Coaching a Chorus to Move

“I want them to choose to be great performers, not be great performers because they may have a natural tendency to be.” – Alexander Davis, interview with Urbanity Dance

This Monday, the Boston Children’s Chorus is putting on its 14th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tribute Concert: How I got Over – Conducted by Dr. Anthony Trecek-King.

The Boston’s Children’s Chorus is a non-profit organization whose mission is to ” [harness] the power and joy of music to unite our city’s diverse communities and inspire social change”( The program has 13 different youth choirs, committed to not only a strong music education but developing leadership skills and active and responsible community members. Urbanity Dance’s own instructor and Company dancer, Alexander Davis, is working with the BCC to provide training in movement that compliments their choral education.

Alex works to make the students anatomically aware of their own bodies, focusing on each minute detail. Questions heard in class range from “are my toes curled? how is my weight arranged over my hips?” to “have I collapsed my chest inwards?” Honing in on the smallest details not only ensures that students are at their best to create beautiful and full vocals, allowing full deep breaths and stability, but creates a sense of total awareness and control over the body. Alex hopes this range of self awareness emboldens students, increasing their confidence and self esteem.

One of the songs Alex worked with the chorus on is a rendition of Sojourner Truth’s speech, Ain’t I A Woman. As students rehearsed two things happened, “They were all approaching it with a very clear feminist perspective. Some of them were singing outward and aggressively. Some of them were performing in a very grounded way, their performance energy was going down into the earth.”

Afterwards, they spent time discussing the intention of the work and the narrative that is portrayed. The students decided that it was an arc; “Although the work starts with a very outwards exclamation quality, it moves to a very grounded self proclamation.”

To reflect this narrative in the performance and body, Alex talked the students through their stance, “An even pelvis would reflect a sense of being grounded. The slightest shift of weight can communicate massively different things, and the students wanted to avoid archetypes of what has become used as a caricature of feminism.

If the chest is open and the sternum out, shoulders back, feet planted but weight shifted forwards onto the balls of your feet- you are projecting outwards. This is where the piece starts.

If you shift your weight back, still leave your chest open, but relax the shoulders a bit forwards and down, and shift your weight slightly backwards- you are projecting down. This is where the piece travels.”

The Chorus is set to perform this piece and many others this upcoming Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By learning to control the body the Boston Children’s Chorus and Urbanity Dance can help to develop performers that are able to make conscious decisions about what they are portraying to the world. With students that are completely aware of themselves, the performance is sure to be breathtaking.


written by Michelle Thomas



What is it like to go to college for dance?

When I tell people what my major is, I often get, “So what do you want to do after college?”

My response, “That’s the golden question.”

Of course, I go on to inform the inquirer with a more detailed answer: highlighting my likes and dislikes and how that might theoretically guide me to focus on one area more than another, in the big scope of the dance world. But let’s not talk about that for now. I’m a junior after all.

“But what does being a “dance major” mean? Do you just dance all day?” you ask.

I am at a conservatory college, which for an undergraduate student like me, means earning a B.F.A or bust. There are no minors and no double majors, so I have no “back-up”. And yes, I pretty much dance all day. Academics each semester typically consist of one dance related academic and one liberal arts (history/literature based) class. I write a few essays each semester, tests come and go, and grades are mostly a reflection of attendance and attitude.

Which leads me to discuss college life. I don’t live a typical “college” existence of cramming or partying. I spend more time at the barre then the bar. My weekends are spent lying in bed resting, cross-training, working off campus, or rehearsing extra projects. Boston Conservatory is also a very intimate atmosphere. My junior class has 26 people in it and the dance division in total is around 140. Professors here play a careful balance of mentor and extended family member.

Most of my workload comes from the physical and mental stress of living, breathing, and dancing in the same bubble. Stress also comes from the unknown and an uncertainty that stems from going into a field that is not “stable.” Every moment counts because there is always only so much time; to train, to audition, to learn, to develop a skill, to practice, to perform. Most difficult for me, the choice to become an artist forces you to look inside yourself and claim your own individuality as something that is worth being seen.

The one thing that comforts me in all this, is that there are no rules. After I graduate from college, I’ll see where life takes me. I want to be dancing now because I’m young. However, the dance world is massive and holds so many opportunities. Maybe I’ll be in an administrative role one day or teach, choreograph, photograph dance, be a critic, write grants for a non-profit, go into movement therapy, represent artists as a talent agent, own a studio of my own, work as a company manager, or go back to school for something else! Maybe I won’t. What I do know is when I “dance all day”, I’m doing much more than that. I’m learning how to become the best at something that doesn’t have a limit to its perfection.

