In Confined Spaces, Women Are Finding Themselves Through Movement
Picture a dance class: four walls, an open floor, a dozen or so women lined up to move. Hold onto that vision; now add bars to the windows. Dance to Be Free is on a mission to bring the healing power of dance and movement to a place that most people don’t associate with creative expression—prisons.
What started as a simple dance class in 2016, operating out of Denver Women’s Correctional in Colorado, has since grown into a national effort to make dance available to incarcerated women. Dance to Be Free’s teacher trainings operate in 17 prisons across the United States, and the organization has certified over 500 incarcerated women as Dance to Be Free leaders. The program emphasizes not just the skills women need to lead dance classes, but also teaches them how dance can be a tool to address trauma. Through choreographed dances, group and individual activities, and journaling and group discussion, participants often experience a new mode of personal expression and find that dance can—as founder Lucy Wallace puts it—“deepen self-awareness, introspection and connection.”
Dance to Be Free’s aims are clear—reduce recidivism rates for incarcerated women, empower women in prison, change prison culture, and support women as they prepare to re-enter their communities. The program will use its Awesome Without Borders grant to continue to grow its virtual teaching materials, a vital component of its work during the ongoing pandemic, and to stock participating facilities with the DVD players needed to play training recordings.
“We teach the women how to dance and then we teach them to teach each other to dance,” Wallace explains. In the process, the program helps encourage new leaders, supports the development of self-awareness, social skills, and self-confidence, and opens up a space for healing in a confined, often dehumanizing place. Dance can’t take the bars off those windows. It isn’t rehabilitation. But it can give incarcerated women a glimpse of what life could feel like on the other side; bodies in movement, dancing to the beat.
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