By Kylie Blanchard
“Dance is a medium that can speak to everyone,” says Joshua Wise, artistic director at Studio X, a dance studio with locations in Minot and Bismarck. And sharing a powerful anti-bullying message through dance is a goal he is accomplishing with the help of the studio’s talented dancers.
“Bullying is an issue that is important to me,” he says. “Being a male dancer and growing up in a small town, bullying is something I lived with every day.” Wise says the idea for the dance was inspired by a poem titled “To This Day” by Shane Koyczan. “I was immediately moved by this poem and knew it was something I wanted to turn into a visual art piece.”
He then turned to the dancers, ranging in age from 14 to 18, and presented the idea of a dance with an anti-bullying message. “When I was conceptualizing the piece, I wanted it to be very personal to both the audience and the dancers,” Wise notes, adding his students were more than willing to participate and share their experiences with bullying as well. “In an effort to make it genuine, I asked the girls to think of a word that had been said to them that left a mark on them.”
The dancers knew the piece was going to have a powerful impact on its audiences, she adds. “Joshua told us it was going to hit hard and we needed to just give it our all because it is a strong message.”
To illustrate the impact of the word each dancer chose, it is written on their stomach and revealed at one point during the dance. “Nobody likes to show weakness or vulnerability, especially in front of hundreds of people, but I am so proud of the fact my dancers were willing to go there. It is just incredible,” says Wise.
The response to the dance has been overwhelmingly positive, but different from typical dances. “We performed this piece at all of our competitions this year, and when the kids are on the stage it is usually loud and people are cheering, but with this piece, it grabs people’s attention and it gets really quiet.”
“We have had people come up to us and tell us the dance is so inspiring. We are expressing to people that we have been there,” adds Williamson. “I hope they gain knowledge of what kids go through when it comes to bullying, and I want people to feel like they can connect with this message through our dancing.”
Wise notes he continues to receive positive feedback after performances and competitions. “Within a couple of hours of a show, I have emails from people who were touched and moved by the piece. I am getting notes from people who say they needed to see this message,” he says. “It is important to them to see someone who has made it through bullying. We want people to know they are not alone and it is worth it to just keep going.”
It is also important to the dancers to show their peers they are not okay with bullying. “We are standing up for those kids who can’t stand up for themselves,” says Williamson.
Studio X hopes to work with local schools and community organizations to develop a symposium to bring their anti-bullying message to as many kids as possible. “Dance is something people can enjoy, and with the current situation with bullying, the girls and I feel this is a prime place to deliver this message.”
Wise says it has been very rewarding to see the impact this dance is having on its audiences. “The dance is so personal,” he says. “When it is being performed, you’re getting to see my heart in movement on the stage. If we impact one person, it is worth it.”