So this is my real answer, “ I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.”

-Christina Morrison

Christina Morrison is the current Marketing Intern for Urbanity Dance. She is working towards her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Contemporary Dance from Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Christina is excited to be developing her knowledge of the dance world in a new way.

Creative Gift Ideas from Urbanity

You give to us. We give something back to you. You get a one-of-a-kind, unforgettable gift. We get funding to help us operate.

How about supporting not only a small business on #SmallBusinessSaturday but also a local nonprofit organization like Urbanity Dance?

Some creative gift ideas from Urbanity’s elves:

  • Dance Swag $10-$40! Tanks, tees, shorts, bags, bottles, socks, oh my!
  • screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-56-51-amscreen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-57-41-amscreen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-57-16-am
  • Season Ticket Subscription or Single Performance Tickets
  • Adult Dance Classes
  • Youth Dance Classes (1-18 yrs)
    • Gift certificates for any amountkidsgroove-9
  • Private Lessons
    • Ballroom, hip-hop, or contemporary. Great for couples, weddings, or organizing a fun outing to learn moves from your favorite music video. Email Haley Day, Principal, for more information.
  • Make a donation to Urbanity in the name of someone you love!
    • Earmarked donations can pay for community programs like Dance with Parkinson’s, Urban & World Dance in Boston Public Schools, or Movement Mends.
    • Buy a performance ticket for an Urbanity student or family who may not be able to afford it. This allows the students to see their teachers perform and get inspired!
    • Help support our scholarship fund for families in need of financial assistance. Pay for a budding dancer to fulfill their dream of studying dance.

Urbanity Dance is committed to giving back to our community. Thank you for considering to support us in creative ways so that we may continue to serve others through dance and movement.

With Love,

The Urbanity Team | | (617) 572-3727


Photo Credits (Order of Appearance): Alumna Lara Park by Eli Akerstein, Merch Model/Former Intern Zoe Dunivin, Kids Groove by Whitney Waddell

Movement and Music

One of the most compelling pieces of Call of Courage is the original score that is being produced for it. Local Musician Ryan Edwards has been working to seamlessly meld worlds; integrating voice, found environment, and contemporary music into a truly unique score.

The process started with 8 stories. Eight essays of youth courage and perseverance in the face of bullying were chosen from the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum:

I was reading the essays before the first meeting. The big question for me is how much of the essays, how specific and how personal, and what is the line between it being a story about this person who wrote this essay and a story that could be about anyone and maybe even me. That’s the line that we are still trying to find.  

Ryan worked to interview the children one on one and record their own voice sharing their stories. Students walked in the door shy and curious, unsure of how it would go.

I’m in touch with their sense of courage, and then sometimes they are really nervous to talk, so that’s a beautiful thing. 


The voices are then combined with electronic music, live music, hired musicians, and found sounds. Ryan describes it as making a giant audio collage;

I went to schools and actually recorded lunchroom chatter and arguments… literally blending music sounds with environmental sounds: bell ringing, locker door slamming… making that my snare drum sound… all these things that are textural and reminiscent of their environment.

– Ryan Edwards

Some of the most compelling moments come in when the sound cuts out. The Dancers visual breathing become part of our auditory experience and when a dancer hits a drum the sound leaves a vibration in your hand as well.

Snippets from #callofcourage showing next friday! #courage #dance #contemporarydance #bosarts

A post shared by Urbanity Dance (@urbanitydance) on

Meshing all of these factors together creates a unique viewing experience that toys with the line of narrative and abstraction. Snippets of voice connect you to a direct human, but the level to which you identify is varies throughout the show. The score and dance play with the line of personal narrative and creating an environment you see yourself in.


So much of this performance is a balancing act. How do you strike a balance between text and music, between personal narrative and universal connections, auditory story and visual story, and always- where is the line between play and harm.

Learn more about the performance and the process of making it here. 




What’s in a name? BULLY.

When Urbanity first thought about presenting a brand new show with an anti-bullying message, I started investigating bullying.  Sure, I could go back to sixth grade Betsi, when I was being teased by a group of boys for getting a perfect spelling score each week.  When are you gonna mess up, Betsi Bug Eyes?  (I had unusually large eyes even then.) One day I found a typed note inside my desk which threatened to harm me physically, even death. I never knew who did it, or if it was related to the spelling teasing for sure. I kept the paper but hid it. I never told any one, not my parents, not a teacher, not a friend. I did not want to draw attention to it for fear that it would escalate. If I ignored it, maybe it would go away. So I just hid it and tried to ignore it. Even today I try not to think about this paper, it causes pain twenty-five years later, that one of my classmates would have done this.  The paper threats stopped there but the teasing continued for the rest of that year.

