Movement Exchange (NOW 6) Part Series: Part 4

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Day 3

Starting the morning by hiking to the top of Ancon Hill :D
Started the morning by hiking to the top of Ancon Hill (which overlooks Panama City) ūüėÄ
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Then we make our way over to the University of Panamá; Kim leads warm-up.
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Kim and Olivia lead a combination!
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Olivia starts teaching this bad-ass choreography

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Everyone loved the class!
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After we eat lunch, we drive to Aldea SOS Panam√°. It’s been a long day already, but I’m loving every moment of it!
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Around twenty minutes after arriving, it’s time to dance! After Kim leads a warm-up, Ruby leads across the floor!
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¬†I’m teach¬†a Bollywood piece that I learned from Dance to Unite Teacher, Vaishali

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End of first day at Aldea SOS Panam√°!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Day 4

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Contemporary class that was very fun and challenging!

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Folkloric class at the University of Panam√°

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Last day at Malambo! We start off by working with the little kids first. Hayley and Olivia lead the class!
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Meanwhile, the other group works with the older girls. Jenn is leading warm-up!
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I had a chance to teach Bellydance choreo that I learned from Dance to Unite Teacher, Nooshi
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The other group switched over to work with the little ones. Here is Ruby and Jenn!

Lessons Learned

¬† ¬† ¬†1. Accepting that I’m a beginner dancer and I may not catch onto choreography as quickly as more advanced dancers. As Olivia said one time, “everyone has their own dance journey”.

2. Be more confident when I teach.

3. Sometimes letting the kids lead dance activities helps them stay more engaged.

4. Asking kids what they want to listen to may motivate them to participate more. One of the little girls was persistent in letting me know she wanted to listen to Don Omar’s “Zumba”. I played the song and she kept asking me to play it over and over again. So I learned that making dance classes really student-centered can change the dynamic.

5. I need to listen to more music from Central and Latin America!

I found Remezcla, a website dedicated to Latin culture and music!

Movement Exchange 5 Part Series: Part 3

Monday, June 8, 2015

Day 3

Today we are at the University of Panam√°!

Olivia and I
Olivia and I

Before Hayley and Kate teach a class we go on a tour of the university. I love that there is so much beautiful and cool art on the walls!

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Outside the dance studio we see a board describing Black Ethnicity Month

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Soon class starts, and after a brief warm-up, Hayley begins with a¬†Brain Dance exercise involving three partners. Then we do an awesome combination across the floor called “Running Man”. Shout out to Hayley for helping me, because I had a hard time catching on!

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 Then Kate leads a really cool activity where we have a balloon and we have to keep it in the air while dancing. We do this solo and then with partners. I love the activity because it makes me think how to use my body creatively!

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 Then Hayley continues the class with some awesome choreography. It is really hard for me to catch on quickly, but I try not to be hard on myself because I started dancing last year.

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Class goes¬†by so fast! For the most part I am¬†present during the whole session, there are¬†a couple of moments when I become really self-conscious. I have a chance to briefly talk to one student! I wish we could have a pre-session where we do community building activities and get to know each other first. But, it was SO cool dancing together ūüėÄ

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Post¬†dance class we go¬†to the cafeteria and have lunch (rice, lentil beans and meatballs with passion fruit juice…mmmMMMm)!

Afterward we head over to Malamabo, an all girls orphanage outside of Panamá City. When we arrive we go on a tour of the orphanage, stopping in the baby and toddler wing and then each house arranged by age.

We split into our teaching groups. Hayley and Olivia lead the name game and warm-up ( I love introductions!) and Kim leads across the floor!

