NDI Artistic Director on Using Dance as a Tool to Empower Youth
Beyond being entertaining and beautiful to watch, dance can make a statement and leave an impression. It can change minds and allow the audience to experience emotions that the dancer and/or choreographer may have felt. It’s for this reason that the National Dance Institute, dancer and choreographer Robbie Fairchild, former Miami City Ballet dancer/current filmmaker Ezra Hurwitz, and Everytown for Gun Safety teamed up to create a dance video called “Enough.” “The goal of the project was to explore through movement the issue of gun violence in school, which sadly, for our dancers, is a very real concern,” NDI artistic director Ellen Weinstein told Dance Spirit. After its release a little over a week ago, the video has garnered 30,000 views on YouTube—its message resonating with many viewers. We talked with Weinstein to find out why it was so important for NDI to be a part of this project, and what she hopes young dancers realize about the power this art form has.
Why was it so important for the dancers of NDI to be part of this film?
At NDI, we work with over 6,500 children in NYC partner schools and every year we pick a curricular theme that serves as a springboard for a year of exploration and discovery. This year, our curricular theme is “Voices of Change”. We’re exploring individuals who have used their “voice” to effect positive change. When Robbie Fairchild came to me with his vision for the film, I felt it resonated with our curricular theme and overarching mission to empower children and to help them find their voice through the arts. It was a powerful way to launch this year’s program. Additionally, it was an opportunity for our young dancers to work in a professional setting with a celebrity choreographer and filmmaker. And rather than having paid dancers, the filmmakers saw the value of having NYC school children authentically expressing their feelings through the power of dance.
What was it like working with Robbie Fairchild?
Robbie Fairchild is a great artist. He’s participated in NDI events and performed with our young dancers for many years. He knows and understands our program and when he first came to me with this idea, I immediately said yes. I knew that whatever Robbie was involved in would be of the highest quality and integrity, and would have a powerful impact on our children and the organization.
How did the project unfold?
Robbie arranged for me to meet with the director, Ezra Hurwitz, and together they laid out their vision for the project. They were so passionate and committed to this project, and within just a few weeks, had raised the money to move forward, hire the choreographer James Alsop, and the rest of the crew. From that point, everything moved very fast, with rehearsals, shooting, and editing all happening within two and a half weeks’ time. It was very exciting for our children and our NDI staff to work with these extraordinary, world-class artists and play a pivotal role in realizing their vision.
ENOUGH! The Making of a Movement
What do you hope NDI’s young dancers took away from participating in this project?
I want our dancers to know that they have a voice, and they can use their voice to effect positive change. I want them all to become activists for the issues that they care about. I want them to understand and value the power of the arts, and how the arts can unite people around a shared goal. There’s no better way to inspire and educate our children than by using the arts, and dance in particular, to engage them emotionally.
How does dance influence the important issues of the day?
Dance, like all the arts, is a powerful way of expressing the most human emotions. It’s a language that’s universally understood. Dance is transcendent and unique in its ability to communicate and unify beyond words. I think dance can change the world. I see it every day at NDI!
How does NDI empower kids to make a difference?
At NDI we use dance to help children learn about the world, and at the same time, realize their greatest potential. They begin to understand the value of hard work, rigor, and discipline. Dance gives our children a vehicle through which to express themselves. Through the power of performance, they learn to care about each other, support each other, and celebrate differences. They become part of something bigger than themselves.