A Path to Empathy Through Dance

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At Acting Manitou we don’t set limitations on who can take certain electives- campers are encouraged to sign up for any elective that piques their interest, even if they have no prior experience. There is no audition for learning, a willingness to try is the only pre-requisite for our classes. Because of this, each class is often filled with campers of a wide array of backgrounds and skill levels and our teaching artists are skilled at, and supported in, creating curricula that allows for learning at all experience levels.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%.

For the first round of electives, I had the privilege of teaching a dance class that focused on emoting and storytelling through dance. My class had a mix of students of different skill levels, some of whom have trained in ballet their whole lives, and some of whom have never once taken a dance class. It is a daunting task to create a curriculum for students with such a wide range of abilities, but the task becomes effortlessly easy when you have a group of campers who are willing to take risks, fail, and learn. Their willingness to dive into something challenging astounded me.

While they all varied greatly in experience and skill level, every camper in that class was working to improve by just 1%. I can proudly say that every camper improved over the course of the class. Some improves in their technical abilities, others in their acting and stage presence, and a large number in their ability to connect compassionately and empathetically to one another and to themselves. The energy during their elective presentation performance was electric, and they all blew me away not just from their physical execution of the movement, but in their ability to be storytellers, to connect with the audience, and to be vulnerable on stage.

Dance allows us to express ourselves in ways that are not conventionally accepted. In our society we are often told- both directly and indirectly- to stifle our emotions. We mute screams by tensing our jaw, hold back tears by shutting our eyes, and put our hands over our mouth to stop ourselves from laughing too loudly. We are expected to not show our emotions too visibly, and we have learned that some emotions and reactions must be contained and only experienced in the privacy of our own home or room. Our emotions, which are so innate and fundamental to our humanity, are often stifled and silenced.

When we dance…we allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen.

But those rules and expectations don’t apply when we dance. When we dance, we we allow those emotions to be seen and to have their place the world. We allow those emotions to flow through our muscles and take shape. We allow ourselves to connect with others, to share our stories, and to be seen. Dancing is also a means of re-engaging our mind-body connection; day in and out our minds are often racing and thinking about a multitude of things at once, but dancing allows us to bring our mind back to our body, and our body to our mind. It allows us to focus back in on our body and emotions, and to work through whatever we might be feeling that day. With dance, we enable ourselves to express whatever thoughts and emotions we are having physically. When we dance, we are storytellers; whether we are telling our own story or the story of a character, dancing allows us to convey thoughts, emotions, and narratives to an audience.

Margie Gilland,  Head Counselor

Margie Gilland,
Head Counselor

Dance means showing part of yourself; it means allowing yourself to be seen by others, and knowing that those watching are there cheering for you. The eruption of applause and roar of excitement heard after the final dance performance at elective presentations was just a small testament to the power of dance in our community. I cannot wait to continue seeing how these campers use dance and movement as a means to express their emotions, connect with others, and discover more about themselves and the world around them.