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New Carbondale dance class designed to teach tweens about mental health and emotional processing through movement

Carbondale's Shake It Off dance class offers an outlet for tweens to express themselves and process emotions.

Last week was the first time Alissa Rae Hill, a movement teacher for Carbondale’s Dance Initiative with a background in pilates, met with her virtual Shake it Off dance class for tweens ages 9-13.

“I just think it’s so important, especially as a young person, to learn about mental health and how we can use our bodies and move them to feel better, to be able to process life … it’s this thing that we don’t necessarily talk about but we all have moments of struggle with mild depression or anxiety,” Hill said.

The class currently has three students enrolled, but Megan Janssen, Executive Director of the Dance Initiative, said enrollment will stay open until Jan. 29 in an effort to make these stress relief techniques as accessible as possible for local kids.



“We would allow students to sign up even after the first week, but after that we’d probably restrict it because Alissa and Claudia are trying to create like a safe space so they want everyone who is going to be there to be there within the first two weeks,” Janssen said.

The class is intended to have therapeutic elements and offer a safe space for students to share about their lives and provide tools on how to process difficult emotions. Hill said there will be a playful element to the class and times when the students shut off their cameras and find movement that helps them feel good without anyone else watching.



“Sometimes it’s just quiet and where everyone is going to shut off their screens, and I want you to move … don’t worry about being seen by someone else, just move for you,” Hill said.

Janssen said the hope is to emphasize confidentiality and the autonomy students have as much as possible. The class will also approach mental health in a way that is intended to not be intimidating but empowering for the kids as they become more familiar with mindfulness and techniques for processing emotions in a safe, physical way.

“(Alissa will teach) some quick ways using movement to be able to self-soothe if you’re really mad or really sad because your body sends such a loud signal … it’s a combination of it being fun and having fun music as well as really understanding how to tap into your body a little bit more,” Janssen said.

Claudia Pawl is the Spanish-language translator who will be co-teaching the class with Hill. Offering Spanish and English dialogue is another way to help expand the range of students who may be interested in enrolling.

“The class is bilingual, which means that the content is being interpreted in real time and everything said is said in both languages … I am a professional interpreter and as such, we are trained to not only convey the message but also sometimes to act as a cultural broker to ensure understanding on both sides is achieved,” Pawl wrote in an email.

Mezcla Social Dance is a dance company owned by Pawl in its sixth year. The company’s primary focus is on Latin dances like Salsa, Bachata, Merengue, Cumbia and Brazilian Zouk, to name a few. Pawl will be teaming up with Hill to translate and include elements of these dances into the class.

“For the Shake It Off class students can expect weekly one hour classes primarily led by Alissa incorporating Pilates, yoga, guided movement, journaling and breath work with a sprinkle of fun Latin dance movement,” Pawl wrote.

Currently, only girls enrolled in the course but Hill said all people within the age range are welcome. Hill said the class will benefit everyone because although individuals’ brains and bodies work in different ways, mental health is a commonality shared by everyone and always has room for improvement.

“I feel like it’s open to humans,” Hill said. “This is a universal human thing we’re learning and talking about, and even though you might identify as a different gender than what’s primarily in the class right now, you still have a brain, your mental health is still important, and when we come together in this way there’s a way we can build awareness and compassion for ourselves and for each other.”

There is no enrollment cap for the class, but it will close within the second week in order to maintain a consistent environment, Janssen said. Scholarships are also available for students and Janssen said the Dance Initiative does not want to turn away anyone who may be interested.

“It’s a really particular age when kids are starting to move towards adulthood and being teenagers. (They’re starting to have) strong opinions and (are) learning more about their identity, and really I think needing a variety of tools to help express themselves … it feels like a really important age,” Janssen said.

To sign up for the class visit this link and to inquire about scholarships send an email to Janssen at megan@danceinitiative.org.

jpeterson@postindependent.com


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