A group of Dancing Ground students posing in front of a blighted house in New Orleans, LA (photo by Fernando Lopez)

How High School Students in New Orleans are Advocating for Social Change Through Dance

In New Orleans, LA, Dancing Grounds is more than just your average dance studio. Of course, the students dance—but they also have the opportunity to use their artistic talents to advocate for social justice issues.

Founded in 2012, Dancing Grounds has hosted six Dance for Social Change festivals. They originally started as a series of dance workshops that culminated in site-specific performances, and have grown each year to further encompass the studio's mission of cultivating youth artists and social justice advocates. DG Uprising is the group of high school students behind the festival. "The program is free for all students entering ninth grade all the way up to seniors," says Randall Rosenberg, Youth Programs director at Dancing Grounds.

Students begin preparing for the springtime Dance for Social Change Festival in September, meeting weekly to delve into the topics that affect them most. "Our first Dance for Social Change was about the school-to-prison pipeline and how the practices of the charter-school system in New Orleans affect the students both inside the school and after they leave the school in various ways, positive and negative," Rosenberg says. "The topics are always student chosen."

Youth performance groups from were around the city were invited to showcase work in the courtyard of ARISE Academy during the November Block Party. (Photo by Chiron Wicker)

The festival encompasses the dance styles that the students bring in, as well as poetry, music and visual arts. "Any art that you have access to can be used to express yourself," Rosenberg says. "Using dance as a medium forces someone to stop and assess what it means to them at a deeper level."

Daniel G., a sophomore with DG Uprising, started off in the youth program at Dancing Grounds. "As I got older and was moving to high school, I realized that dance could mean something more. It can have an impact, tell a story and spread awareness. DG Uprising was a needed outlet for my voice and the voices of other youth in New Orleans," he says.

DG Uprising students lead warm-up for audience members at 2019-2020 Dance for Social Change Block Party in November 2019. (Photo by Chiron Wicker)

Growing up in the youth program at Dancing Grounds, Amaya S., now a sophomore with DG Uprising, couldn't wait to join the ranks. "My favorite part about the program is being able to create pieces about topics that affect our lives on a daily basis. Also, being able to create art that can emotionally move people," she says. According to Amaya, the program has helped her become more in touch with the emotional aspects of dance, specifically storytelling.

This year's Dance for Social Change Festival, originally scheduled for March, was delayed due to the pandemic to May, and eventually celebrated virtually. According to Rosenberg, the extra two months allowed for creative innovation, and what was originally a 45-minute performance turned into a 20-minute film shown over Zoom. The festival included virtual panel discussions and workshops centered on this year's theme of gentrification and displacement.

Rosenberg says that the program has long-lasting effects on the students, both in how they look at dance and how they look at the world around them. He hopes to expand the work of Dancing Grounds to the community at large. "I don't think there is such a thing as 'enough social justice advocates,' and the more students we can get involved talking about the problems of today, the brighter a future we can create for tomorrow," he says.

Latest Posts

Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo courtesy of Brittany Conigatti

Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti

Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.

Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.

The cast of Annie Live! poses for a group photo. The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search