Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Professional Studies and Fine Arts

Dance of Home - A Project for the Public Good

Breaking cultural barriers through dance

Dance of Home - A Project for the Public Good

By Angelena Lufrano

In Austin, Texas, 2013, Chuyun Oh experienced something life-changing. She was involved in a flash mob called One Billion Rising, a dance activism activity to address sexual violence against women, where she witnessed people of all races, ethnicities, genders and backgrounds come together through dance for a common cause. During the flash mob, the Chief of Austin Police even joined in with the dancers, a surprise to every participant. It was at this moment that Oh saw the power of dance in bringing people together and building communities. Since that day, she has worked with socially marginalized communities, including refugees, using dance to unite them.

“Dancing is a wonderful tool to build community, surely transgressing linguistic, religious and cultural barriers,” said Oh, in a statement that guides her mission for her current project, Dance of Home.

Dance of Home was awarded funding from the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts as a Project for the Public Good. Funding is granted based on three conditions: the project must include SDSU students, engage a community member, and have a measurable impact.

The project works with socioculturally underrepresented communities in San Diego, specifically refugee women and children from the Middle East, in collaboration with community partner License to Freedom. Dance, acting, art therapy and poetry workshops have been held since August 2018, and the project will culminate with a public dance performance on October 19 at 7 p.m. in the SDSU Smith Recital Hall. The public is welcome, admission is free, and donations will be accepted. For information visit: Dance of Home Eventbrite. Oh employs both SDSU undergraduate and graduate students as movement instructors, choreographers, musicians, dramaturges, filmmakers, art therapists, and post-performance moderators and critics throughout the project.

The first workshop occurred in mid-August at the El Cajon Library. Oh was introduced to a group of 40 women and children by the Director of License to Freedom, Dilkhwaz Ahmed, in order to build rapport and trust with the group. She was also present to translate for Oh, as many of the participants only speak Arabic.

At the end of the successful workshop, Oh asked the women to say one word that helped them to better love themselves. They said words such as “joy, happiness and gratitude.”

As the workshops continue, Oh is learning more and more about the sensitive culture and background from which the women come.

“They have faced a tremendous amount of difficulty due to their religion, gender, race, ethnicity, and legal status,” said Oh. “Many of them are traumatized from their experiences.”

In the next workshop, Oh began to teach the group choreography for the performance, including pieces meant to represent joy and sadness. As they learned the movements, some women began to cry, explaining how the dancing reminded them of home or of lost loved ones.

“I hope to create a platform where they can speak freely about their stories, share memories, and honor their family traditions and ancestral heritage as a way to celebrate and heal,” said Oh. “Trauma remains trauma because it is untold, it is not heard. I hope the final performance can create a home where the community is singing, dancing, and drumming while finally feeling a sense of belonging from their new San Diego community.”

To learn more about Chuyun Oh, visit https://music.sdsu.edu/index.php/faculty/chuyun_oh.

This will be an ongoing story following the progression of the Dance of Home project.

The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.

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