Dance: Speaking Without Words: Using Dance As A Language In The Architecture of Medical and Social Information, Education, Awareness and Advocacy Contributing to Public Health
Part 2 The intersection of dance and social issues: using dance as a language in the architecture of bullying and domestic/dating violence education
By Andrew Carroll
ART TIMES online August 2014
The success of the medical videos attested to the appeal and effectiveness of this innovative format to create awareness and engage interest. Due to this success, the continuation of this creative research agenda progressed with envisioning this venue as the platform to serve as a vehicle to illustrate social issues. This idea was particularly geared towards the teenage demographic, who seek out dance music videos for entertainment purposes, and who also could benefit from repetitive viewings of this popular medium if laced with informative information. When one considers the vast lot of social issues beckoning for attention, many come to mind, bullying among them. Bullying was chosen from among several social problems to depict, due to its relevancy as one in escalating prominence.
Bullying is commonly defined as a specific type of aggressive behavior that involves intent to cause harm, occurs repeatedly, and involves a power imbalance (Olweus, 1999). A significant proportion of children are involved in bullying across their school years. Children who are bullied report a range of problems, including anxiety and depression ( Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, & Scheidt, 2001), low self-esteem ( Egan & Perry, 1998), reduced academic performance ( Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000), and school absenteeism ( Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, & Perry, 2003). Bullying may also be a significant stressor associated with suicidal behavior ( Klomek, Marrocco, Kleinman, Schonfeld, & Gould, 2007). (Hunt, Caroline, Peters, Lorna, Rapee, Ronald M)1
To the research/choreographer, these serious facts warranted an exploration of applying the research process formulated for the prior medical videos towards the creation of a dance video that could illustrate bullying issues, create awareness and to be used similarly for educational purposes.
From its inception, the bullying video was envisioned to mimic the format similar to that of the medical videos, yet based more towards theoretical depictions and suggested courses of action rather than on tangible medical tasks that require accuracy and precision.
To embark on the research process for this video, identification of specialists on bullying was a necessary requirement for accuracy and current statistics. This prerequisite eventually led to research, which included conversations with a Crisis Bureau, as well as noted author, and expert on bullying Meline Kevorkian, who shared valuable knowledge on relevant conceptual issues, which would be beneficial to embed in the proposed video.
Once the respective information was gathered and assessed, a storyboard for a bullying video began to take shape. Key concepts included the diversity of bullies, male and female victims, cyberbullying and the need for bystanders to stand up and take action against bullying surfaced to drive the storyboard further into reality. This creative process eventually yielded plans for a video that would depict the victims interacting and/or being bullied in outside location shoots to give realistic imagery to this issue. This would be followed by segments that would be shot indoors on a dark proscenium stage to lend an air of loneliness and isolation to depict the inner thoughts and feelings of the victims. The two environments would then be edited together to link inner thoughts to the realism of everyday life outside.
The Bullying video began production in January 2012. The cast was comprised of a Caucasian male victim, a Latino female victim, an African-American female bully, a Latino male bully, a Caucasian female bully and a Caucasian male bully. The selection of this group was determined through research, which encouraged the depiction that “anyone can be bullied, and anyone can be a bully.”
With the cast selected, choreographic research was initiated first with the victims, as they would carry the bulk of dance material to be illustrated, specifically through the latter half of the video, which would incorporate work shot on a proscenium stage. Using the verbal prompts of fear, frustration, despair, pain, injustice and targeted amongst others for motivation, the choreographic experimentation began to identify movements that might suggest these directed prompts and to then sew the movements into larger phrases intended to illustrate the plights of victims through solo material corresponding to the storyboard needs. This process was emotional and difficult for all involved, but revealed honest and true movement substance that suited the conceptual requirements.
After this inspired means produced suitable content, the segments were shot on a dimly lit proscenium stage with no scenery or props to interfere with the idea of viewing the inner thoughts of what a bullied victim might be experiencing. The atmosphere sought to imply the essence of isolation, and to lend an impression of viewing the thoughts that only one who has been bullied is privy to.
