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.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
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