Thursday, July 11, 2019

Ormao Dance Company and TESSA partner with New York dance group for anti-bullying program

Posted By on Thu, Jul 11, 2019 at 1:13 PM

click to enlarge SCOTT SHAW
  • Scott Shaw

The concept of innovation is hardly new to Ormao Dance Company, a local organization that has trained and showcased dancers of all styles for more than 30 years. But with the announcement of a new project, the company plans to push the envelope just a little further than it ever has, and in an exciting new direction.

Ormao Dance Company in partnership with TESSA, a local organization focused on domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, will provide an in-school dance assembly program that is based on Gibney Dance Company's Hands are for Holding program. Gibney Dance Company, based in New York City, has worked with survivors of intimate partner violence for decades, but in 2013 they turned their sights not only to healing trauma, but to preventing that trauma from happening in the first place.

Thus Hands are for Holding was born. Using dance, conversation, interaction and movement, this program reaches students from elementary school to high school, and teaches them how to recognize abuse and where to go for help. And the program covers all corners. With four dances total, they address intimate partner violence, technological abuse, bullying and healthy relationship balance.

In the years since they debuted the program in 2014, Gibney has gone from 14 to 90 assemblies per year, and reached around 28,000 students, according to Yasemin Ozumerzifon, the company’s director of community action.

Janet Johnson, executive and artistic director of Ormao, says: “Gibney's Hands are for Holding provides a proactive and preventative approach to the social and emotional well-being of our youth. Dance provides this dynamic point of entry for meaningful dialogue.”

It is for this reason that she jumped on the chance to bring Hands are for Holding here; students in our area will be the first outside New York to benefit from the program,

Gibney dancers and directors recently flew to Colorado Springs for an intense five days with Ormao dancers, training them not only to perform the Hands are for Holding dances, but also training them to facilitate conversations with students around the dances. And it is here that the program’s true value becomes apparent. Contemporary dance can often be difficult for even adults to fully dissect and understand, but conversations after each dance ensure that the audience (no matter their age) sees what the movement represents, and give them vocabulary to talk meaningfully about the themes addressed by the performance.

At a launch event on July 10, representatives from Ormao, Gibney and TESSA presented a short version of the program to a room of donors and community partners and explained the program and its benefits.

Paige Gunning from TESSA says that through the Transforming Safety Grant, TESSA already offers presentations on domestic violence to area schools. But, she adds, presentations are not always effective. “And through Ormao, and in programs and partnerships, we can create a low-barrier access point for all students to have this information and to develop a conversation around healthy relationships.”

A survey distributed after assemblies in New York found that 90 percent of students reported that they now knew what to do if they found themselves in an unhealthy relationship. That is a promising statistic.

Because Hands are for Holding is not a fix-all solution to bullying and the beginnings of intimate partner violence, but a way to start meaningful conversation.

“We are all in relation to one another,” says Ozumerzifon. “Yet in many states, it's not mandatory to have a curriculum around healthy relationships. … But as you can see, this is such a need. I did not have this training 'til I was late into my 20s. And I did it only because of my work. And when I did it, I was like, 'I wish I had some of these tools when I was growing up, when I was a young person.'”

Ormao plans to roll out Hands are for Holding in four schools in the fall semester of 2019, expanding to 12 in the spring of 2020. They’re hoping to raise $20,000 more through donations to fund the program. See for more information.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that there was a lack of data about the program's effectiveness. We regret the error.

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