SMU Division of Dance Students Teach Refugees

This past semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach dance to a group of 10 refugee girls with my friend Grace. The refugee girls were from different refugee programs throughout Dallas. The girls came from countries all over the Middle East and Asia; they were from Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, India, and Pakistan. Because of the different cultural and linguistic backgrounds of the girls, dance was the best way we could all communicate. The girls had never experienced dance before, so I was excited to expose them to this art form and to teach them how to express themselves through movement. I was shocked at how open and willing the girls were to dance throughout the semester. I remember that we decided to make the first class with the girls an improv based class. Improv is when you spontaneously create movement. There is no set choreography; you make up your movement as you go. None of the girls shied away from improv. By the end of the session, each girl performed an improv solo. I learned so much about courage and self-expression from this very first class. Even though these girls were in a room full of strangers trying something new, they fully embraced the situation and made the most of the opportunity to let go and to be themselves. I hope to take this same willingness and spirit into my dance classes. After this improv class, we taught a different style of dance each class. The girls learned basic jazz, ballet, contemporary, and even a little modern. The girls kept their open spirit throughout every class. As the semester progressed, I saw more and more of the girls’ personalities come out through their movement. Although I could not speak their language, I really bonded with them through dancing with them and watching them dance. Dance allowed us to form human connections and allowed me to relate to people outside of my direct community.  What I loved most about teaching the refugees was the joy it brought to both the girls and myself. Every class we all left with huge smiles on our faces. My favorite memory from this semester was on the last day when we all formed a huge clump and had a giant “jam session.” We all danced and laughed together. The girls even performed authentic dances from their home countries. It was such a joyous and celebratory experience! I never fully understood the power of dance before teaching these girls, but now I better understand how dance can be used to connect and to bring joy to all people.

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  • My favorite parts: “I learned so much about courage and self-expression from this very first class. Even though these girls were in a room full of strangers trying something new, they fully embraced the situation and made the most of the opportunity to let go and to be themselves,” and “Although I could not speak their language, I really bonded with them through dancing with them and watching them dance. Dance allowed us to form human connections and allowed me to relate to people outside of my direct community. What I loved most about teaching the refugees was the joy it brought to both the girls and myself. Every class we all left with huge smiles on our faces.” Thank you for sharing! 😀

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