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.
Michele Byrd-McPhee's uncle was a DJ for the local black radio station in Philadelphia, where she was born. As a kid she was always dancing to the latest music, including a new form of powerful poetry laid over pulsing beats that was the beginning of what we now call hip hop.
Byrd-McPhee became enamored of the form and went on to a career as a hip-hop dancer and choreographer, eventually founding the Ladies of Hip-Hop Festival and directing the New York City chapter of Everybody Dance Now!. Over the decades, she has experienced hip hop's growth from its roots in the black community into a global phenomenon—a trajectory she views with both pride and caution.
On one hand, the popularity of hip hop has "made a global impact," says Byrd-McPhee. "It's provided a voice for so many people around the world." The downside is "it's used globally in ways that the people who made the culture don't benefit from it."
Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.
Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:
Every dancer knows there's as much magic taking place backstage as there is in what the audience sees onstage. Behind the scenes, it takes a village, says American Ballet Theatre's wig and makeup supervisor, Rena Most. With wig and makeup preparations happening in a studio of their own as the dancers rehearse, Most and her team work to make sure not a single detail is lost.
Dance Magazine recently spoke to Most to find out what actually goes into the hair and makeup looks audiences see on the ABT stage.