Battery Dance Company worked and performed throughout 4 German Cities in July - October 2017. Participants of the Dancing to Connect Refugee Integration Program completed survey questionnaires both before the program and after. The goals of the questionnaires were to evaluate the effects of the Dancing to Connect programs on participants, and to learn of aspects needing improvement or change. The total number of respondents to the pre-program questionnaire was 255, and 295 for the post-program questionnaire. Each program was approximately 1 week long. The programs were led by Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander, Vice President Emad Salem, and Teaching Artists Robin Cantrell, Sean Scantlebury, Clement Mensah, Bethany Mitchell, and Razvan Stoian.
An analysis of the pre-program and post-program surveys yielded significant results. Over the course of the Dancing to Connect program there was:
For the second year in a row, Battery Dance transformed its Dancing to Connect methodology to address the humanitarian issue of refugee integration across the German nation. The plan for 2017 included two phases, necessitated by the school schedules in the Federal States of Baden-Württemberg, Sachsen-Anhalt and Brandenburg.
Each workshop followed the parameters Battery Dance employs in all of its Dancing to Connect programs: +/- 20 students, ages 14 and up, comprise each workshop. Twenty hours of workshop time were spent in the creation of an original dance work in which the participants generate movement sequences that are shaped by BD teaching artists and their teacher trainees into works of choreography which the participants perform on a large stage with fully professional theatrical conditions alongside performances by Battery Dance from its repertoire.
The unique element of this initiative is in the composition of each workshop group – a mixture of refugees, some of whom are unaccompanied minors, with their German counterparts. Changes were observed in each workshop – German students began to cross the chasm that separates them from refugees, refugees became more at ease in expressing themselves physically and verbally, stories were shared and empathy increased. By the performance day, groups were cheering each other, participants from different backgrounds formed an indivisible ensemble, pride was overflowing. Refugees from conflict zones in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Gambia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere had made their way to Germany in harrowing conditions, escaping from unimaginable devastation. Seeing them free themselves, at least temporarily, from the grip of their nightmarish past, and their hankering for their families and friends back home, was tremendously moving.
An evaluation of the program was undertaken by BD staff using matched entrance and exit questionnaires filled out by participants in each of the three program sites. The results have since been analyzed and reveal several significant improvements experienced by the participants of the program.
In the words of Chargé d’Affairs Kent Logsdon, U.S. Embassy Berlin:
I would like to take this opportunity to commend Jonathan Hollander and his dancers for all that they do to promote intercultural understanding. Over the past twenty years, the Battery Dance Company has performed in over 60 countries on 6 continents. It is a dance troupe of international renown. But what makes the Battery Dance truly incredible is its commitment to the Dancing to Connect initiative that it launched over a decade ago.
Both my wife Michell (U.S. Embassy Cultural Attaché) and I have devoted our careers to diplomacy. We have both seen many worthwhile and gratifying examples of cultural diplomacy. Well, Battery Dance is cultural diplomacy – dance diplomacy – at its best. It brings people together through creativity and team building. As Jonathan Hollander says: "You can't dance with someone you don’t trust."
In my opinion, that is the key to the Battery Dance’s success as an agent of change and social action. Dancing to Connect has held workshops focused on providing hope, confidence, leadership and life skills to the least advantaged youth in society. It has conducted sessions focused on combating xenophobia and ending discrimination whether it be based on religion, nationality, ethnicity, age, or class. It has shown how public perceptions of the disabled can be changed, and brought attention to the needs of disabled communities around the world.
They are all part now of a broader community, not just here in Freiburg, but a global Dancing to Connect community. For just as Dancing to Connect becomes embedded in the countries it visits, it also communicates a sense of awareness of the world as a whole and an openness to different cultures. This in the inspiration and passion that drives Jonathan and his dancers. And it is something that we can all learn from.
Battery Dance Company conducted a Dancing to Connect workshop in Gabon over the course of seven days in June 2017. Participants of the Dancing to Connect Program completed survey questionnaires both before the program and after. The goals of the questionnaires were to evaluate the effects of the Dancing to Connect programs on participants, and to learn of aspects needing improvement or change. The total number of respondents to the pre-program questionnaire was 57, and 63 for the post-program questionnaire. The program was led by Program Director Emad Salem and Teaching Artists Sean Scantleberry, Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Clement Mensah, and Bethany Mitchell.
