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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
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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.

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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.
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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.
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Rethinking Courage

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

 

 

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Meet the Open Class Faculty

Contemporary 

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 headshotMeghan Anderson 

 

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 Knox b07c9b17bc763da946376dbd876a6f5b

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

 

 

 

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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

 

 

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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

 

 

 

Hip Hop

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The CONcept Artists are bringing their Urban dance styles to Urbanity Dance!
Starting Tuesday, 10/4, dancers will be treated to exceptional instruction from one of Boston’s most well-known urban dance companies. Hip Hop will run every Tuesday 9-10pm at Urbanity Dance. CONart is not only known for producing challenging hip hop choreography but also for our professionalism and commitment to community. Each week, expect a fun, well-taught Hip-Hop class that challenges the way you move and think.  AND, to truly integrate you into the CONart culture, each month will feature a different instructor, allowing you to experience all the flavors of hip-hop we offer.
Classes are targeted toward experienced dancers, but we welcome students of all levels and backgrounds to challenge themselves and grow each week! We hope you’ll welcome CONart to the Urbanity community
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A New Season Celebrating Boston

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.

 

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May 30, 2012 (Boston, MA) – Portrait shoot for Urbanity Dance. Photo by Kristyn Ulanday

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.

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“Call of Courage” Photo By Eli Akerstein

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.

Please view all of our Season Performances and other collaborations with the community. 

 

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Dance With Parkinson’s

“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