Spotlight: Day in the Life of a Community Actionist - Gibney
Week of August 9, 2020
Making space for

Spotlight: Day in the Life of a Community Actionist

Day in the Life of a Community Actionist

Community Actionists are a group of dancers and teaching artists who are deeply engaged in Gibney’s social justice programs. They work closely with schools and partner organizations throughout the five boroughs to spark conversations with young people about healthy relationships through Hands are for Holding, and facilitate movement workshops with survivors of gender-based violence through Move to Move Beyond.

Devin Oshiro, Community Action Artistic Manager, gives us an inside look at all that goes on in a day in the life of a Community Actionist!

Devin Oshiro leads a group in a worksop

Today is a busy day for our team. We have two Hands are for Holding assemblies at a high school in Harlem, and a residency workshop with a middle school in Brooklyn. There is always so much possibility in both settings, as no two schools in New York City are alike.

morning assemblies

In the morning, I travel via subway to the first school. This morning’s assemblies will happen in a dance room with wood floors, fun dance posters, and mirrors although sometimes they take place in an auditorium, gym, or cafeteria. There are four Community Actionists here today (Rhamzi, Thomas, Calleja, and myself) and we use our prep time to warm-up and walk through the dances we will share with the students.

In the first assembly, we show three dances and after each one Thomas and I facilitate a conversation. These discussions open a dialogue around warning signs in unhealthy or abusive relationships, ways to help a friend, and recognizing that we all have different boundaries. We also do participation activities that allow the students to experience movement through gestures that represent components of a healthy relationship, and a partner activity that involves two students standing up while pressing their backs together to embody equity in action. While most of our assemblies are with 150-200 students, with this smaller group of about 30 there is an intimate atmosphere and we are able to have a deeper dialogue.

The second assembly happens after lunch and the students come into the dance room slowly. Due to the delayed start time, we decide to show only two of the three dances. One of the teachers was so thrilled with the assembly and the conversation it ignited that she created space for us to stay longer and show another dance. The students were enthusiastic about an “encore” performance!

Community Actionist Will Noling facilitates a conversation with a group of students

afternoon residency workshop

Next, I travel to Brooklyn for a residency session and look over the plan during my commute. For this session, we are partnering with the Mayor’s Office to End Gender-Based Violence. Their educator, Kimara, is a seasoned facilitator. Community Actionist, Will, myself, and Kimara are working with 16 8th Grade dance students.

We start our session by warming up, and check-in by asking a question. Today we ask: “What is a one-word summary of how you are feeling today?” Today we’re talking about emotions and how we can interpret them in different ways through body language, or even colors. For example, one student might select the color blue for sadness, while another student may think black is a more accurate representation.

Students in a circle warming up

Later in the session, we have the students create mini-dances in partnership with one another. We also ask them to think about what emotion they are portraying and pick music to pair their dance with. Then, to end the session, we share the duets and talk about what we see in each one. We are able to share what we see in each dance and how we interpret what they have created together. It is super inspiring with this particular group to see how talented and smart they are. Shout out to their dance teacher, Ms. Ford!

At the end of our residency session, Kimara, Will, and myself check in about how it went. Then we take the train back to Manhattan together and start planning our session for next week…

Our stellar Community Actionists and partners like Kimara, ENDGBV, and the schools always amaze me. They make all of this possible in one day, and it’s a reminder that the work is done better together. Big thank you to all!

— Devin

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Community Actionists lead students in Hands are for Holding gestures
Photos by Scott Shaw.