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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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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