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¬†I teach the Bellydance choreography I learned in the Dance to Unite class I assisted this past year with teacher, Nooshi. I am really nervous and mess up a little, but Tinna and Olivia help me by translating. The girls learn the choreography quickly and ask for more. I’m really happy they like it! They ask me to perform for them and at first I’m really nervous and feel awkward, like I’m taking up time that should be used for something else. But, they keep asking so I do the whole dance.¬†Afterward, one of the girls asks me questions about Bellydance, about the music¬†I played and if she can see a photo of Nooshi.¬†I think, how cool it is that girls in another part of the world are learning the same¬†dance students in our Dance to Unite¬†Bronx class learned! I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here, to teach and learn from the other volunteers ūüôā

I feel like the girls wanted to see more because maybe they have not seen Bellydance or heard Arabic music before. The moment I was performing I felt like Dance to Unite was shining through me because they were being exposed to a dance form they possibly (because I don’t know) had not seen before. Being exposed to another culture through dance can cause people to become curious and want to learn more about that culture.

During NYC Dance Week, I took a Classical Japanese dance class at RESOBOX in Queens!

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Just taking one Classical Japanese dance class has encouraged me to learn more about Japanese culture and history, and connect with Japanese people.

¬†I’ve had friends from many different backgrounds, but I haven’t had many Asian friends (from Korea, China, Japan). As a kid I didn’t learn about any Asian cultures (and that’s why I am a strong advocate for¬†multicultural music, art, literature and general education during¬†early childhood) and so I grew up¬†being around Asian kids in class¬†but I did not know¬†anything about their culture.¬†I grew up in disconnection, whether disconnected from knowledge, disconnected from interaction and even just plain exposure. It wasn’t until recently that I started asking why is that? For example, I’m obsessed with traveling, but I initially shied away from traveling to some Asian countries. I asked myself why, and I think it’s because I was never exposed to different Asian cultures in school, home or saw images of Asians on television and movies. Now that I recognize this, I want to travel to different countries in Asia (and find media outlets that focus on different¬†Asian communities)! But, even before that happens, there’s plenty to learn here in New York City! I want to continue to take Classical Japanese classes and visit the Japanese Society¬†this summer.

Cheers to Dance to Unite and Movement Exchange!

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Creating A Dance Vision Board

“Dance is¬†Life”

That is what one of the new group leaders said a few Thursdays ago during Nooshi’s¬†Bellydance class in the Bronx. I couldn’t agree more!¬†When I first started my dance¬†adventure I took Bollywood classes. I thought that afterward I¬†would be able to remember all of¬†my¬†dance experiences fully and clearly. I had the idea that I would look back on everything and remember what I was wearing, other faces in the room, the music, specific movements,¬†emotions, feelings, what people said… the moment to moment happenings. But, dance doesn’t work like that. When I dance (and I’m sure when others do) I’m in the moment. I’m so present that it’s hard to describe. I love that about dance and at the same time whenever I’m not dancing I wish I could go into an immaculate library in my mind filled with all kinds of dance experiences and replay them exactly¬†how they occurred¬†so I could relive everything.

When I’m fully present in a dance class or Dance to Unite class I get a lot out of the experience. This makes me think about life in general; if I’m intentionally present on a daily basis I can get so much more out of life than disconnecting from the flow of it and entertaining anxious, worried fearful thoughts. I can feel fulfilled so much more dancing through life than future tripping or “over analysis leading to paralysis”. I encourage everyone¬†to let go and dance through life!

Dancing in the City

Highs

Beginner Bellydance classes at Serena Studios

I’m learning hip lifts and drops, how to make different figure 8s and different ways to shimmy, how to do large and small hip circles and have proper posture. Shimmying is really hard for me, especially with my shoulders. My arms also get tired from being up, so building arm strength is something I have to work on. Even though I get self-conscious sometimes about being thin and not being really curvy, I feel excited about taking the class.

Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney

I’m taking¬†Congolese with Funmilayo Chesney at Asase Yaa in Brooklyn! This class is energy medicine for me, meaning that after I take this dance class my energy level is through the roof. I come home and end up staying up until 2am (when other days I can hardly keep my eyes open). I have never felt so awake after a dance class, it’s very reinvigorating mostly because of the live drumming, the energy the teacher brings and the energy of everyone else dancing and connecting with each other through dance, music and singing. At the end of class we all form a big circle and different people¬†dance in the circle one at a time. I have always been deathly afraid of dancing in the circle by myself.¬†I have danced in the circle twice. I really want to dance in the circle with confidence by the end of the year!

