Today’s youth are in dire straits. Constantly bombarded with negative influences at home and at school, many have nowhere to turn. For those in lower socioeconomic settings, this is especially true. The schools servicing their neighborhoods are forced to deal with budget cuts, a lack of materials, and sub par facilities. After school programs are a luxury most of these schools cannot afford unless a benefactor comes to their aid. Dancescape Ed is one such benefactor.
“Having a healthy means of expression is hugely rewarding and can save children from getting involved in the wrong kinds of activities. There’s a need in those communities in LA.”
-Paula Christensen, Dancescape Instructor
Starting as a charity dance showcase hosted by Cheshire Moon, a nonprofit whose purpose is to use the arts as a force for change, Dancescape has grown into an after school program that teaches dance and dance history to children in underprivileged neighborhoods. “Dancescape is all about charity and giving back to the community,” says Aaron Davis, a Dancescape Ed instructor.
One of the program’s pioneers, Aaron linked up with Dancescape after performing at their charity showcase. “There was a charity benefit that she (Dancescape creator Jamie Gregor) invited many of us to perform in and I performed. Now I’m involved with teaching after-school programs for her.” Working closely with administration, Dancescape Ed creates these programs by developing a curriculum that best fits the needs of the school. After which they outfit the school with professional quality dance instructors who carry out this curriculum.
Paula Christensen was the first instructor at Dancescape Ed. An actor by trade, Paula has been a dancer all of her life and has taught classes since high school. “I love bringing dance to communities that may not have it…just having the opportunity to go in and teach kids who don’t otherwise have access to the arts was always very attractive to me.”
Paula taught at a school located in East LA. The families of the students were lower income and didn’t have much. What the children lacked in material possessions however, they made up for with passion. “I just absolutely adored their passion and their talent. I found them to be so eager because they don’t have this kind of thing very often.” Limited in terms of resources, Paula and Dancescape nonetheless made it work, finding the children to be extremely grateful and fun to work with. One little girl even came up to Paula after class and gave her a hug, saying “Thank you. I always wanted to dance and now I think I can be a dancer.” This is what Dancescape Ed and Cheshire Moon thrive on; giving marginalized youth who normally wouldn’t be exposed to the arts an opportunity to dance. “Having a healthy means of expression is hugely rewarding and can save children from getting involved in the wrong kinds of activities,” Paula observes, “there’s a need in those communities in LA.”
Not only were the children taught to dance and about dance history, they were also given the opportunity to perform in front of their family, staff, and fellow students. Paula reflects on one such show, which drew its inspiration from Michael Jackson, “They had a little chapel and we set it up like a stage…they mashed up all the music into one big number and the kids would come in, do a part and then exit and then another group would come in and do a part.” Their families came dressed in their best and staff, including the principal, were in attendance as well. The families were so supportive that they were even willing to buy new outfits for the occasion, which was huge considering their economic situation. The production turned out to be a success and the families had the opportunity to see their children involved in something different and exciting.
“Thank you. I always wanted to dance and now I think I can be a dancer.”
-Dancescape Ed. Student
Dancescape is expanding. Recently coming off a successful summer that saw over 50 elementary and middle school students given the gift of dance, Dancescape has also partnered with the Los Angeles Leadership Academy for three successful programs. The goal of this initiative is to bring Dancescape to charter schools that normally wouldn’t have the means to foster a program such as this. Ideally, children all over who must face the harsh realities of poverty will be given the opportunity to do something they may rarely get the chance to do: Dance.
Case Study prepared by Kendall Brown for Cheshire Moon, 2016.