Yikes… middle school was tough. But my personal experience is now charged with hindsight, biased, individualized perspective and the lens of my thirty-four year old brain. It felt important to me that if we were doing a show for a middle school audience that the material felt relevant and true for them.

I started asking my teen students, “Does bullying happen at your school? Have you ever experienced bullying?”

dontbullybeafriendFor me, the word “bully” almost belittles an individual’s experience.  When I think of a bully my brain sends me the image of the big brute bully forcing his scrawny victim’s head into a toilet bowl.  A lot of the youth I spoke to said that their less-than-enthusiastic reaction to the word bully is because they have had a bit of an “anti-bully overdose” – lots of required anti-bullying assemblies and lesson plans. The thing that the students told me is that these assemblies are often boring, disengaging, and often through the lens of “adultism” (adults talking down to youth) or using the “what-not-to-do” approach, instead of talking to students about what they can do.

I had a phone meeting with some anti-bullying experts over at PACER, and while noting that their are significant differences in definition, they helped me find some clarity around the word bully, noting that most definitions include:

  • Behavior that hurts or harms another person physically or emotionally
  • An inability for the target to stop the behavior and defend themselves
  • An imbalance of power that occurs when the student doing the bullying has more physical, emotional, or social power than the target
  • Repetitive behavior; however, bullying can occur in a single incident if that incident is either very severe or arises from a pattern of behavior

When I asked my students if they had ever experienced teasing that causes another student to be hurt, the answer was yes. When I asked if they had ever witnessed behavior that leaves someone out on purpose, they slowly nodded their heads in agreement.  Had they ever experienced the spread of bad rumors? Again, yes.  My students specifically opened up around cyber-bullying… texting, sending hurtful messages or embarrassing photos,  mainly on social networks.  I found it interesting that bullying is in fact rampant, but there is a reluctance to call it by it’s name.

Regardless of what you call it, bullying, harassment, micro-aggression,  or just being mean, I think it’s fair to say that we still have a major problem.  According to the National School Climate Center, one in three students report being bullied, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affirmed that bullying is a public health problem.

My bullying investigation continued… I watched movies about bullies, read books, googled the heck out of anything bully. I found some seriously good material – who doesn’t love a good entertaining bully? Bullies provide some good creative fodder. It’s easy to relate to characters when we feel empathy for the weak victim when they are getting teased or beat by the bully or bullies.  Then there is the story where we learn that the bully is acting out because they were the victim of a bleak bullying situation back home.

As I started to frame a contemporary dance performance around bullying, I knew I wanted to give light to authentic stories of today’s youth.  I found eight stories from sixth graders who had published essays about bullying in The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum‘s 2016 anthology.  These stories include perspectives from the bullied, the families of the bullied, the upstanders, and my personal favorite… the bully herself.

Writes Gleidys, “I bullied a girl. I made her life so miserable just because I didn’t like her, the way she acted, and the way she was treating other people. I didn’t care how she felt. I didn’t care if she cried or anything… I had friends that bullied her too.” And later she writes: “I decided to make a change in my life with my attitude and my actions. When people came up to me to tell me to bully someone, I said no.”

I personally found Gleidys’ story the most courageous of all… The courage it takes to admit that you were a bully.  I mean, although it’s painful to remember the death threat inside my desk, it feels even more painful to admit that I played a part in ostracizing a classmate from the popular lunch table because she wasn’t “cool” enough. Maybe that’s a big step in breaking the bully chain… recognizing and admitting when we ourselves have been a bully. And I believe most of us have, and do bully. Once we recognize our behavior, we can then change our actions.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “bully”?

I’m more interested in the flip side of bullying. How can we combat this negative, mean-spirited, and arguably not-even-profitable power struggles?  How do we promote a community of upstanders and prevent mean or cruel behavior? Let’s get kind. You never know when someone feels alone and reaching out a hand, looking someone in the eye or just saying hello can make a huge difference. Let’s look at being inclusive in a group setting, and keeping our eyes open for the “line” – let’s be more aware at including our fellows. I believe in my heart that it will actually make your day to make someone else’s day. I believe that kindness has power.