Work commenced on the contributions of the bullies when this solo material for the victims was mapped out and filmed. This next process pertained to movement, which would suggest aggression, confrontation and intimidation. However, a new challenge presented itself: aggressive and intimidating movements were the desired outcome, yet from an artistic choice, actual physical aggression (i.e.: hitting, kicking, actual physical violence) was never to be enacted. Rather, impending harm was to be implied, not simulated, through the dance vocabulary. This subtlety required patience to discover hostile vocabulary that could exist on its own without an end result. A majority of the created movements that stemmed from this process included strong and violent use of upper body and arm gestures. This is attributed to the idea that the upper body is more facile to thrust forward (intimidating) that the lower half, therefore, much of the bullies content incorporated large and angry progressive movements of the torso, arms and hands.
The research agenda then shifted to the outdoors to identify locations in which to place the bullies armed with their new movement phrases alongside the victims to create realistic potential scenarios filmed in realistic environments.
These outdoor shots involved placement of either the male or female victim on stairwells, on benches, and coming out of doors to be confronted by the bullies and their broad antagonistic movement. New reactive dance vocabulary was then fashioned for the victims in response to their assailants. This fabric of oppression included the use of computers in various segments to illustrate the plight of cyberbulling as a new forerunner in the wave of bullying tactics. Cyber-bullying has been defined by Ybarra and Mitchell (2004) as the “intentional and overt act of aggression toward another person online,” and extended to include other forms of technology such as text messaging (David-Ferdon & Hertz, 2009). For instance, David-Ferdon and Hertz (2009) have referred to cyber-bullying as “electronic aggression,” which is defined as “any type of harassment or bullying that occurs through e-mail, a chat room, instant messaging, a website (including blogs), text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones. (Low, Espelage)2 To illustrate this new wave of hostility, scenes of fingers furiously typing some sort of message and hitting “enter” transferred immediately to scenes of the victims receiving these messages and a reactionary movement to embody the surprise and horror of this method of persecution.
When substantial footage was generated, an editing process ensued to string segments of footage together here and there as best fit to capture this difficult social dilemma through the language of dance.
The Bullying video project was completed in May of 2012, and began to trek across bullying websites and organizations that recognized this innovative mode of transmitting information and creating awareness around the subject manner. Initially, teen advocacy organizations in Atlanta and Denver adopted the vehicle for use in their respective programs, which deal with bullying education. Pacer’s, a leading bullying organization in Minneapolis joined this list, praising the video for its artistry, content and ability to communicate such profound messages. As one of the largest organizations dedicated to bullying advocacy, Pacer’s adopted the video and anticipated creating toolkits that contained the video as the anchor. In a letter addressed to me, Pacer’s has stated: “Dear Andrew,
Thank you for reaching out to us about your bullying video. As one of the leading bullying prevention organizations in the world, we receive a steady stream of creative submissions from folks who would like us to make use of their video or song or event to help further the cause. We review all of them. Unfortunately, we can only select a few pieces for use in our programs.
I must tell you that your dance video is one of the most amazing contributions we have seen! It is truly inspirational.”
School systems such as the Los Angeles Unified Public School system, one of the largest in the United States, linked the video to their official website,
bringing the video to over one thousand schools as a resource. Judy Chiasson PhD, Office of The Chief of Staff, Human Relations, Diversity & Equity,
The Los Angeles Unified School District has said this about the bullying video:
“The use of dance as dialogue is especially useful as an educational tool for several reasons. Youth are so tired of having adults lecture at them.
They get so much more out of a dance video than they ever get out of an adult lecturing. Many of our students express themselves with dance, so this is
a media that resonates with them.
They respond well to role models who are just a little older than they. So having college-aged dancers is a valuable. The absence of spoken dialogue allows them to draw upon their own experiences to "write" a dialogue that is personally meaningful in the language that they speak. We have 200 languages spoken in the District.”
