Battery Dance Company completed their second Dancing to Connect program in the Dominican Republic in 2018. Survey questionnaires were administered to participants of the program, both before the program and after. The goals of the questionnaires were to evaluate the effects of the Dancing to Connect program on participants, and to learn of aspects needing improvement or change. The total number of respondents to the pre-program questionnaire was 79, and for the post-program questionnaire 87. The program occurred for 8 days between April 7th and April 15th, 2018. The program was led by Program Director Emad Salem, Production Supervisor Barry Steele, and Teaching Artists Sean Scantlebury, Razvan Stoian, Robin Cantrell, Kimberly Sosa, and Bethany Mitchell.
Media and Press
An analysis of the pre-program and post-program surveys yielded significant results. Over the course of the Dancing to Connect program there was: * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to communicate with those different from them (21% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to work within a team (38% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ perception of Americans (14% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ confidence in their abilities as students (25% increase) * an improvement in the participants’ confidence in their abilities to create positive change in their communities (20% increase).
Battery Dance was awarded a grant via NOFO from the U.S. Embassy Santo Domingo to conduct its first program in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The 1-week tour in Santiago was characterized by a two-pronged approach with a highly attended marquee performance coupled with outreach programs targeting undeserved and disadvantaged youth.
Pre Tour Site Visit
Battery Dance’s Vice President & COO visited Santiago for a day of site visits and meetings on January 17, 2018. He was joined by CAO Ruth Urry and Cultural Specialist Irene Gonzalez. The Gran Teatro del Cibao was inspected as well as workshop venues at the Centro de la Cultura and the Instituto de la Cultura y Arte. Meetings took place with Lincoln Lopez, the Regional Director of the Ministry of Culture, Luis Felipe Rodriguez, the Director of Cultural Programs at Centro Leon, and with Amiris Helena and her staff at the Centro Cultural Dominico Americano.
Over the course of 8 days in April, Battery Dance worked with approximately 82 underserved youth from the Santiago community who came from five different schools. Ten students with folk dance experience came from outside Santo Domingo and were housed and provided meals by Escuelas Libres for the duration of the week. After filling out pre-program questionnaires, students were immediately split up randomly into five different groups so to take each student out of their comfort zone and provide them with an opportunity to work with someone new and develop new friendships. Workshops took place at the Escuela Nacional De Danza, which provided five workshop studios that were of excellent condition, a teacher waiting room, and a snack/lunch room for participants. Lunch and water was provided by Escuelas Libres to all workshop students. Five translators were provided by ENDANZA, with additional translation assistance provided by U.S. Embassy program alumni. In addition, five local dance teachers observed the workshops and learned the methodology of the Dancing to Connect program.
In the workshops, students worked to create their own choreography based on their own experiences and creativity. Starting off with simple exercises, the students worked individually, in pairs, and in larger groups to explore ideas and activities prompted by their Battery Dance teaching artist. Immediately, from day one, the level of enthusiasm, dedication, and creativity of the students shined. Over the course of 20 hours of workshop time, the students finalized their group pieces of choreography. On the last day of workshops, Ambassador Wally Brewster visited three student groups to witness studio showings of their final pieces. Ambassador Brewster also provided words of inspiration for the students, encouraging them to “follow their dreams”.
After evaluating theatres available for the final performance, Battery Dance settled upon the Auditorio Enriquillo Sanchez as the final performance venue. This was due to a number of reasons – the unavailability of Balles Artes (the official theatre for dance while the national theatre undergoes capital renovations), and the small width of stages at other theatres. Auditorio Enriquillo Sanchez was provided gratis by the Ministry of Culture.
With the assistance of Cultural Specialist Irene Gonzalez, Battery Dance Production Director Barry Steele worked to transform the theatre with the help of local vendors , employees of the Ministry of Culture, and technical crews. A specialized stage was built using plywood and Styrofoam to provide the necessary spring to the unsprung stage. The back wall of the stage was painted Satin White to serve as a backdrop for projections and lighting. Through purchase order by the Embassy, additional lights were rented and installed at the theatre. A black harlequin dance floor was cleaned and provided by Balles Artes, and a generator was brought in to protect against the random and unpredictable power outages that occur in Santo Domingo.
Nearly 600 audience members attended the final Dancing to Connect performance on February 13th at 4pm. Attendees included U.S. Embassy staff, families and staff of local partners, Minister of Culture Jose Antonio Rodriguez Public Affairs Officer James Russo, who provided remarks, Edmundo Poy, the director of ENDANZA Marinella Sallent, the general public, and participant families and members of their communities. Prior to the start of the performance, the Director of Escuelas Libres Samanta Olivero, presented the members of Battery Dance with awards, honoring the contribution of the Dancing to Connect program to their youth.
Throughout the entire performance, screams, cheers, and hollers radiated from the audience as they roared in approval as the youth took the stage and performed their original choreography, and when the Battery dancers took the stage. During the last piece of the night, neither dancers on stage nor the production team in the booth could hear start of the music due to the thunderous cheering that echoed through the room. After the performance and final group bow on stage, for 10 minutes the youth hoisted the Battery Dancers in the air and created a running dance circle while chanting. (short clip can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/BatteryDance/videos/1083427885025472/ )
Finally returning the students to a side waiting room and off stage, they again created a dance circle and cheered as some students began to conduct break-dance routines. Simply put, the youth were completely overjoyed with what they had accomplished. After settling the students down, post-program questionnaires were completed, certificates of completion were given to each participant and teacher trainee, and small token gifts were provided to local partners by Battery Dance to thank them for their contribution.
On Wednesday evening, Battery Dance attended the National Folkloric Day of Celebration evening performance as honored guests of Escuelas Libres. The group was recognized during the performance and was pulled on-stage to take part in the grand finale.
On Thursday afternoon, Battery dancers and Emad Salem attended a studio showing of the National Contemporary Dance Company. Following the showing, Battery dancers Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Clement Mensah, Bethany Mitchell, and program Manager Emad Salem, travelled with Ruth Urry to La Barquita, to work with underserved and underprivileged children. La Barquita is one of the most impoverished districts of Santo Domingo, has high instances of crime, drug use, and underage pregnancies. With heavy rain, the entire district floods and submerges the shanty-town like homes which are only divided by an extremely narrow street. The children were split into two groups by age with approximately 20 students aged 10-14, and approximately 30 aged below 10 years. A one and a half hour workshop was conducted – one of the first cultural programs conducted by U.S. Embassy in the district.