Going to dance classes with friends!

Getting dance deals (helloo Living Social, if you don’t know, now ¬†you know, you know)

Lows

Not having money

¬†Living in NYC is expensive, and when I don’t have money for dance classes¬†I feel down sometimes.

Commuting from Staten Island

Between walking to the ferry, the process of loading and docking and walking to the train and getting off and walking to my destination after I get off the train (and often going to three different boroughs in the same day sometimes), by the end of the day I don’t feel like dancing because I’m so tired!

Knee pain

On a daily basis my knees hurt and it really makes it difficult to get around

In the end,¬†I’m so grateful for the dance opportunities I have had and that are happening now!

Dance/Movement Goals

What also keeps me going is the fact that my grandmother and I both made dance/movement goals. We¬†have different goals, but a few similarities are¬†doing yoga at least once a week, learning more about dance travel/tourism and a secret goal I won’t reveal until June or July. One of my personal dance goals is to focus on exploring and studying different dances from Africa and the African Diaspora and Bellydance. This summer I want to take a break from those classes and study¬†Semi-Classical Indian dance and Beginner Ballet. Another goal is to just explore different dance styles without studying them for long-term until I’m done with what I’m already studying. At the beginning of February, my grandmother and I sat down at the kitchen table and talked about our dance/movement goals, then I typed them up and now we have them taped to our walls.

Over the weekend we also created Dance Vision Boards to inspire and motivate us!

How to Create a Dance/Movement Vision Board

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On my board I have pictures that reflect the dance classes I’m taking right now (Bellydance and dances from the African Diaspora), the barefeet logo because I want to do what Mickela Mallozzi is doing, which is traveling around the world learning dances from different cultures, meeting different people and eating lots of delicious food! There is a white rose with musical notes on the petals to show my love for music, yoga poses by Yoga Rachael who I follow on Instagram and Dance to Unite’s logo for inspiration to learn more about the 13 Steps to Unity, and to remind me about the kids we serve. Under the ballerina on the right is the logo for the upcoming NYC Dance Parade in May which hopefully I can participate in. There is also a photo of a field of daffodils and that represents a very special aspiration I will blog about later on. I have a photo of two people dancing because one day I would like to try social dancing! I haven’t touched upon everything, but finally there are inspiration sayings like: “wherever you go, go with all your heart” by Confucius, “the quickest way to acquire self-confidence is to do exactly what you are afraid to do” by anon and “be brave with your life”.

1. Buy a poster board at Michael’s or another art and crafts supplies store (OR I’m totally for DIY, you can use the side of a large cardboard box instead).

2. Research dance/inspiration related photos on sites like Pinterest, Tumblr or Google Images

3. Copy and Paste to a Word Document

4. Print the document and cut out the pictures/words with scissors

5. Glue (or tape) them to your board

This was just a suggestion! You can create¬†your vision board however you want ūüôā

Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi

When I think about returning to dance and joining Dance to Unite, I feel a lot of joy. I also feel very passionately about learning about other cultures, especially through dance. I’m grateful to live in NYC where there are a plethora of opportunities to engage with people, places and things that are different than myself. When I’m not dancing in a studio or space around NYC, whenever I have time and money, I still continue my dance adventure online. Two weeks ago I was researching dance blogs and came across a woman who is doing exactly what I want to do. I was floored when I found her website, I could barely contain my excitement finding this lady, who travels and explores the world through dance.

It’s been six months since I’ve started this adventure and I’m literally at the very very tip of the iceberg with learning, experiencing and understanding the different dance forms in the world. I think I’ll be on this dance adventure for my entire life! I want to challenge myself along the way, and dance challenges for me are anything that deals with a lot of footwork, various social dances (because I’ll be nervous about messing up),making my movements clearer and catching on to choreography quicker.

