Continuing our look at Community Engagement Grant projects, we turn to Texas, where fourth-year dancer Alysia Johnson founded and directed Emerging Dancers of Dallas: Lab 1.0, a weeklong workshop for dancers ages 11 to 18. To find out about applying for a grant for this summer, click here.
When I dreamed up this project, I must admit it came from a place of self-care and need—I was homesick and missing the places and people that fostered my initial passion for dance and community engagement. I’m proud of my city, Dallas, and the work it has done to sustain and build communities through the arts, and as far away as I am in New York City, I wanted to feel more connected than ever, which is why I created Emerging Dancers of Dallas: Lab 1.0 (EDD: Lab 1.0).
As a product of the arts community in Dallas who is now establishing herself as a professional artist, I am aware of what it takes to reach a student who hasn’t been exposed to many of the basic needs to create a well-rounded artist. My goal was to give the next generation of young Dallas artists the opportunity to explore, educate, and create their own work. Inspired by President Polisi’s vision of the artist as citizen, I felt it was important to advocate for the arts and speak to younger generations and give them a safe space to develop and hone their craft and strengthen their individual voice. Art by nature is therapeutic, and in the 21st century and specifically within the current global social climate, I saw how beneficial it was to give kids the opportunity to appreciate humanity, time, and space through dance.
EDD: Lab 1.0 was a project to build confidence in community. Dance educators generally have to do a lot of building and maintenance in confidence and self-worth throughout the career of a student or professional and as a transitioning professional myself, I found it easier to build trusting relationships because of my similar journey. Communication between teachers and students as well as from student to student played a huge role in the success of the program—which was especially significant because of the stigma that it is not a dancer’s place to vocalize or even develop his or her own ideas. I knew from the teaching artists here at Juilliard how they push for their curriculum to bridge the gap between product and process, and it’s a very special part of why this school stays ahead in advancing the performing arts. I was sure that information would be beneficial to a city that can lack appreciation, resources, and pride.
At EDD: Lab 1.0. no voice was more important than any other, a valuable lesson inside and outside of the studio. We did nothing out of the ordinary in terms of technique classes but we stressed the importance of exchanging ideas and communication as an exercise to implement continued training. There can be a stress on producing quality work across the board in the arts, but it is crippling for young dancers not to have the exposure of a process that utilized and honed their individual voice, and I wanted to help eradicate the hierarchy of performance favoritism. Community engagement is an opportunity to understand multiple perspectives whether one is the patron or the professional. In a speed-obsessed, technologically advanced America, artistic opportunities that are rooted in providing public and social welfare should be normalized and respected for the goodness and growth they supply. It is no secret that the arts can be under-represented, under-appreciated, and under-resourced, and it brings me so much joy to be a part of an institution that understands and values public involvement and engagement through the arts. Juilliard is a great role model for how the spirit of art can increase positive social change.
Fourth-year dancer Alysia Johnson holds a William Randolph Hearst Foundation Scholarship