embodiment project embodies the emotionality of lived stories commonly silenced and stigmatized
to unleash the intrinsic power of dance as an act of resistance and collective healing.
With support from Sister Karen Boccalero Arts Fund, Embodiment Project (EP), in partnership with The Ahimsa Collective (TAC) lead a 10-month project, CIRCLES (Cultivating Imagination, Restoration and Collective Liberation through Expression of Self) to serve the re-entry community through Restorative Justice (RJ) circles & workshops rooted in healing through dance & expressive arts. We had originally applied to Sister Karen Boccalero Arts Fund to participate in WorldTrust’s Virtual Gatherings. However due to the COVID-19 World Trust was not able to partner on this particular event. Instead the Sister Karen Boccalero Arts Fund allowed Embodiment Project to initiate our first CIRCLES program which achieved the following measurable outcomes:
- EP performed 1 showcase and for participants and community.
- EP core staff and community members received a two-day training in Restorative Justice lead by 4 of TAC’s RJ facilitators.
- Completed one community BBQ, 1 informal showcase; 1 2-day RJ retreat; 1 2-day Curriculum Development retreat; and weekly facilitator debrief meetings.
- 10 previously incarcerated participants completed the 10-workshop series with 90% attendance and each received a stipend of $250 upon completion; 100% of participants submitted final surveys.
- Collectively designed creative approached incorporate dance, and expressive arts into TAC’s REALIZE curriculum (16 month circle program in CA prisons where participants’ explore the following themes: trauma, resiliency, accountability, gender socialization, shame and worth, and breaking silence) to create the framework for CIRCLES.
- Engaged 35 previously incarcerated community members in the project.
- Provided ongoing paid work to 8 Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) dance artists for during shelter-in-place ordinance.
As many as 17,600 people have been released from CA prisons due to the pandemic, and face a wide range of challenges related to trauma/violence, isolation, mental health disparities, and systemic racism. Knowing that parole-mandated reentry services typically tell individuals more about what they must do rather than asking them what they need, we were determined to try our best to center the voices, needs, and experiences of the participants in every aspect of the project.
Due to COVID we had to do the majority of our programming on zoom, and in the beginning of the workshop series westruggled with committed enrollment from participants. After connecting with one of reaching out for guidance from our partner RJ circle keepers we learned the importance of offering our participants a stipend for their time and participation. We decided to offer our participants a gift card to Target for $250 upon completing the intensive as a thank you gesture for their involvement. This considerably increased the commitment in the group.Due to COVID we also changed our originally proposed project from in an in-person performance to a 10-workshop virtual program with one in-person outdoor BBQ/showcase, and final virtual showcase.
We offered a survey to the previously incarcerated participants who attended our community BBQ and performance learning what they want to get out of the intensive before it launched. It was important that the project leaders from TAC (Richard Cruz, Miguel Quezada and Misty Franklin), were all previously incarcerated. CIRCLESProject Director had long standing relationships with most of the participants through another re-entry program called Roots and Rebound.
Through her close relationship with participants we were able to learn what they want more of, what’s working, and not working for them on a weekly basis. We discussed and utilized feed back at weekly debrief meetings to inform & introduce measures of success for the next workshop. Meeting the increased need for stability, social connection, joy, and healing due to the pandemic was a critical part of our work. Knowing our community carries trauma, we worked to build an emotionally safe & stable container. EP is also made up of majority BIPOC artists who shared their own narratives of violence, adversity, and triumph as support throughout the project.
We worked with participants towards general outcomes such as increased levels of connection, wellbeing, and creative expression, and other artistic outcomes were determined by their individual interests and goals.