Surely there will be surprise challenges, for example, Bellydancing. Two weeks ago I took my first beginner Bellydance class. Watching belly dancers online and having a little bit of experience with bellydance movements, I previously thought that bellydance would be easy. But after that class, I realize my perception was way off! Bellydance is more than drawing a figure eight with your hips. At the beginning of the class we focused a lot on making serpent-like movements with our hands and let me tell you, it was hard! The teacher demonstrated the move and I was like, “what the hell, how is she doing that?!”. My goal with Bellydance is to learn as much as I can and take a performance workshop.

I encourage you to try a dance that scares you! Or a dance you know you will suck at, haha! It will be well worth it to show yourself that you can do something you think you can’t do! Flamenco scares the shit out of me because of the footwork, but sometime at the end of the year I’m going to start taking classes.

Dance+Travel+Communing and Connecting with other People…This is it right here baby!!! Plus food, we can’t forget that!

Experience the world, one dance at a time with Mickela!

The Adventure is Only Beginning

I have been a Teacher’s Assistant for four months now. I can’t believe I’m actually assisting in a Bollywood and Kathak and Bellydance class. Before joining Dance to Unite I had no idea about either of these dance styles. Last August I had the opportunity to attend Claude Stein’s “Natural Singer” for five days at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York.¬†It was a ¬†workshop¬†for people who a) wanted to sing more because of pure enjoyment b) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of singing (even if they weren’t singing in front of people) and c) people who wanted to overcome their fear and anxiety of performing in front of crowds (me!) whether they were amateur or professional singer-songwriters. It was at Omega, during break time when dance sessions were offered, that I found myself in a dance studio, consumed by Bellydance music (I didn’t know from what country), tying a bright orange, pure white or red chiffon hip scarf around my waist. The teacher, with such a stunning presence, directed us to move our hips in a figure eight shape. We moved our arms slowly like the movements of a serpent and danced with colorful veils. Some sessions we danced with traditional golden Thai fingernails. I was sold on it all, I wanted to learn more about Bellydance and Thai dance. I thought it was so funny that two months later I would learn my first volunteer experience with Dance to Unite would be helping Nooshi with Bellydance.

I recently learned about Fifi Abdou, an Egyptian Bellydancer and actress. 

I’m also researching¬†more about different kinds of music that Belly dancers use. I really like the late Warda Al Jazairia, an Algerian and Lebanese singer born in France.¬†

In November I joined Vaishali’s class and like I said in another post, at the same time I was taking a Bollywood and Bhangra class with Ajna Dance. Then I started a new job working with Teaching Artists and my first assignment was assisting a Bhangra class for third, fourth and fifth graders in the Bronx. It was taught by a professional dancer trained in Odissi, a classical Indian dance. I have gained so much exposure to Indian culture and dance, but there is so much more that I want to learn and understand.

Nava Durga- Odissi

Odissi Dance “Sthayee” by Rahul Acharya at the International Odissi Festival (2006)

Mini Class Update 

In both classes we have covered the following steps from Dance to Unite’s “13 Steps to Unity”; Dance to Unite’s mission, culture, unity, acceptance and respect. The last time I posted a class update, I wrote about how the students and teachers shared their backgrounds and cultures during Circle Talk. In the two classes after that concept, we talked about unity. It was interesting to hear the students talk about their experiences regarding division between different cultures and races/ethnicities and their thoughts on what perpetuates lack of unity among people of different backgrounds. One student described a friendship that was ruined because of differences and felt it¬†was stupid. Another explained how people don’t take time to get to know each other on a personal or/and cultural level. Others spoke about the¬†unfairness of overgeneralizing a people and held a discussion on why people are grouped together as being this (negative) and that (negative) instead of being viewed as an individual responsible¬†for their own actions. We ¬†continued by asking the students how they could embody unity in their lives.

