The Healing Power of Dance

July 14, 2009

Whoever says dance
can’t be used to tackle heavy subject matter hasn’t seen the work of Rebecca Davis, a Philadelphia-based dancemaker and head of The Rebecca Davis Dance Company. This month, she’ll premiere 1994 in Philadelphia, a dance-theater piece created with 10 area teenagers.


The work is the creative outcome of a month-long trip she took to Kigali, Rwanda, last summer. While there, she researched the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of more than half a million people in less than 100 days. (Today, 42 percent of the population is under the age of 14.) “I was so impressed with how the kids and adults who survived are able to live in that environment and bring optimism to the reconstruction of their country,” Rebecca says.



She also collaborated with Rwandan choreographers, teaching them ballet while they taught her Rwandan dance, and worked with street orphans whose

parents had been massacred or died from the AIDS epidemic.



“What I experienced as an American was juxtaposition,” she says. “In the morning I would visit a memorial and see the devastating sources of remembrance and pain. Then I’d go teach these young children dance they’ve never seen before—after I’d seen exactly why these kids don’t have parents. It made the experience very powerful.”


Now back in the States, while creating 1994 in Philadelphia, Rebecca will share her experiences with Philadelphia teens, giving them a chance to learn what life is like for their Rwandan contemporaries. “A large component is helping kids here understand what their peers are doing halfway across the world—to make them develop a sense of the hardships and the accomplishments of kids who are faced with difficult circumstances,” says Rebecca.



It’s a weighty subject that must be handled delicately, but Rebecca is quick to point out that dance’s power to heal outweighs any creative or academic challenges. “From a personal perspective, having an opportunity to go and see firsthand how dance is used to overcome one of the worst atrocities reaffirmed to me as a choreographer the importance of dance,” she says. For more, visit

                        —Kristin Lewis