Through the Cincinnati Contemporary Dance Theater, I joined a team of artists to teach and guide non-violent women felons through the healing process of owning their stories of incarceration, by paintings, theater improv, journal writing, and dance titled- the “Inside Out”- Prison Project. The residency ended with a sharing, where the public could enter the common space of the prison, witness their work, and hear their stories. The other inmates who did not participate in the project were able to watch the sharing outside of their jail cells from a balcony above the performance. The result was giving the inmates a voice to help them unburden the shame and pain of their experience, and the audience was able to find a shared ground with someone they may otherwise discount in society. One audience member said, “It is hard to hate people up close.” That was our goal.
As an educator and artist for over thirty years, I see the lasting impact meaningful creative movement experiences have on a person, class, or community. I know when we refuse to connect, our fears of others may grow without logic, and we lean towards isolation by avoiding people versus embracing anyone “new” to our experience. If you have ever felt “othered”, you will find a sense of normalcy and peace by merely walking into the creative space with others. One example is an outreach I co-taught with other artists titled- “Racial Insights through the Arts”. Students from two campuses, both with diverse enrollment, gathered weekly to explore conflict resolution through photography, writing plays and dancing. The course ended with a final performance open free to the public where social justice organizations, mental health professionals and support groups were present after the show, to inform the public of services and events to continue the connection. This outreach validated my whole combined life experience, which culminated in a performance that changed and united a community in ways they did not think possible. This is my passion and life’s vision.