“Just say hi to someone who is different than you,” one girl said.

“Dancing with others who are different is unity,” said another.¬†

In Nooshi’s class, (which by the way, another volunteer Katrina has joined us!) we talked about acceptance, including everything from accepting other people’s differences, to other people’s opinions, accepting ourselves and annoying mothers who just don’t understand. ¬†When we talked about respect a lot of the conversation turned toward (cyber)bullying, how to prevent oneself from bullying, how to respond to it and seeing things from another person’s perspective. There are really opinionated girls and others who do not share their thoughts (next class we’re going to encourage them to share).

Sometimes Circle Talk runs over a bit because we are having such a great conversation. We are like archaeologists, excavating and examining not only deep issues, but most importantly solutions (Dance to Unite emphasizes the positive) through personal stories, and returning to the surface shining a light on positive responses, attitudes and behaviors we are capable of doing when the going gets tough. And boy, these conversations can sometimes be a little tough. Many children and teenagers know what’s going on in the world, they know about racism, sexism, isms ect. And what I find in these two classes is that the kids bring up real world issues that they face directly or happen to others. I like this because the students learn how the 13 Steps to Unity¬†can be applied to¬†real world situations (look out for a future post on the 13 Steps to Unity and the complexity and simplicity of fostering cross-cultural relationships/communities).

I’m also starting to feel more comfortable about discussing DtU’s concepts knowing I have work to do on myself. I don’t think spreading positive messages is exclusive to perfect people (who are qualified because they are perfect)…because perfect people don’t exist. Just as a regular teacher learns while she or he is teaching, ¬†Dance to Unite teachers can learn more about themselves regarding the 13 Steps to Unity. I just want to say this because positive messages will be buried-six feet-under messages if the sentiment is that perfect people should spread unity, acceptance and peace. I understand walking the walk and talking to talk. However, we all learned how to walk and we all learned how to talk, it’s a process.

Dance to Unite provides a broader horizon of options on how to show up in the world. To me, underlying each concept is power and in every class we are teaching kids all the different (super)powers they have; uniting with different people, and respecting themselves and others. And then after all that, we dance!

Kathak choreography in the beginning in Vaishali’s class

Tying our colorful¬†chiffon hip scarves in Nooshi’s class and starting with a warm-up

Sometimes classes are challenging because the students are talking too much, not listening, not feeling motivated to participate or come in late. But that’s just a part of the ups and downs of class. Learning how to deal with those challenges are learning lessons for the teachers and I.

Stay tuned for more posts about finding appropriate Hip-Hop songs for kids, more classes at Cumbe, my secret dream to be a Bellydancer performer and my first attempt at choreography!

Mondays at Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn

Bollywood and Kathak with Vaishali 

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Thursdays at Entrada Academy in the Bronx

Bellydance with Mehrnoush

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Throwing The Biggest Baddest Party for Cultural Diversity Through Dance

Dance to Unite Class #2

October 9, 2014

I had a terribly stuffy nose and I despise stuffy noses. But of course, I hardly noticed during the class and plus Mehrnoush bought me Cranberry juice which was so kind. During Circle Talk, we talked about the second concept of the “13 Steps to Unity”–Culture. Mehrnoush asked the girls what did culture mean to them and some said traditions, customs, what people share in common. Then we all went around and talked about our backgrounds; where are families are from, what kind of music we listen to and the food we eat. Many of the girls were either African-American, Dominican, Puerto Rican or both.

Mehrnoush explained she was born and raised in Iran until she and her family moved to Germany. I think it’s pretty cool she speaks Farsi, German and English and knows a little bit of Spanish! The group leader spoke about being African-American and eating Soul Food. I loved hearing all the stories about food, because I like learning about different food cultures and the history behind the food culture (for example, for school I did a short powerpoint on street food from different Latin American countries and I learned¬†that Peru has a lot of Japanese influence).

