Children in shelter embrace dance

Posted On April 23, 2014 By | No Comments on Children in shelter embrace dance

The following blog post is an edited contribution submitted by Kathrine Mansfield.

I am a member of the Vermont Youth Development Corps (VYDC) branch of AmeriCorps, serving as the Children’s Programming Specialist at COTS Family Shelters. VYDC members provide opportunities for youth to learn how to live healthy lifestyles. As part of my VYDC service, I incorporated dance classes into the children’s programming at COTS family shelters. I created the classes based upon my own dance, mostly ballet, background of 16 years. (I previously created a dance program at Troy School in North Troy, Vermont.)

The goal is to promote lifelong physical activity. While the program has a strong ballet base, the sessions also incorporate general movement and choreography. The classes are tailored to the children residing at each house. For example, earlier this year, I offered a more classical ballet-centered class at one house, and a more freestyle class at the other family shelter. The dance classes, available to children in the two COTS family shelters, began in November.

I have been very fortunate to have such eager students, some of whom have already created their own choreography. One family in shelter had three children, each child a more talented dancer than the last. During my dance class, I was stunned at how strong they were at modern dance/break dancing/acrobatics. I asked the kids to work on collaborative movement. One of the best break dancers sat down and watched his friends dance.

“I wish that I could dance like that,” he said.

His reaction shocked me because he was such a strong dancer himself. Realizing he lacked confidence, not talent, I worked to help him see the value of what he did well, which was technique. The children then created their own piece of choreography after only four weeks of working together!

There is no doubt that these children will continue to use the skills that they build in this class — physical, mental, and emotional — throughout their lives.

The dance program also brought out a very quiet parent. Her children loved to dance. They would even play the parts of wild animals! I’ll never forget the moment when this reserved, dignified mother started to dance with us. Her children didn’t consciously notice that their mom had joined us, but I watched as their movements began to transition from dance to rhythms and motions they knew from their own life experiences. The result was a beautiful mesh of cultures and dance.

Dance has an amazing language of its own — especially when it is used between children from different places, or of different ages, within the same space.

Categories: COTS Shelters, Homelessness, Volunteers
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