Group Uses Dance to Tackle Serious Subjects For Kids

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Four dancers glide across the floor, holding hands and leaping in tandem. Suddenly, they and the music are interrupted by the sound of incoming text messages that demand to know “What are you doing?” “Where are you?” “Who are you with?” The questions cause one of the dancers to lose focus and to break away from the others.

This performance is one of four in the repertoire of “Hands are for Holding,” a program created by the dance center Gibney to fuel discussions about healthy relationships and intimate-partner violence with students in grades four through 12. Each assembly features four dancers and a community educator who facilitates a post-performance conversation.

“We utilized the dances as a proxy for the conversation because what makes a healthy dance is often the same thing that makes a healthy relationship,” says Kara Gilmour, the center’s senior director of community training and outreach. “Communication, patience, equity — without those a dance falls apart.”

Gibney is more than a dance school. Yasemin Ozumerzifon, director of community action, says it has worked with survivors of intimate-partner violence since 2000 and realized a few years ago that they also wanted to focus on prevention through dialogue with young people.

“Hands are for Holding” held its first assembly in 2014, in conjunction with Day One, a youth-focused organization aiming to end dating abuse and domestic violence. The program expanded this year thanks to the Mayor’s Grant for Culture Impact, which funded six-month partnerships between city offices and cultural organizations. Gibney, along with six other groups, was one of the first to receive this $50,000 grant.

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