel like through movement they can reach those stars. ” – Leilani
Our children excel because they learn to move creatively from a young age, and it impacts energy, creativity, and education.
-Written by Michelle Thomas
Learn more about teaching for creative movement:
Dow, Connie. “Young Children Learning.” The Power of Creative Dance (n.d.): 209-25. Web.
Hannaford, Carla. Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean, 1995. Print.
Stinson, S.W. (1990). Dance education in early childhood. Design for Arts in Education, 91(6), 34-41. DOI: 10.1080/07320973.1990.9934836