Dancing for Social Change

Jon LaBranch and Bryce Andrews

Dance For Social Change (DFSC) used to be a onetime thing every year, but now it has become year round event. DFSC, changes the theme each year to make it more interesting and more relatable to society. Around 50 professional youth artists come and help out each year. Mr. Jeremy, a coordinator for Dancing For Social Change tells the history of its development:

Q: Mr. Jeremy, what is “Dance For Social Change” and what is the purpose of this event?

A: Dance for Social Change is an annual leadership summit that brings New Orleans youth artists together to advocate for change and catalyze action through artistic performance. During the summit, groups of youth artists (grades 8-12) present original, site-specific performances about a social justice issue that’s important to them. The goals of Dance for Social Change Summit are to:

  1. elevate youth voice by building foundational skills in communication, advocacy, and organizing;
  2. build a citywide coalition of youth artists and activists who will serve as leaders in social justice;
  3. engage youth, teachers, parents, and community members in meaningful discussions around each year’s specific theme.

Q: Where did this idea originally come from?

A: The spark for Dance for Social Change came from a works-in-progress event for local choreographers that took place in Ms. Laura’s backyard in 2013 (when Dancing Grounds was based in her house). Two choreographers, Jarrell Hamilton and Kesha McKey, showed powerful new Contemporary dance work with a social justice message. After the event, the choreographers and Ms. Laura talked about how they could effectively get these dance performances outside of a theatrical setting to reach a wider audience. We came up with the idea of a free, site-specific dance festival so that we could bring dance TO the communities most affected by the social justice issues addressed in the pieces.

We had our first Dance for Social Change in 2014 and it included three professional dance companies and the theme was ‘Overcoming Violence’. We staged the performances on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd in partnership with Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Cease Fire, and other local organizations working to reduce violence in Central City. The festival was very well attended (even though it was on the same day as the Saints home opening game!) and we received feedback that this work should continue.

When we started planning for our second event, the theme was ‘Raising Student Voices’. We thought it was only fitting that the festival was centered around students and their experience. Why should adult dancers be creating works of art about the experiences of students? Students should be speaking on their own experiences! So, the summit ended up going beyond the original vision of a site-specific performance festival with professional dance companies. It took a life of its own and evolved into a youth-centered program to develop young artists as leaders and advocates for social change.

Q: What are the plans for this year’s DFSC?

A: The timeline is as follows:

Nov 11, 2016 – Kick Off event for youth artists

Dec 10, 2016 – Youth artist applications are due

January – March 2017 – Youth meet on Saturdays from 10am-1pm to create performances and plan the festival

March 24-25, 2017 – Festival weekend

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