SO MUCH GRACE
Come dance with me
Over murder and pain
Come and set you free
Over heartache and shame
Come dance with me
Over heartache and rage
Come set us free
Over panic and strange
From “Man on Fire” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
These words ring inside the gymnasium of the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. A group of inmates, many of whom are serving life without parole, spend one hour a week here, dancing together. Lucy Wallace, co-owner (with Jenna Noah) of Boulder dance studio Alchemy of Movement, teaches what has swiftly become a very popular class. All choreography and direction is Wallace’s, set to music that she has found moving or inspiring and wants to share.
Wallace is a gifted and compassionate teacher whose style is vocal and impassioned, raunchy and raw, while simultaneously elegant and fluid. To be in one of her classes (I have attended classes at the studio) is to be both vulnerable and strong, to have fun and push oneself physically, to feel what one feels, and to move about it. Imagine how powerful that could be for incarcerated women.
This is the meat of Dance 2B Free, a 501c3 run on an entirely volunteer basis. Wallace is the co-founder, with Gayle Nosal. Dance 2B Free also consists of DVDs of filmed classes, which are available at the prison, and a teacher training program. The training of interested and committed inmates to become instructors themselves is an inspired idea that has become a great success.
Wallace says it has taken the energy and purpose of Dance 2B Free to a whole new level. She describes “playful moments” during the trainings, and the general awareness that the group was “tapping into something (that was already there)….bigger than us.” This shared “mind/body experience” has been extended from SoulSweat (a core class at Alchemy) to Dance 2B Free, to the teacher training. Once the training course is completed, these women will not only have a viable and positive skill to employ once released, they will be equipped to further extend the positivity and healing potential of dance.
As mentioned on the Dance 2B Free website, a study by Dr. Bronwyn Tarr and her team concluded that “synchrony and exertion during dance independently raise pain threshold and encourage social bonding.” Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk writes, “Dancing is seen as a reparative experience that directly contradicts the terror, helplessness and invisibility of trauma to enable survivors to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives.” Certainly it has proven so for many of the inmates. Wallace has made breathing exercises and journaling part of the weekly classes, and collated poems and other writings for the inmates to keep.
I’ve long wondered why dance/intentional movement is such an effective form of expression. It may be that, just as humans developed language for the purpose of creating social structures for survival, humans use dance to share feelings and experiences: to communicate. Wallace brought to my attention the work of researcher Brené Brown, who has said that connection is our purpose as human beings. In order to make connections, we must be seen. In order to be seen, we must be our authentic selves, which means being vulnerable. Brown suggests dancing as one of the few examples of full body vulnerability. This would indeed make dancing a very good way to make connections!
Recently Wallace has started expanding the program to Pueblo, where there is a medium-security women’s prison, and into Nebraska, where it has been very well received. She hopes to extend the reach of the program much further, but the logistical issues of the current team going even as far as Pueblo have made it clear that additional trained and devoted teachers are required for the program to effectively spread. However, Wallace remains undaunted. When I asked what is most needed by the non-profit at the moment, she stresses donations and funding to maintain and facilitate expansion. Basic requirements such as gas, driver/teacher room and board, and curriculum development remain (surmountable, with help!) obstacles. Learn more and donate at http://www.dance2bfree.org/ and http://www.alchemyofmovement.com/.
Jane E. Werle: At three months of age Jane E. Werle, unable to protest, was removed from Loveland, Colorado by her well-meaning parents. In 2004 she was able to rectify this error when she relocated from Massachusetts to Boulder for graduate school. One M.F.A. and a husband later, Jane works to further the arts in the Front Range as a writer (reviewer, interviewer, curator) and enthusiast (no-shame, first-on-the-floor amateur– despite some training– dancer). Jane is also a longtime nanny and a visual artist, taking one of these very seriously and the other as a growth experience. Every child she’s cared for has experienced some form of the SDP: Spontaneous Dance Party.