Bullying agencies internationally continued this trend, with the video linked to organizations in Australia, Northern Ireland, Scotland and other countries that commended and applauded this unique model.
Perhaps the strongest indication of the value of this medium stems from a comment by a young man moments after viewing the bullying video: After a presentation of the video at an arts research symposium, the Producer of the video was approached by a young man wishing to speak to him. The young man proceeded to state how much of an impact the video had on him. He revealed that in school, he had been a bully, and not a day went by that he did not deeply regret the actions he had taken years ago. He continued to say that the section of the video which represented the individual remorse felt by the bullies when they would reflect on what they had done exactly matched the feelings that he always had experienced, and that if he had seen a video such as this one which touched him on such a deep level, he would have just stopped bullying.
This simple statement stands as testament to the valuable contribution of dance as a communication tool to spread information. In addition to its potential to reach deep into physically connecting to social plights, another unanticipated benefit is tangibly brought forth by this process: it touches and elicits responses that can prompt dialogues and discussions on the topic matter. In addition, this language developed by movement was one that transcends language barriers as no actual words are spoken, therefore the video/videos can and in fact have been understood by those of any ethnic or demographic perspective. In this respect, the videos have added to the medical and social fields by making dance accessible by their descriptions of the human condition and/or everyday tasks necessary for employment typically not illustrated through a dance means.
These thoughts lead to pursuing this investigation further, and subsequently to the next project; a video geared towards domestic/dating violence awareness. “Dating Violence: Recognizing Warning Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship” was officially begun in the summer of 2013.
The research commenced immediately with the conversations with two leading Domestic and Dating Violence advocacy organizations: Love and Respect here in the United States, and 2in2u organization in Northern Ireland. These conversations were instigated to identify educational ideas, which would be beneficial to illustrate that displayed warning signs of an unhealthy relationship. Through discourse, the following points were determined as important to depict:
- Isolation from friends/family
- Resistance to see
- Physical dominance/ Verbal abuse
- Physical grabbing
- Gender/race equality
- Seeking shelter in a bathroom stall
· Unauthorized use of cell phone/unauthorized checking of messages
Once this list of concepts was gleaned, a storyboard was created, one, which could incorporate these important components into a cohesive plot and progression. With this crucial element in place, dancers were identified who could best portray these parts, and work began with them individually and in groups to experiment with movement phrases to reveal streams of dance vocabulary that would best serve the storyboard’s intent. This trial and error process is beneficial to a choreographer, as it reveals new dance movement vocabulary in the process. Simultaneously, as the creative research choreographer and producer, I began the process to research appropriate musical arrangements. I hoped to find “the perfect contribution” of music to add the aesthetic edge to what I envisioned for the work. After a good deal of investigation, I ascertained that selections from The London Symphony Orchestra’s Romeo and Juliet, Max Richter’s Vladmir’s Blues and Max Correia’s (BrunuhVille) Red Queen’s Lullaby would well enhance and best support my vision. I then contacted each seeking use of their respective musical selections. When a description of the project was imparted to each, each then graciously agreed for the use of their music towards my creative research agenda.
As the movement phrases began to become clear, segments were sewn together to create this new language for educational use. A videographer was then brought onboard to film selected sequences in both a theater, and in outside locations previously scouted out to give a realistic feel to the video. After the filming of the created movement phrases, I then began the editing process of piecing the sections together with the musical arrangements which best fit the overall vision and logistical time frames. Once a preliminary version was established, I then reviewed this version to tweak and edit further until a satisfactory and more polished edition was formed and finished that reflected both the educational motifs necessary, as well as my personal artistic vision.
Judy Chiasson, Office of The Chief of Staff at The Los Angeles Unified Public School system, which encompasses over one thousand schools, adopted the video
for use in the Dating Violence programs for this large school system. She stated quote
“The use of dance as dialogue is especially useful as an educational tool for several reasons. Youth are so tired of having adults lecture at them.
