By Cat Corral, transcenDANCE Co-Founder & Artistic Director
The subject of mental health is gaining attention and becoming increasingly and more openly discussed thanks to campaigns such as May’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which is publicized nationwide. The value of educating around this issue was further amplified for me this year because of the work we’re doing with students in our 2018 CREATE Program.
Each year, a cohort of 20 students – many from National City – are selected through auditions to participate in transcenDANCE’s CREATE Program. Beginning in March, teens enter an intensive 5-month program, during which they explore dance and the performing arts through technical dance training, while simultaneously being immersed in a social change/ emotional resiliency curriculum that incorporates self-reflection, community-building, and life and leadership skills training. Both the curriculum and chosen annual theme inform our students’ work as they co-create pieces for the culminating production of Light Within the Cracks, to be held this year on July 20 & 21 at the Lyceum Theater in downtown San Diego.
There was immediate consensus from the students this year to choose Mental Health as our theme from several possibilities we uncovered during in-depth group reflection and discussion. Unfortunately, the day-to-day reality for most of our teens includes challenging circumstances that come with living in poverty, while also dealing with past traumas – often without support. Some of our teens experience depression and anxiety; many are working to heal the wounds of trauma while dealing with the everyday stressors of transitioning into young adulthood. Quite often, there are too few resources to support young people living in underserved communities.
Core drivers that negatively affect the mental health of today’s teens include traumas such as sexual assault, abuse, and family separations. Not so obvious is the toxic stress that comes from social media and technological “numbing,” the pressure of fitting into socially-constructed identities, and the divisive rhetoric and practices amplified by the current socio-political climate. However, for many San Diego teens, there is also the constant fear that some member of their family will suddenly be removed due to undocumented immigration status. The anxiety produced by all of this is immense.
Many of us in the Creative Youth Development (CYD) field have seen first-hand that the expressive arts can work to aid suicide prevention and improve mental health, especially in conjunction with a Trauma Informed Care approach that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to the impact of trauma. CYD programs such as ours are training artistic and program staff on these practices, which creates the safe space and supportive environment for healing and increased resilience.
Each year, our CREATE Program partners bring educational experiences that deepen the learning and this year they are especially relevant to both the current socio-political climate and our theme. The Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma (IVAT), has brought awareness to our students about sexual harassment and concepts like toxic masculinity. Through experiences like these, students are becoming more comfortable with their voice and power – and able to identify how society can perpetuate unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.
Creative Youth Development programs like transcenDANCE uniquely bridge mental health support, the arts, adult mentoring, and youth-driven programs with formalized leadership development. This holistic approach allows teens who have experienced trauma and adversity to change the trajectory of their lives. Often youth programs work with just one of these components. But, by bringing them together under one roof – where dance and creative expression are happening side-by-side with group therapy, and all with a teen focus – we see significant and measurable positive change and growth in the students we serve.
We hope you can join us for Light Within the Cracks – a dance theater performance exploring trauma, mental health, and resilience. Performances are July 20th& 21stat 7pm at the Lyceum Theatre in San Diego. Tickets are available at www.LyceumEvents.org.For more information about transcenDANCE programs, please visit www.tdarts.org.
transcenDANCE Youth Arts Project is a nationally-recognized creative youth development organization located in National City that works with teens in underserved San Diego communities. Our programs change the trajectory of students’ lives by promoting creativity and community engagement, building confidence and resilience, and instilling life-changing skills such as leadership and collaboration.