“Melanie, you know it’s easier for me to be on the streets finding my next high and running from the cops than to be in your dance class? But I have to thank you because you taught me discipline, which is something I’ve never had because my entire life, I would always run away when things got tough for me, but you wouldn’t let me leave dance class when I got frustrated and found it hard. So thank you, because now I’m going to college and I’m going to stick with it. You taught me how to stick with it.” – Francis, FreeHab
Fostering Dreams through Dance offers a treatment solution to children in foster care.
Why this matters
What are risks faced by children in foster care? Individuals with adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are at a higher risk for developing disease later in life, and this risk is increased in children in foster care who likely have multiple ACE, according to a study conducted by Dr. Mariflor Jamora and team at the Kennedy Kruger Institute Family Center and Johns Hopkins University.
What does it mean to have multiple ACE?
ACE scores measure an individual’s level of childhood trauma, both personal and witnessed, and are predictors of disease(s) in adulthood; oftentimes, being exposed to a single ACE means an individual was also exposed to a second ACE—multiple ACE.
What does this mean in a practical sense?
Once a report of neglect and/or abuse is screened into the child welfare system and that report is substantiated, determinations are made for the child and their family; if the child has been put at high risk, then it’s more likely s/he’ll be placed in foster care.
So what do we do?
With 1 in 8 children experiencing child maltreatment and KidsData.org documenting 58,699 children in California’s foster care system as of 2013—19,899 in Los Angeles County alone, something needs to be done to improve the livelihood and life prospects of children in foster care. There isn’t a treatment protocol in place, like those carried out for patients with cancer or diabetes, but that’s only one missing piece of the puzzle. In “Social Determinants of Health: The Community as an Empowered Partner,” epidemiologist Dr. Leonard Symes contends that the community plays an important, or even more, a pivotal role in ameliorating any risky and/or adverse behavior. That’s where organizations like Fostering Dreams through Dance come in.
Fostering Dreams through Dance (FDTD), founded by professional dancer and So You Think You Can Dance (CA) alumna Melanie Buttarazzi, provides dance therapy via dance classes to children affected by foster care.
Prior to forming FDTD, Melanie knew she wanted to help underprivileged kids who wouldn’t have the opportunity to take a dance class, as she describes herself as someone with “big dreams and a heart to help… kids through the art of dance,” but it was through listening to the community that her focused specifically shifted to children affected by foster care.
“I [met] this former foster youth,” says Melanie, “who was like, ‘You should focus in on foster kids because they are probably the most underserved and under-appreciated or respected kids… They get moved around so much, they don’t really know their parents.… Those kids are really fragile, and they could use something like this.”
Thus began Melanie’s journey to create FDTD. She describes the early days as waking up before dawn filled with ideas and motivation to push forward. She reached out to choreographers who inspired her to be a better dancer and believed would be a positive influence in these children’s lives. “Little did I know, some of the choreographers have worked with foster youth or have even been homeless at one time… They all had a story to share for these kids to connect with,” says Melanie.
That first “aha” moment was in 2013, and almost two years later, Fostering Dreams through Dance has since partnered with community organizations like FreeHab, a branch of The Teen Project founded by Lauri Burns, and First Star Academy at UCLA, founded by Peter Samuelson.
FreeHab serves former foster youth recovering from traumatic life experiences. Former FDTD participant at Freehab Ashley says,
“[FDTD] makes me feel a part of something bigger and helped me connect to myself again.”
How so? Melanie balances her dance classes with a combination of “feeling good” and enjoying the music exercises with monthly exercises that challenges participants to tap into their emotions. “Feeling good” exercises allows participants to channel their inner Beyonce, where exercises to channel emotions emphasize interpretive dancing. “I’d say certain words and have them dance out what that emotion is to them…. So many of them would say how much it got them connected, going within, whereas most of the time they want to shut that off… They don’t want to get in touch with those emotions of happy, sad, anger, betrayal, love,” says Melanie.
Further, FDTD raises awareness by documenting its progress. Watch the first installment below:
“I think every rehab center should have dance program… It should be a requirement because it’s physical therapy,” adds Melanie. Dance/movement therapy (DMT) has been well documented as a beneficial alternative psychotherapy treatment. A 2007 study conducted by Sabine Koch et al. at the University of Heidelberg found dance therapy to be the most effective in decreasing depression and increasing vitality when compared to music therapy (listening only) and using a home trainer bike. Further, behavioral changes including improved impulse control, frustration tolerance, gratification delay, and the ability to get along with others occurred in children ages 5-8 after receiving DMT, according to a study conducted by Erfer of Mt. Sinai Medical Center and Anat Ziv of a private practice in Israel.
What can you do?
Tell somebody. Melanie graciously offered to giveaway dance classes to one lucky winner and his/her friends (Los Angeles locals only). All you have to do is help raise awareness by sharing this article or liking FDTD on Facebook (entry form below). Bonus entries offered as well.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
To learn more about the foster care in the United States, check out the documentary “Our America with Lisa Ling: Children of the System,” which exposes and grapples with the complexities of the child welfare system.