Outreach Program with Incarcerated Youth
“Under the guidance of a professional dancer, a group of teenaged girls is setting a poem by Pablo Neruda into motion, developing choreography that echoes the literary devices, while underscoring the poem’s deeper meaning.
This all takes place beneath the dispassionate gaze of a uniformed guard, stationed by the door—a giveaway that this is not a typical dance class. The participants in this exercise are all young offenders, incarcerated at New Mexico’s state juvenile detention center. For the past 10 years, the Albuquerque-based Keshet Dance Company has been working with the center to teach movement-based classes that support the literacy and math skills taught in the center’s on-site school.
Because of being incarcerated, moving frequently, or dropping out, “many of the young people are behind in school,” points out Shira Greenberg, Keshet’s artistic director. “And, many just don’t learn well, sitting at a desk.”
During a geometry unit, for example, dancers might ask the participants to develop dance moves with their arms or legs held at certain precise angles. “When they actually sit down at a desk, and they’re asked to define an obtuse angle, they go, ‘Oh right, I did that across the floor,’ ” Greenberg explains.
However, dance teaches much more than textbook concepts. As they support each other’s weight during dips or leaps, students develop trust. Partner dances, like the tango, give young people the opportunity to learn to resolve conflicts nonviolently when one person messes up the footwork. In addition, through choreography and performance, the institutionalized youth—whose opportunities for creative self-expression are otherwise severely limited—learn that what they can imagine, they can make happen. That skill will be critical upon their release, when they begin to design new futures for themselves.
Thanks to Keshet’s post-release program, after leaving the facility, young people can continue to work with the company’s trusted mentors, who provide a vital support system during the difficult transition back into the community.
The Outreach Program is dramatically improving math and literacy skills and decreasing conflicts among incarcerated youth. To date, all 10 young people in Keshet’s post-release program have stayed out of trouble and are pursuing college or jobs. Keshet means “rainbow” in Hebrew. At the end of the rainbow, after they leave the program, participants find their own golden opportunities.”
“When I was around Keshet people, they never looked at me and judged me, or made a diagnosis about me, or said, ‘That’s a bad kid.’ They always treated me like a person, no matter what they had heard about me.”Indie C. former participant, Outreach Program with Incarcerated Youth