When I watch the dancers in rehearsal for Call of Courage, I have a visceral, emotional reaction. I can feel the impact of cruel and intolerant behavior. It makes me want to be a secret agent for kindness, and an upstander whenever I have the opportunity. I believe the universal language of dance gives it an unmatched ability to build empathy.

As we approach next week’s election, and are amidst the biggest political hate campaign the U.S. has ever seen, I fear that many adults have become numb to bully behaviors like what we have seen with Mr. Trump. When we give light to politicians who galvanize a racial mob spirit, it brings out destructive fear-based biases. By demonstrating that political power can be gained by discriminating attacks, it not only normalizes bully behavior but actually encourages it. What feels especially dangerous is that human emotion often clouds the line… when have we gone too far, and are beating a dead horse with verbal aggression? What would happen if Mr. Trump could admit he is exhibiting bully behavior? I wish he would be able to see Call of Courage. I argue that kindness, tolerance, and unity is a more effective sword.

I believe that the eight young voices in Call of Courage will inspire us adults too, to recognize when something is wrong, the line may be crossed, and the responsibility we all have to be upstanders and make it right. Let’s build strong streets of tolerance.

By Betsi Graves

fullsizerender-2Seventh grader Liana Joy, a Max Warburg Courage Curriculum essayist, records her story with Call of Courage composer Ryan Edwards.

URBANITY DANCE’s Call of Courage debuts November 18th 7pm at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, MA. In collaboration with The Max Warburg Courage Curriculum, Ryan Edwards, and sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Tourism.


Banner image: Photo by Betsi Graves, Choreography  from HIT by Carl Flink

Call of Courage

Urbanity is debuting its unique new show, Call of Courage, on November 18th.

Call of Courage tells stories of perseverance and courage in the face of struggles ranging from race based harassment, to owning up to being a bully, to standing up for same sex parents. These stories illuminate that backlash from social structures start early, and children find the courage to fight back just as soon.


Photo By Eli Akerstein

One such story that stood out was by Liana Joy Williams. Though she is now in sixth grade, her story recounts  the harassment she received in 3rd grade for being Chinese and adopted. Liana tells a story of standing up for herself and learning to love the differences others aimed to bring her down with:

… it is bad enough to be self-conscious about physical differences, but to be outright teased about it makes you want to hide away in a hole and never show your face again. I did not know it then, but somehow this incident made me stronger inside and in some subconscious part of my mind, I was determined to show both myself and the boys that they couldn’t, and wouldn’t, insult me or my heritage.

Starting that moment, I began to rebuild myself, to climb out of the pit of exclusion and discrimination and rise up in hope. I would prove that I am a real person too, in spite of their narrow minds, minds that allowed nothing different.
                -Liana Joy Williams

Though Liana is only in 6th grade, the words she uses are incredible and mature. She had to learn to stand up for herself and her values earlier than many know what “harassment” means, and she had to do so because of her race. 20161013_153233

Urbanity Dance is partnering with Max Courage and Ryan Edwards to record personal narratives, such as Liana’s, and mix them directly into our musical score. These stories reveal the intense courage that kids have to find  to navigate day to day, and it is vital that their own voices are heard. Through choreography that is as quick changing and reactive as life, we are able to work with Boston youth to highlight their stories and the grey areas of what it means to have courage.

Liana was one of the students who recorded with us this past weekend. Though she was nervous at first, her face lit up the room when she saw how her voice appeared as colored sound waves on the screen. She burst with laughter seeing how the image reacted to her tone and volume, excitement building as the waves did, feeding each other in a loop that ended in a room full of giggles from all ages.

The arts are a  powerful form of communication when words are too difficult or written language fails to relate. For many, the harassment they face is hard to acknowledge let alone share with others. However, it becomes easier when someone else speaks out first. Just as people are influenced to conform to a specific behavior while in a group, courageous is contagious. If we can show courageous acts as the norm for even one night, it can lower the barrier to discuss difficulties and challenge behavior.

We believe in the power of the arts to create social and political dialogue. Dance is a universal language of movement, allowing viewers to relate directly and invoke strong emotions of empathy. Somewhere along the timeline of aging, it becomes less acceptable to express and discuss emotions openly unless in a small group of trusted individuals. And while emotional maturity and judging appropriate situations is important, too often we teach people that their voice should be silenced.

These stories not only serve to inspire and give space to youth, but remind us all of the struggles faced while growing up and the intense resilience that young people possess. We often forget what growing up is like, and by sharing these voices we can inspire us all to find courage and remind everyone that being open and vulnerable should be celebrated.

written by Michelle Thomas.