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’ confidence in their abilities as students (200% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to listen to others (49% increase) * an improvement in the participants’ ability to consider themselves leaders (34% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ confidence in themselves (22% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ abilities to express themselves in group settings (17% increase) * a significant improvement in the participants’ perception of Americans (8% increase)
Nearly 100 participants across 8 schools and institutions
Aimed to extend the American values of inclusion, individual empowerment and freedom of expression to a diverse group, ranging from classically trained ballet dancers at one end of the spectrum to wheel-chair bound and cognitively impaired students at the other
Conducted by a team of seven comprising Artistic Director, Jonathan Hollander; Production Designer, G. Benjamin Swope; and Battery’s dancers, each of whom double as teaching artists and choreographers: Sean Scantlebury, Robin Cantrell, Mira Cook, Bethany Mitchell and Razvan Stoian.
Battery Dance carried out its acclaimed Dancing to Connect program in the South Korean city of Gwangju over nine days in February, 2017. The program was conceived of and supported by the U.S. Embassy Seoul and its local partner, Asia Culture Center, one of Asia’s newest and most well-equipped centers for the arts. This was the Embassy’s first collaboration with ACC and benefited from the meticulous preparation, care and handling that was invested which ensured the successful outcomes that were reached.
The mission of the program was ambitious: applying the American values of inclusion, individual empowerment and freedom of expression to a diverse group ranging from classically trained ballet dancers at one end of the spectrum to wheel-chair bound and cognitively impaired students at the other. The Company worked with North Korean defectors, some of whom had never attended school during their complicated young lives. They also worked with ‘mail-order brides’ from the Philippines. Most striking about the program was the fact that these groups were mixed, pairing abled and disabled, mainstream and NK defectors, South Korea-born with new arrivals. The variety of experiences entwining created something quite special, and it is safe to say that there was not a dry eye in the packed audience at the Asia Culture Center during the final performance of the program.
One of the side goals of the program was to help the disparate schools and community groups in Gwangju engage with the ACC. In meetings that took place in November, 2016, as a precursor to the program, Senior Cultural Affairs Specialist Eun Kyong Choi and Battery Dance Artistic Director Jonathan Hollander heard from several sources that the ACC was inaccessible to the community. Certainly that was not the case during the week that Dancing to Connect took place; ACC could not have been more generous with the provision of two beautiful dance studios and a state-of-the-art theater, along with thoroughly professional technical staff. The presence of ACC President Mr. Bang Sun-Gyu at the final performance and his adulatory response to the program may be a harbinger for better times to come with regard to community outreach programs by the ACC.
There were make unique aspects of this program. Ms. Choi wisely engaged the support of five Embassy interns, some veterans of previous years, and others finishing out their terms of service. These young people jumped into the program with fervor and impressive language skills. One even translated from Chinese since most of the NK Defectors had lived much of their life in China and had limited Korean (and no English) to draw upon. In that particular group, led by Mira Cook, it was common to hear English, Korean and Chinese being spoken simultaneously during the workshops!
One of the most striking elements of the program was the achievement of the disabled students whose parents were deeply involved in the program, coming every day and sitting through the 4-hour-long workshops. It became apparent that the parents had anticipated a very ‘lite’ experience for their children; certainly not the highly physical, deeply immersive program that Robin conducted. To see students whose mobility appeared to be severely limited, even in pedestrian mode, actually dancing and focusing 150% on complex movement sequences, was truly heart-rending, and the parents were often wiping tears as they watched their children exceed all expectation. A short video clip may be found here.
The night of the final performance followed a day of snow and foul weather, so everyone was concerned about the turnout, despite excellent media attention and signage. The ACC has yet to establish a robust schedule and a loyal fan base and thus the Embassy staff and Battery Dance were trepidatious as to how many bodies would fill the seats and cheer on the students. However, these concerns were unwarranted. The theater was filled to capacity and the opening speech by Chargé d’Affaire's ad interim Marc Knapper was enthusiastically received.
Gwangju Metropolitan Ballet Company’s artistic director, Ms. Shin soon-ju, thrilled with the opportunity her dancers had been given to be stretched in their thinking, technique and mode of movement through the work with Battery Dance’s Sean Scantlebury, expressed her interest in having him return to choreograph a longer work for her dancers in the future. While the Company was in Gwangju, one of the ballet dancers was selected to perform a solo role in Battery Dance’s choreography, proPULSion, and executed it beautifully with only three rehearsals.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, Curtis Chin, a member of Battery Dance’s International Advisory Board and a frequent writer of OpEd pieces in the international news media, flew in to witness the last day of workshops and the performance at the Asia Culture Center. He subsequently posted an article on the importance of cultural diplomacy and cited the Dancing to Connect program as a powerful example. Our third tour to South Korea again proved the continual importance of developing cross cultural understanding: challenging preconceptions, building bridges, empowering one another. Working, collaborating and creating in Gwangju provided impactful experiences for all parties involved.