Director of the Dandelion Dance Performance Company and Neighbourhood Arts 150 artist-facilitator, Kelsey Walsh, shares some of her thoughts regarding community-engaged arts.
Dandelion Dance has profoundly shaped my work as a community-engaged artist. Integrating arts and developmental psychology, the Dandelion approach focuses on attachment – building authentic relationships with participants. I have experienced time and again how attachment sets the stage for dance – and other arts – to become an incredible tool for self-discovery, creation, and leadership.
What exactly do I mean by attachment? As an artist-educator, I aim to create a context for connection, taking the time needed to listen and learn about my participants, and for my participants to listen and learn from each other. This is how a space can materialize where participants feel comfortable opening up and speaking through their art making.
Taking the time to build relationships allows those in a creative process to recognize their shared vulnerabilities. From this vulnerable place, participants let go of judgments that tend to be responsible for blocking creativity, or growth, or friendship.
Relationships also build trust and trust is key when it comes to capacity building. Although 5 weeks is a short time-span, my goal with the Neighbourhood Arts 150 project is that the girls I work with want to trust me and that they truly feel I am on their side. When those we work with trust our judgment, they begin to recognize their capacity because we have recognized it. When participants see themselves through our eyes they become the powerful and creative artists we glimpsed from day one!
Working with Dandelion Dance has also taught me that there are times when participants’ capacities are hidden. Too often girls don’t believe in themselves and it can be hard to help them feel confident enough to collaborate and contribute. In these cases, we have to imagine because, ultimately we know each girl has so much to share. Dandelion Dance’s approach is this:
…imagine what you wish to see in your participants,
…tell your participants you see their capacities – even when you don’t –
…and be patient.
When you see and speak to the beauty in a dancer – and there is always beauty – they will begin to relax, let go, and dance beautifully!
Whether or not you are the most exciting and innovative artist or the most compelling and passionate teacher, I believe you have to be in genuine relationship with those you work with in order to truly engage in social change.
A community, just like a child, already has everything inside them. Our role, as community-engaged artists and practitioners, is to create a space where the discovery of human potential can unfold.
Kelsey Walsh, Director of Performance Company, Head of Youth Programs