Tag Archives: Chelsea Hicks

Privilege, oppression, and programming

Chelsey Hicks was the youngest person and the only Newfoundlander at Amplify 2015, a conference held in October for women who design and facilitate gender-sensitive programs directed at women and girls.

The 19-year-old St. John’s native attended the conference, on a scholarship, as the founder of Dance Thru It, a local program that uses dance to help heal young people who have endured violence, poverty, discrimination, and other forms of trauma.

At a retreat resort nestled in the woods of Quebec, 25 women gathered to learn skills that will help them design and implement programs that create “empowering spaces for young women from diverse realities,” Hicks recently told The Independent.

The workshops and discussions at the conference helped Hicks build and reflect on the Dance Thru It approach, which is founded on a social justice-oriented philosophy. Hicks’ program uses the popular education approach, which aims to help participants connect their personal, individual experiences to larger social issues. 

So far, Hicks has used the concept of popular education to help young people in St. John’s connect their physical, emotional, and spiritual pain to social injustices such as systemic poverty, the objectification of women’s bodies, and oppressive gender roles. 

She knows that organizations are justified in paying extra attention to the empowerment of women and girls, which is why she strongly values the connection between Dance Thru It and the Girls Action Foundation (which hosted the Amplify conference). Hicks references facts from the Girls Action Foundation backgrounder document for their report on the Main Issues Facing Girls in Canada that describe the unique social situation facing women and girls today:

  • 27 percent of Ontario girls in Grades 9-11 had been pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do.
  • 46 percent of high school girls in Ontario report being the target of unwanted sexual comments or gestures.
  • Four times more girls than boys are sexually abused and 75 percent of the time it is by a family member or friend. The situation is even worse for girls with disabilities.
  • 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women.
  • Even with a university degree, women on average earned almost $30,000 less than men in 2008.
  • 25 percent of Grade 10 girls in Canada don’t feel safe at school. Their overall school experience is marked by “everyday violence” that takes place in school settings, such as bullying, sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and homophobia.

 Feminists are interested in the actual, lived experiences of both men and women and use data based on these lived experiences to identify how our society makes it easier for some groups to achieve success, and harder for others.

As a good [male] friend of mine correctly stated, feminism is a realist perspective. Feminists are interested in the actual, lived experiences of both men and women and use data based on these lived experiences to identify how our society makes it easier for some groups to achieve success, and harder for others.

Knowing the facts listed above, it makes sense that organizations like Dance Thru It would be especially concerned with making sure girls and women are included, feel heard, and are respected for their autonomy and inherent worth. To this end, Hicks says that listening is a keystone of inclusion and empowerment.

Part of Amplify’s mission to ‘train the trainer’ was to help participants practice the art of deep, sincere listening. True listening goes beyond simply hearing. Listening means observing both what is said and what is not said, noticing what words people use to describe their feelings and experiences, accepting and validating the truth of each person’s perspective, and allowing space for a range of reactions, including anger, grief, humour, and pain.

Hicks says the discussion about listening was one of the “many truly beautiful conversations” that took place during the conference.

Of course, these tools for creating inclusive and empowering programming apply to everyone: girls and boys, men and women, young and old, rich and poor. But it is important to make sure that organizations are conscious of the ways in which people have been privileged and oppressed in society so that they can avoid the trend.

In this way, Hicks says that organizations like Dance Thru It can be a “life-giving force”.

With international attention and strong local interest, she says she is using the organizational ‘growing pains’ of Dance Thru It – which is only about a year old – to enact a radical approach of focusing on peer support, growth, and deep analysis of “systemic oppression and the toxic cycles in which people live.”

Healing spiritual and emotional trauma through dance

“When it comes to breaking traumatic cycles, whether that be addiction or poverty or whatever, once you put in someone the core belief that they have power, it really enables outreach and change.”

This is how Chelsey Hicks explains why she designed and implemented Dance Thru It, a program for helping people of all ages and backgrounds discover dance as a form of healing; she knows that physically expressing emotions helps to process trauma and experiences that may not fit into words.

A mighty cosmic force in her own right, Hicks describes dance as a way to process internal feelings through external movement — “the ultimate way to tell a story that may not be ready for words,” she says.

Hicks piloted Dance Thru It with a community centre in St. John’s this past year. She worked with a group of young girls to physically release their traumatic, painful, or stressful experiences. The program uses virtues-based programming to discuss trauma and emotions, and then participants manifest the discussion physically through dance.

The virtues, as developed by The Virtues Project, are characteristics and attitudes that can be practiced to foster an authentic and meaningful life, such as generosity, honesty, courage, and thankfulness. Hicks explains that using the language of the virtues to discuss people’s lives and experiences forms the basis for participants to be able to physically express their emotions and stories.

Community groups and a range of organizations have asked Hicks to run the Dance Thru It program with their clients, participants, and staff, she says.

Dance Thru ItHicks insists that the sky is the limit for Dance Thru It and says the program could be used in corporate office settings to manage stress, among university students, single-parents, those living with mental illness and addiction, and marginalized demographics such as the queer community (including gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, two-spirited, transgendered), people living in poverty, those living with disabilities, and more.

With organizations lining-up to book her, Hicks says St. John’s is clearly in desperate need of healthy, positive coping mechanisms for dealing with trauma.

While everyone experiences some form of trauma, sorrow, or abuse in their lives, not everyone has the financial means to participate in healing programs, so Hicks is determined to remove the financial barrier associated with dancing. This is why the grassroots, community-driven nature of Dance Thru It is so important for her — her own journey has led to a deep appreciation of “the different privileges and oppressions that exist in our society.”

A key aspect of Dance Thru It is the absence of mirrors in the room where participants talk and dance. Hicks says that having no mirrors is crucial because when people stop thinking about how they look then they can concentrate on “the importance of the movement and the connection between the body and the soul … How it feels for you.

“Some movements can be very intense; a movement can be such a deep story that doesn’t look artistically appealing. Removing the mirrors literally removes barriers and people can move more freely and discover parts of themselves, both physically and emotionally.”

Don’t worry, you don’t need to go through the Dance Thru It program to dance out your stress, trauma, joy, or sorrow. Here are Hicks’ tips for practicing positive self-awareness:

  • Take down your mirror for a day: Spend a whole day just feeling your body, instead of looking at it.
  • Come to grips with the power of your body: Think about all the functions of your body and how everything works, moves, and fits together. Think about your ten toes (or however many toes you have), your ankles, the bones and muscles in your legs. Think about how they work. Realize and internalize the power that is the human body.
  • Shake, shrug, and wiggle the parts of your body that feel tight. Many people hold stress in their shoulders. Try closing your eyes and shrugging your shoulders. Forward, backward, side to side. Move until you feel looser than you did earlier. Think about how the physical movement impacted your mood, thoughts, and emotions.

Currently, Hicks is travelling to present the Dance Thru It program design at the Child and Youth Mental Health Symposium (Prince Edward Island) and the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity National Allyship Conference (Ontario).

If you require support or assistance in dealing with stress, mental health, abuse, or other forms of trauma, please contact one of these organizations:

  • Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (N.L. Police): dial 1-709-729-8000, or 911 in the case of an emergency.
  • N.L. Mental Health Crisis Line: 1-709-737-4668 or 1-888-727-4668
  • Crisis Support and Information Line (N.L. Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre): 1-800-726-2743

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