When it was my turn¬†I was a bit hesitant. “Should I acknowledge my other identity?” I asked myself, “because...” I continued, “I don’t have to, no one would ever know”. ¬†But before I could analyze more, (and that sounds like me, over analyzing until I’m like “wait, what was I thinking about”) I started speaking. “I’m half African-American and half Ghanaian. My father lives in Ghana and yeah. And I have a good friend who is Guyanese and I love going to her house because it is so different from mine”. “There, I did it.” I thought. The irony of the whole thing is that as Circle Talk continued, Mehrnoush explained how it is more than okay to embrace who we are and to be open to other people and their cultures. I listened and thought about embracing my Ghanaian heritage which I know nothing about. It is something to think about.

In a flash it was time to start dancing. The girls took their places, Mehrnoush put on the music and we began to warm-up.

Cultural diversity is no mistake.

BIODIVERSITY (Merriam-Webster dictionary): the existence of many different kinds of plants and animals in an environment.

Diversity is all around us, whether human beings and their diverse personalities, animals and plants. I celebrate cultural diversity, I celebrate the extrovert and introvert, I celebrate that there are giraffes, peacocks, polar bears and not just one lonesome animal roaming the earth. I celebrate Blue Spruce and Aspen trees, red roses, Hibiscus flowers, I celebrate all the diversity we still don’t know about.

The world is so vast with diversity and at the center of it all is life. Yay for that.

Until next time…

From Staten Island to the Boogie Down Bronx

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Dance to Unite: Class #1

October 2, 2014

I’m always the person who has a low cellphone battery when I need my cellphone the most. However on this day, I didn’t find myself waiting for Galit in the Lower East Side with a red bar. No…I found myself on the corner of West 14th with a dead cellphone in my bag, nervously pacing back and forth wondering if Galit and I would have a hard time finding each other. We planned to meet in the LES ¬†and take the 5 train to the Bronx together. BUT, since my phone was dead I could not call or text her, so there I was feeling naked without my phone.

I don’t know why I worried so much, (like that quote “worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”) Galit and I found each other and hopped on the 5 train going uptown. ¬†When we got off the train we met up with Merhnoush and excitedly walked over to the school. We met with the principal (who is¬†very enthusiastic about the program) and the group leader who will also help us with¬†the class. ¬†Then we went into the hallway and for the first time, saw the faces of the¬†girls we would be working with until June of next year. We went to the second floor and stood in front of a classroom door anxiously waiting for someone to come with the keys to open it. Once the door was open, the magic began. I saw that we would be teaching them in a dance studio. The room has so much space, shiny wooden floors and big mirrors that cover one wall.

Everyone put their belongings¬†down, took off their¬†shoes and sat in a circle.¬†I can’t tell you what I was thinking from 4pm-5pm, all I know is that I was in the moment, and that’s a good thing! Galit introduced herself and explained the mission of Dance to Unite. Then she described the class outline which includes five to ten minutes of Circle Talk (when we talk about a concept from Dance to Unite’s 13 Steps to Unity) and then dancing.

After she spoke we all went around and said our names and then went right into a warm-up. I love stretching. I try to do it every morning right after I wake up. I want to say “hello knee, hello back, hello arms” instead of “hello internet, hello Facebook, hellooo Instagram”. ¬†But sometimes I can’t help myself and take a peak at social media first. Mehrnoush turned the music on and briefly taught the girls how to move their arms, hands and wrists,¬†and how to move their torsos, “right, out, left, back…now put it together and…”

Some students were deeply focused, ¬†some looked around hesitant, shyly or as though embarrassed , others laughed and smiled. But they were all trying and seemed engulfed in the moment just as much as me! Mehrnoush started teaching the¬†choreography and the girls caught on wonderfully! ¬†Before I knew it, it was time to go and¬†I was like “already?!”The first class was a success! Can’t wait for the next one!

Learn more about Dance to Unite. Become a Volunteer or Donate!