They get so much more out of a dance video than they ever get out of an adult lecturing. Many of our students express themselves with dance, so
this is a media that resonates with them.
The absence of spoken dialogue allows them to draw upon their own experiences to "write" a dialogue that is personally meaningful in the language that they speak. We have 200 languages spoken in the District.
Your dances represented some harsh situations that would be too disturbing to be viewed explicitly. I am thinking of your dating violence video. It was very sensitive that the acts of kindness were acted out, but the acts of violence were danced. For our students who are regularly exposed to violence, the dance expression made it safe to witness. I also like that your pieces all build resiliency and heroism. I will not show any bullying or dating violence piece that does show a positive resolution. Too often, people try to teach children by traumatizing them. There is a wealth of films, documentaries, YouTube videos, and PSAs that show horrific scenes, in a scared straight kind of tactic. I never show such pieces to our students. Your pieces are all positive and give hope and tools. Most of the materials that get marketed are missing those critical elements.” 3
Ulrike Janz, Director of Gesine in Germany has written:
We definitely want to use your wonderful film for our work against domestic/partnership violence. We are a feminist association (Name: Frauen helfen Frauen.EN e.V.: women help women in the county of Ennepe-Ruhr-Kreis, Germany,) working for more than 30 years on the issue, operating a women's shelter, a counseling center and GESINE- the health network on domestic violence. We think that the film can be a very useful and innovative tool in all our "workstreams" and especially when working with younger people - and we are quite exited about this possibility! All the very best, yours sincerely Ulrike Janz”
In addition, Ms. Janz sent the following email to me:
“Dear Andrew I just love the video/work - I´m a dancer myself and really appreciate this wonderful way of "using" dance politically. We definitely want to use it in our work all the very best Ulrike”
These words are not only inspiring, but significant as they come not only from a Director of a Domestic Violence organization, but who hails from a dance background herself. This validates my project not only from the social awareness platform genre, but from my own genre as an artist and contributor to the dance field.
In addition to Gesine, organizations in the following countries have requested the video: Belarus, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Greece, Guatamala, Ecuador, Peru, Kosovo, The American Association of Schools in South America among others.
Having stated the contributions that these videos brought to the medical and social fields, it should also be noted what contribution was brought to the field of dance. These projects have played a role in introducing the power of dance to new audiences. For the dance field, this represents exposure of the medium to populations that may not have experience with dance, yet though this unique forum, receive a glimpse of expression through movement and may initiate an appreciation for what dance and the arts can and in fact do in regards to the articulation of ideas, thoughts, actions, emotions and a host of other concepts in need of manifestation.
The bullying project, the domestic/dating violence project and success of the medical videos have exceeded the estimated expectations of using dance as a communication tool. The acceptance and adoption of each respective video and subsequent potential viewership has impacted traditional means of transmitting information. Using dance, organizations have been introduced to another method to engage interest in learning that accomplishes educational study in an innovative format. For dance organizations, this aligns with a major tenant of many choreographers: using choreography and the art of dance to speak where words fail. The benefits for the respective fields of medicine, sociology and dance warrant further exploration of this novel instrument. To this end, work has begun on a new project, a video on suicide awareness, estimated completion 2015.
1. Hunt, Caroline, Peters, Lorna, Rapee, Ronald M., “ Development of a measure of the experience of being bullied in youth,” Psychological Assessment Vol. 24, Issue 1 (2012) Page 1
2. Sabina Low, Dorothy Espelage, “Differentiating Cyber Bullying From Non-Physical Bullying: Commonalities Across Race, Individual and Family Predictors,” Psychology of Violence, 21520828 Vol. 3, Issue 1 (2013) Page 1
3. Judy Chiasson, Office of The Chief of Staff, Los Angeles Unified Public School System
4. Ulrike Janz, Director of Gesine-NetzwerkGesundheit.EN
Andrew Carroll on the faculty of The University of South Florida, College of The Arts, School of Theatre and Dance email: firstname.lastname@example.org