How This NYC Youth Dance Program Prioritizes Inclusivity

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Photo Source: Roberto Falck

Diane Jacobowitz founded Dancewave in 1995 with the hope of bringing dance to a wide spectrum of city youth. She has taught dance to young people and adults for over 26 years at various institutions and continues to create opportunities for artists through her leadership.

What is Dancewave’s current mission and what sets it apart from other dance schools in Brooklyn?
Dancewave is the dance education non-profit that focuses on the development of the whole person through a dance experience that’s acceptable to all. Our unique model provides diverse training, artistic integrity, access for all, and a supportive environment. Students are mentored by accomplished dance professionals which allows for personal growth as well as an immersive dance education. They also have an opportunity to join our pre-professional dance companies. Our young students are treated right from where they are as artists. We work from there with them and give them voice.

We are very committed to youth development practices and to restorative practices. We are involved in there is a lot of one on one with the kids in the pre-professional companies. About once a month we do something called regroup and sit down and talk about whatever that is: how do you schedule your life as a high school student, weighing homework versus rehearsals, how do we take better care of ourselves, injury prevention, how do we all get along, personal goals.

What skills will students pick up through your program?
Aside from the fact that they are getting pre-professional training in the companies and getting exposed to a wide variety of styles, we want our kids to have the opportunity to embrace or be exposed to a wide range of different styles and that happens when they work with different choreographers for example. More than that, I think because of the youth develop aspect of what we do, our young people learn to be articulate, self confident spokespersons for themselves and speaking up about things that matter in the world. When we say young artist citizens, it may mean that they’re not all going to become professional dancers, but are they going to love dance for the rest of their life? Probably. They will probably if they’re not dancing become a proponent of dance in some way and they’ll also have that self respect that they will take with them for the rest of their lives.

What’s the first step for young people looking to start a career in dance?
I think they do need to study. I suggest they start studying as soon as they can, and when they do that make sure that they are doing a diverse kind of training and they aren’t pigeon-holing themselves to one kind of dance. The ballet world is speaking to the modern world, they are hiring modern choreographers all the time, and modern is moving towards ballet in a lot of ways too. There’s jazz and contemporary and afro modern! And it’s kind of blending together and I think that’s great. I do recommend ballet, mixed well with other things so that they can become versatile and flexible dancers.

READ: 5 Styles of Dance Every Performer Should Know

What kind of outreach do you do? Do you see your outreach programs expanding beyond NYC?
We do an event called “dancing through college and beyond” which is a nation-wide event. We do it in collaboration with the 92nd Street Y and we have dance college departments from all over the country come. Last year we had over 50 different schools represented. They all get a table at the college fair, but there are also panel discussions and auditions. This is important because one of Dancewave’s missions is to help young people who cannot afford lessons or cannot afford to fly for a dance program that they might get into. From here they can audition and some colleges even give out scholarships.

What are some trends that you’re seeing in the dance world today?
One thing I see that I don’t like is that this whole culture of monetizing everything has kind of seeped into the dance world. I see value and I see the important of competitions dance; it makes you better or worse or fail or succeed, and that aspect about it is not so healthy for young people trying to grow up and be self-confident. I admire what goes on in competition and the technical achievement is important, but I do think that it's really important that as we move forward in understanding how to grow dance and make it part of our culture that we don’t get so caught up in the money and competitive aspect of it. It’s already so competitive! And people are is hard on themselves. I think it’s a good thing that it boosts an excitement about dance and anything that does that, I’m behind. But at the same time i think it’s important that we nurture and support the young people in all their aspects of dance, because everyone can dance. Whether they become professionals or not is not the issue sometimes. It’s important not to turn people off from dancing just because they don’t do 50 pirouettes. There’s got to be a little bit more of the nurturing. I think this is where Dancewave takes a stand to be more inclusive in celebrating everyone in the room, the community, and embracing dance. I think as a wise dance community we should temper that with a love of ourselves and particularly with young people.

On the other hand, the internet and social media, the most often read posts are dancing! People are more attracted to seeing those videos that people are posting about their own dancing or a company that they’re dancing with. It seems like that is creating a better dance audience for all of us, which is a good thing! We want dance to not just be for dancers but for everyone. The more that the public gets excited about dance, we also will have more support: donors that we all need for companies and organizations, so that we can grow and be respected as an art form. Stuff on the internet gets people excited about dancing.

READ: 15 Reasons You Were Born to Be a Dancer

You have really prominent featured artists come in to teach the Dancewave pre-professional company. What is the biggest benefit for these young dancers working with established choreographers?
There’s something to be said about working with a master artist, someone who has delved into the craft of choreography on a level that is pretty high, and you get to actually physically experience that as a teenager. Here you are working with Camille Brown, or Mark Morris, or Bill T. Jones or Paul Taylor, all these people that we have worked with. These kids get that experience in their body of what that feels like and they get a chance to see the structure and know in their bodies a dance that has been created by a master artist. It teaches them choreography, movement, transitions, and flow, but on a social level, part of learning to be a dancer is also the social network that you need to get connected to. These kids graduate and they already know these folks and have a one on one relationship that gives them a leg up in terms of connecting. When they go to audition for these companies they already have a personal relationship with them and I think that’s wonderful. Anything I can do to help these young dancers get connected to the dance world and continue dancing, I want to support.

It also gives our dancers a sense of sophistication and they have a sense of what’s out there. Who are the major artists? That’s important! It gives them a sense of the spread of ideas and techniques and styles that are out there and then they can choose where they want to go as they pursue their own careers.

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