Why I Spend Every Sunday at a Homeless Youth Shelter

October 31, 2017

As dancers, we tend to find ourselves in a bubble—the dance bubble. We become consumed by our art-form, eating and breathing it every moment of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, dance is incredible and deserves our admiration, dedication and even obsession. But we are also people and can contribute to the world in many different ways.

Shortly after beginning my career in dance, I started to feel like an incomplete person. It really was a dream-come-true to be a professional dancer, but I knew I was more than that.

One day, I got an invitation to a gala for the Human Rights Campaign. I couldn’t afford a ticket but I figured I could volunteer for the event, so I did. I was hooked. I started helping at every HRC event I could make it to. LGBTQ advocacy became my outlet to the world outside the dance bubble.

In the coming years, I saw Utah pass an LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, then legalize same-sex marriage. I was a very, very tiny part of the work that brought about these victories, but it still felt good to know I was involved in some capacity. While I was still working away on my career in dance, I felt like a more complete person knowing I also had an impact outside of the dance world.

That advocacy turned my interest to homeless youth, since nearly 40 percent of the homeless youth in Utah identify as LGBTQ. When I found out that Volunteers of America was opening up a brand new youth shelter, I contacted them about volunteer opportunities. I started off occasionally making meals, but after meeting the shelter’s clients and hearing their stories, I was drawn to do more. I now go there every Sunday to work the front desk and run an LGBTQ support group. It’s my version of church, and has taught me more than I could have imagined.

A selfie with other volunteers after making breakfast

Hearing the clients’ stories of hardship and tragedy is eye-opening, heart-breaking and makes me grateful for my middle-class upbringing. But I’m also continually inspired by their perseverance and determination. Watching a client get a job, go to school or move into their own housing fills me with joy and admiration.

After my weekly visits to the shelter, I go back to work each Monday excited to dance. The shelter makes me grateful that I have a job at all (let alone one where I dance all day), but more importantly, the shelter reminds me what it means to be human and gives me a broader perspective on life—ultimately making me a better artist.

Today, I want to urge other dancers to to step outside the dance bubble and explore the world around you. I’m not going to tell you to go find your nearest youth shelter and start volunteering. But I encourage you to involve yourself in your community somehow.

Wherever you find yourself helping out, you will be good at it. Dancers are incredible people. We’re hard-working, timely and creative. We learn quickly, pay attention to detail, can respond to criticism and can work in a team. We don’t always give ourselves enough credit for our non-dancing skills, but these skills will allow you to do almost anything you want.

So what do you want to do? Dance, of course, but is that as far as you want your impact on the world to go? You already have the skillset to do so much more. Step outside the dance bubble and see how else you can make an impact on the world and how it can make an impact on you.

Lucas Horns, photo by Walker Boyes