During the three months I’ve spent in the States I’ve only met genuine, warm, kindhearted, wonderful people. They have opened their doors and hearts to me, have shared personal stories and treated me as if I were family. They have showed me the country and all of its beautiful places, helped me with my mission, never told me I was wrong or too ambitious, believed in me, helped me grow and gave me confidence that I was doing the right thing. I was living my own 3-month American dream because of them.
Now it feels like America is divided. And I know many of the awesome people I’ve met are hurt and scared. Scared for the future of their country, scared for the future of education, the future of dance education. And I feel even more strongly about sharing their stories, because it is of great importance. Especially now. My time in Philadelphia and with Karen E. Bond taught me a lot about this country and its diversity, so I am grateful that I get to share this story with you now, during this confusing time.
After two weeks in New York I took the Greyhound bus to Philadelphia. An interesting experience coming from the big apple; the city that never sleeps, the city that is full of tourists, full of hard-working people, the city where I can walk alone on the streets in the middle of the night. This was the America I knew. From there I went to Philly; the former capital of the United States. Emphasis on former. Because there I saw a very different side of America. The neighbourhood I stayed in was old, most buildings closed or too dangerous to live in. People were living on the streets; it was a devastating sight. But in a way it was good: I needed to see this part of the States. Because what we know and see in the movies isn’t all there is. America has many different faces, as we now know because of the outcome of the elections.
In that same week I took another bus to Washington D.C., this time not for work, but to learn more about American history. Washington, according to a local Uber driver, used to have a lot of poverty and horrible sites on the streets, but has cleaned up a lot over the past few years. How different I felt here. The streets were clean, the buildings huge and gorgeous and the people driving in fancy cars.
Temple University – Conwell Hall
And community is what it is all about. Everywhere I went in the States I heard the word community. People looking out for each other. Volunteering for the local foundations, helping immigrants find a home, or just helping the next-door neighbour mow their lawn. I’ve seen more people help others than in any other place I’ve been so far. Creating a community was a general theme throughout my travels and conversations with people.
And it happened to be the theme of Karen’s class that she invited me to participate in after I asked her if she would want to meet with me. Karen has many years of experience in dance education as a teacher and researcher and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I stumbled upon her articles while doing my own research in college. Before joining the Department of Dance at Temple, Karen worked as a Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of Dance Education and Research at the University of Melbourne. She is known for her research into the experience and meanings of dance for participants from a range of populations and settings encompassing education, community arts, performance and therapy. She is widely published in books, journals and conference publications and has served on the boards of a number of professional associations, like Dance and the Child International and the National Dance Education Organisation. Again, I got to meet a wonderful woman and a very important person in dance education. Lucky me!
Karen E. Bond
At the end of the class we made a circle and every student told their story and their mission. Every student seemed very ambitious and most missions were based on creating communities. I heard wishes of becoming a movement therapist and a student that wanted to create a dance company for ‘outsiders’ as she called them, meaning people that you wouldn’t normally expect to be in a dance company. How wonderful. This too is America for me, the need to make the world a better place.
She has written many great articles on dance education (pre-school to university), mostly research in settings that involved children and childhood. She is one of the few people that give children a voice in dance research. Her article (written with Susan W. Stinson) about young people’s experiences of the super ordinary in dance has many quotes from children, which makes us see their perspective on dance. She works from a phenomenological orientation, which will show in her new book about dance and the quality of life, which hopefully will come out soon.
The White House
Being at Temple University made me realise that communities in America are everywhere and everyone wants to be a part of one. I saw students proudly wearing clothes with the Temple name and logo on it, something I normally wouldn’t see in the Netherlands. And even though I’ve been brought up in a country that usually creates very independent individuals, something I like very much, I wouldn’t have mind growing up in a country where neighbors look out for each other, where working as a volunteer is part of everyday life and where dance students are taught to create communities through dance. Let’s hope that, even though the country is divided now, everyone will keep on building their community and work hard to keep the ones that were already build. I think especially now it’s what is needed most.