This week’s Monday Love Insight is from Turning the Wheel! 

Every Body Dances, Every Story Shines!

By Lulu Delphine

Oftentimes, non-profit organizations cater to survival needs, such as food, shelter and healthcare. From a functional perspective, this makes sense, because one’s survival needs must be taken care of before anything else can evolve. However, we also need people and organizations that are asking the question, How can people THRIVE? When we are asking this question, we
are looking at long term resilience and the possibility for new emerging paradigms.

Members of an organization called Dance First understand the power, healing and revelatory
capacity of movement and the body. And Turning the Wheel, a non-profit organization founded by Dance First member Alana Shaw, understands how movement and performance is a catalyst for ALL PEOPLE’S liberation.
Turning the Wheel was dedicated to fostering inclusion before it was a buzzword by inviting underprivileged youth and their mentors to play, move and be seen. And over the last 35 years of its national outreach work, this simple invitation has moved mountains. Communities have healed and flourished, learning has landed, families have looked each other in the eyes and reconnected, labels have been shed, voices have been heard, stories have been witnessed, and new possibilities have been sewn into the very fabric of young people’s being. TTW and its facilitators know from the teachers they work with that there is a rise in youth anxiety, depression and learning challenges, not to mention school staffing and funding.

However, as movers know well, the body is the fundamental mechanism for change, and TTW
sees new possibilities blooming one program at a time, even in the midst of such challenges. TTW’s philosophy to teach from what we want to create has remained consistent over the years, as has our delight in shining the light on all people’s capacity for uncovering their own
unique, creative expression and partnership for the greater good through collaboration. And if you’ve ever seen a TTW community performance, you know that true authenticity (supported by thoughtful improvisational scores, a team of dedicated facilitators and a wildly talented musical accompanist) leaves a lasting imprint on the audience and participants.

Turning the Wheel facilitators have shared some reflections from the field and we wanted to share those with you, Dance First members, so you can hold a candle for the successes of our youth and the power of dance! We invite you to consider the layers of imprinted life skills for participants from each experience as you read the reflections.

We were creating dances with a 4th grade class in Port Angeles, WA. Each member of the group created their own movement to contribute to the dance. After we created these dances together we sat down to ask the students what they enjoyed about the process of creating this work together. Students responded by saying they loved how they got to be creative in their own way. One student said “I liked how we communicated and talked with one another throughout this process.” Another student said that they liked that we got to have a part of everyone in the group in the dance together, each person’s personality got to shine through.”

A group of struggling students was brought to us and after some posturing and self-selecting the group seemed ready to begin. We facilitated “Lead and Follow” and it blew the room open. The energy entirely shifted! After a couple of additional exercises, we got into small groups and asked them what they noticed. Some of their statements were: “It’s okay to feel awkward and feel scared, you can do it anyway!” and, “It’s okay to be myself.” Later in the day one of these students poked their head into the room where we were having lunch and told us how much he loved his experience.

A teacher had some observations to share about our time with her class: the students had a writing project they were working on and after our time with them, the student’s writing changed significantly. She said it was more creative and expressive. She also shared that the
students readily asked for help. She felt that trust had been deepened as well as their sense of themselves as leaders and ability to advocate for themselves.

We were working with high school students in Iowa playing different movement improv games. After one of these games, we sat down to ask the students what they liked about that particular game. This game has an element of both being a good leader and a good follower. We told two of the young boys that we saw what great leaders they both were being. One of the students
was particularly taken aback because he had never been called a leader before. He never saw himself as someone who can lead. It deeply impacted both him and us.

While working in a middle school in Boulder, CO I was blown away but the student’s passion and commitment for strong team work with their fellow classmates. Before we begin our performance, we do an affirmation circle, weaving positive words together. I had two groups of
boys who said phrases such as “Even if this feels silly, let’s make sure to give it our all, show up for our team.” “We can do this together.” “Let’s show up together, even if it’s scary to perform.” This particular group of students showed up for one another so strongly, and the performance was a great showcase of community, and unconditional love and acceptance for one another.

Early in the week, one of our students was having difficulty staying with the group – pulling themselves out if an activity seemed too hard for them. By the end of the week, they were so confident and exuberant in their performance it made all of us smile. Their movements showed uniquely creative form and execution. She had gained a level of comfort with her own expression to be fully present and uninhibited. Another student was having a particularly hard day and through the patience and good attention of one facilitator was able to overcome a
stressful situation and calm themselves enough to join in joyfully! Their feelings were affirmed and allowed and could come to a resolution.

In a 4th grade classroom, one student was distracting the group from their task by not only refusing to participate but pulling other students into his antics. Once he saw that the work was self-directed, meaning they got to decide what to do and direct the other students to create
their scene, he couldn’t wait for his next turn at leadership. Students really appreciate the ability
to create from their own imagination, without direction from adults. They often show up as their best in these situations and step into ownership for what they  contribute.

We were working with a 5th grade class in Port Angeles, WA. It was a 5 day program ending in a performance created by the students. One the first day, a student asked to sit out and watch the class. We said no problem. This student sat and watch his fellow classmates play different games, create movement and art together. On Thursday he asked to join one of the groups, because of all his watching he knew exactly what to do. He overcame his fear and jumped right in. He performed with his entire class the next day in front of an audience. He was so strong in his performance no one would have ever know he only practice for 2 days! His classmates welcomed him so whole heartedly to the group when he was ready to join.

Thank you to Turning the Wheel facilitators Suzanne Palmer and Abbey Dubois for their reflections from the field.

For more information about becoming a certified TTW facilitator, or to join TTW in bringing the power of dance and creative expression to underprivileged communities, please contact Abbey Dubois at

Monday Morning Yes with Alana!
Join Alana Shaw every Monday morning on Facebook Live for a 5 minute playful joyful start to your week. Don’t miss this chance to land in a yes to yourself.

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