VIDEO: Reshaping lives through dance

By Isabella Szabolcs

Girls from Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods now have a refuge thanks to the dance program Recycled Barre. Having faced similar struggles in low-income communities, Benito Juarez public school teachers Dianne Martinez and Barbara San-Roman started the dance program so that their students could take affordable and accessible dance classes.

Most dance classes in Chicago are located in the city or in the northern suburbs and classes are usually too expensive for these families. To keep costs low, Martinez and San-Roman are transforming under-utilized spaces in closed-down public schools and in the community into dance studios. They are also partnering with the Dance Center at Columbia College, enlisting dance students there to help teach the classes.

Angie Garcia performs the dance routine she choreographed herself. (Medill/Isabella Szabolcs)
Angie Garcia performs the dance routine she choreographed herself. (Medill/Isabella Szabolcs)

These young high-school girls come from rough backgrounds in Chicago’s inner city. Many of them have had to deal with tough situations in their environment. Angie Garcia, 16, says her mother, an alcoholic, started kicking her out of her home when she was only 12. “It makes me think, does she have that same love for me?” Garcia said. “But for her to keep continuing doing that, it just made my heart break.”

Life outside home hasn’t been easy for her either, and she says her life has recently been in danger. “People are telling me I’m going to get popped, I’m going to get beat up and that something’s going to happen to me… what if they do take my life away you know, I’m really scared,” Garcia said.

For girls like Garcia, Recycled Barre has become a refuge from their rough environment. “They made it feel like home, like a real family you know. I have like another team to look out for and I know they look out for me as much as I look out for them,” Garcia said. The dance program has also given the girls a healthy way of expressing their difficult emotions.

“They can really get to something deeper and richer that maybe can’t be written about and can’t be spoken about but they can get to it in their body and their dancing,” said Dardi McGinley-Gallivan, Senior Lecturer at Columbia College’s Dance Center.

“It helps me get rid of my emotions instead of doing something bad…you can just dance and take all your struggles and take everything you’ve been through and release it all, it’s just dance makes me a better person,” said Garcia. For many, it’s helped them become more responsible, disciplined and hard working. They’ve even started doing better in school.

Like Martinez and San-Roman, the girls want to give back to the community when they grow up. They too dream of becoming dance teachers and hope to inspire intercity girls to change the direction of their lives. Until then, the girls are helping Recycled Barre raise money for the studio’s launch this summer. They will hold their first fundraiser on June 5.

Photo at top: Inner-city girls from Chicago’s South and West Sides take a dance class through Recycled Barre. (Medill/Isabella Szabolcs)

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