This past week, I spent an afternoon with high school dance students at the Louisville Academy of Fine Arts directed by veteran dance artist/educator Julie McWilliams. Julie has created such a lovely school, grounded in her strong commitment to holistic arts education. Not only does she want to provide her students with a first-class dance education, but she’s committed to fostering her students’ mental and emotional health. That’s where I came in. As an ex-dancer turned writer, Julie asked me to talk with her students about the value of journaling.
This was my second of three visits to the school this summer, and the students have been incredibly open and receptive. We talked a lot about what they’d gone through during the pandemic, both the positive and negative—and why writing in a journal can help process feelings, including loss and grief. We also tried out a couple of the writing prompts on the handout I gave them. I loved hearing about the words they chose to describe themselves!
Needless to say, I came away energized and so happy to have been even a tiny part of the students’ summer experience.
I couldn’t help but compare some of my less than affirming experiences as a young dancer coming up and wishing I’d had this kind of dance education. Too many old school dance instructors seemed to think the best way to help dancers fulfill their potential was to intimidate and tear them down. And during my dance company days in Detroit, the director flatly stated (and followed through) on her conviction that dancers did best when she “kept them insecure.” As a close friend from those company days said to me later, “You realize we were emotionally abused, right?”
I do. Which is why it’s so refreshing to see the positive learning environment Julie and her faculty have created for the students at Louisville Academy of Fine Arts. I look forward to my next visit there!