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City Heights Studio Helps Teens Find Resolution Through Dance

Evening Edition

Above: The TranscenDANCE program helps teens in City Heights stay out of trouble and resolve their problems. Video by Megan Burks and Brian Myers of Speak City Heights and Media Arts Center.

Behind a metal security gate on a busy stretch of University Avenue, teenagers gather to work out choreography for an upcoming dance performance.

When the music starts, they split into groups on opposite sides of the room and then converge in the middle, provoking each other with aggressive freestyle and break-dance moves. Each confrontation pushes the dancers to perform riskier moves—a headstand or a flip through the air—until the group falls into synchronized steps and turns.

Special Feature Speak City Heights

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

Eventually, the routine will fit into a series of dances about conflict resolution.

“Different shapes that they can create with their bodies…express feelings of connection, feelings of isolation, a struggle,” said Behin Behrozi of transcenDANCE, the dance studio where the teens train. “From the previews that we’ve seen, that’s coming through so beautifully.”

It’s a theme the dancers are familiar with. Many of them came to transcenDANCE to resolve their own internal conflicts. The program gives them a safe, productive way to express themselves.

“Putting a meaning to certain movements and portraying the story through your movements, it’s kind of just, like, a self-recognition of the struggles that I’m going through and the weird things that I have to overcome,” said John Dela Cruz, 18.

Dela Cruz said he struggled to find a place where he belonged before coming to transcenDANCE. He said his family moved around a lot and he was bullied at various schools because he’s Filipino. He recently split from his parents to live with his brother in City Heights.

Dancers at transcenDANCE.
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Above: Dancers at transcenDANCE.

Dela Cruz said transcenDANCE has given him a surrogate family of sorts. He meets with his fellow dancers almost daily for practice. The time together has created a bond that sees them through problems they encounter in and out of the studio.

“If we notice something that’s going on with either one student or the group, there’s an opportunity for them to see and be seen by one another,” Behrozi said.

“It’s much more than just your average dance studio where folks come to dance and feel good and leave,” she added.

Indeed, training for performances often involves programming geared toward personal development. This year, the teens met with an art therapist, completed training through the National Conflict Resolution Center and attended a retreat.

It’s experience transcenDANCE leaders hope the dancers will take with them into City Heights, where residents struggle with violence, poverty and social inequality.

“I listen to what’s going on out there and I know there’s a lot of people suffering,” said dancer Itza Perez, 18. “It bothers me and it makes me want to do a change. If by dancing I can make a change [for] one person, that person will go to one person and that person will go to another person. This can be a way to inspire people to do something about this conflict in City Heights.”

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