Agnes Anglade and Eryn Orsburn in a still from "Too Many Bodies." Photography by Daphne Wu.

Teen Dancers Are Unapologetically Protesting Gun Violence

Dance has a long history of social activism. Heck, our website even has a whole section devoted to it. But tackling social justice causes has typically been the territory of mature dance artists and brainy college students.

Not anymore. This year, teenage dancers throughout the country have started getting involved to highlight an issue that directly affects them in the worst way possible: gun violence. And they're doing it through dance.


Showcasing What's Lost To Gun Violence

This project released by #NoRA, a collective action campaign led by actress Alyssa Milano. Choreographed by Nancy Dobbs Owen and performed by several young dancers from California, "Too Many Bodies" follows a student crawling out of a closet after a shooting, walking past fallen classmates and teachers who come back to life and begin to dance, showcasing all that's lost when these lives end too soon.

The five-minute video weaves in stats and messages like, "Since the Columbine massacre in 1999, there have been more than 232 school shootings," as well as photos of many of those we've lost to school shootings.

Exposing The Trauma of School Shootings

A somewhat similar video was released in June, directed and choreographed by Mia Michaels. "Only We Know" is even more disturbing, opening with a depiction of an actual shooting.

It's a project by Z ARTISTS GROUP, a youth dance company based in New York and New Jersey. Founded by Joelle Cosentino, the troupe produces socially-conscious works addressing issues faced by Generation Z. For the video, male dancers from The Boston Conservatory and other schools in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut rounded out the cast, dancing to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know" sung by a children's choir.

Michaels' raw, emotional and often very explicit movement makes the video equally terrifying and powerful. Warning: Parts of this are very hard to watch.

Honoring A Dancer Who Became a Victim

After the Parkland school shooting in March, a group of competition dancers from Club Dance Studio in Arizona honored 14-year-old victim and dancer Jaime Guttenberg in a tribute video called "We Are The Future." The dancers perform in the Arizona desert, displaying handwritten posters with stats and slogans like, "I don't want to be another statistic."

Directed and choreographed by Chelsea Jennings, this video is less explicit than the other two. But, dancing to Birdy's cover of "People Help the People," these dancers are just as emotional and sincere—and their performances just as moving.

UPDATE 10/22: Getting Voters Inspired 

Since posting this original story, a new high-profile video came out.

Star dancer Robbie Fairchild and filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz banded together to create a dance anthem for gun safety in time for the midterm elections. None other than Sia provided the soundtrack, titled "I'm Still Here," and famed illustrator Marcel Dzama contributed artwork to the set.

Most impressive though are the 120 students from Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute who serve as the film's energetic, inspiring performers, dancing choreography by James Alesop.

Seriously, if you're 18 or older, go vote for these kids who can't.

This trend is not limited to YouTube videos. High school students from Houston to Baltimore to the Bronx have also created live performances addressing gun violence through dance. Each, in their own way, is using the art form they love to say, Enough is enough.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021