Posted 5 August 2016 12:00 AM by Adriana Ray

This being my first summer with the City Spotlights program, I came in with a lot of excitement. One of my favorite things about being a dance educator is allowing space for dancers to create their own material, but I could have never predicted what would come out of that. Over the course of the summer, I watched the teen leaders find and develop their own choreographic ideas in ways that spoke to me as both a dancer and as a human being.

Each week the teens spent their time on a number of different tasks but one of my favorite moments was the Friday elective block. The teen leaders were divided into two groups where they could explore either Afro-Jazz Dance or Spoken Word. As the Dance Specialty Teaching Artist, I had the opportunity to watch some of the program’s singers and actors engage in movement in a way that they were not necessarily familiar with, but that did not stop them from diving in with as much enthusiasm and determination as they could muster. After a warm up and some technique with the Afro-Jazz Teaching Artist, the Teen Leaders were tasked with creating their own short movement phrases. Now, at this time in their class I would typically leave and go see what the rest of the teens were doing, so I had no idea what the end result would be. What I was met with during our Final Showcase week took my breath away. The dancers had been given the song “Hell You Talmbout” by Janelle Monae and Wondaland Records with lyrics comprised of the names of men, women, and children that have lost their lives to police brutality. The song itself is already powerful, but I will never forget how deeply moved I was the first time I saw the teens share their movement to the names in the song. I could not help but be moved to big, honest, rage-filled tears each and every time the teen leaders danced that piece. And its placement in the Final Showcase made it feel like the moment when the floodgates of emotion burst open.

The entire City Spotlights program was such a meaningful experience. What these teens accomplished in a short six weeks is truly incredible and speaks volumes of their artistry and self-assuredness. I often said to the dancers that this program was not about me, but for this one piece, it truly felt like this program voiced something that was for all of us. And for that I am eternally grateful.

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