Jul 17, 2014
01:11 PMConnecticut Today
Connecticut Ballet’s Juvenile Justice Outreach Program Makes an Impact
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It is clear that the girls have bonded with Craig. They trust her, and while they aren’t always eager to dance, they like having her around.
Many of the young people in these residential and detention facilities come from tough backgrounds. Some have behavioral and/or health issues. When creating a program, Raphael works to pair the right instructor with the right group. In the case of St. Agnes, he chose Craig for her dance ability, but also because she was a teen mother herself. She could relate to the girls on a deeply personal level.
“My experience as a teen mom broke down some barriers,” Craig says. “I know that I gained a little more of their trust and respect knowing that 18 years ago I was in the same boat as they were…I felt a sense of belonging myself and that fact made me want to connect with them even further.”
“It’s about knowing the turf and having the right teaching artists going in,” Raphael explains. “There are all kinds of skill building.”
Each outreach program is very different, created through discussions about what the facility needs from an arts program.
The Klingberg Family Centers’ Webster House in New Britain is a residential living facility for youths ages 12 to 18 who have behavioral health issues and co-occurring medically complex needs. Laura Centurelli, coordinator of the home, says that many of the residents there have diabetes, so there is a major emphasis on healthy eating and exercise.
In forming programs with Connecticut Ballet, Webster House wanted to offer more fitness options. Centurelli says they have brought in many different artists to teach a variety of programs from Latin dance to hip hop. Recently, musician Asaad Jackson (right) taught an African drumming class and dancer Cruz (Alejandro Cruz) offered a hip hop class.
Like the residents, Cruz has a medical issue; he’s hearing impaired. Growing up, music and dancing were an escape, and that’s what he wants to bring to the group—an opportunity to let go and have fun.
“I want to show them that you can cope with dance,” Cruz says.
It’s not always easy, though. As with the young women at St. Agnes, Cruz says, sometimes the residents want to participate and sometimes they don’t—and the second they’re tired or feel their blood sugar drop, they move on.
“They have their ups and downs, but I try to get them to come back,” he says.
Jackson agrees that attendance can be a little hit or miss in his drumming class. At his final session, only one young person opted to participate, performing rhythms he had learned over the last few weeks. Jackson says one-on-one instruction is really useful because everyone is at a different level with the drumming.
“The interest level varies day to day, but I think they’ve been able to take something away from it,” he says.
During his classes, Jackson tries to incorporate lessons on the origins of djembe drums and how to properly care for them. All instructors are encouraged to add pieces of information about their disciplines to elevate the learning experience.