Dance To Be Free is a nonprofit started in Boulder, Colorado in 2015 by Lucy Wallace that is giving women in prison hope, a healthy way to express emotions, and opportunities for future employment to prevent women from returning to prison.
I’ve had the pleasure of dancing with Lucy for years at her studio in Boulder, and I’m incredibly inspired by her teaching and the community that she creates. I took her Soul Sweat dance teacher’s training in 2014 and my practice of dancing regularly at Alchemy encouraged some of my most powerful breakthroughs of connection, ease and joy in my body, in community! When she started gearing up Dance to Be Free and teaching in the Denver Women’s Prison in 2015, I felt tremendous gratitude that this gift of connection with one’s inner experience can be shared with some of our nation’s most disconnected and struggling population. In addition to her love for bold movement, Lucy holds an MA in Psychology, and she’s dedicated to helping people from all walks of life to become more empowered.
I simply can’t say enough how much I appreciate Lucy’s gift to the world through this wonderful program.
Watch the above video to see the impact on these women in prison:
“I learned that I don’t have to be free while incarcerated, I learned that I can be free in my mind.”
“I just felt like, peaceful. Maybe I’m not all alone.”
“So I want to keep myself busy in a positive world and I would like to give back to the community that I helped to destroy at one time.”
“Every woman we interviewed is saying, oh my god, this is life changing.”
“I was afraid that the women would be resentful,” Wallace recalls. “I had all these assumptions and myths from Hollywood and Orange is the New Black. I was scared that they would be like, ‘Who’s the blond girl coming in to teach us?’ — and that was immediately shattered as soon as I walked in.”
Before long, the incarcerated women realized this wasn’t going to be a normal dance class. “This is spiritual,” one observed, and Wallace knew the woman understood.
“She got that it’s not just about exercise,” Wallace says. “I kind of let the dance do its work, and the message is translated because I don’t need to preach. I don’t need to convince. I don’t need to talk about their past and talk about their trauma. There is this invisible message that it’s healing, and they get it without having to talk about it.”
Since 2015, Wallace has introduced the program to thirteen prisons in eight states. On one occasion, one of her groups performed for Orange Is the New Black author and activist Piper Kerman. Next week, dancers incarcerated in Marion County, Florida’s infamous Lowell Correctional Institution will dance for their mothers. One day, Wallace hopes to convince Oprah Winfrey to join her at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility for Women, south of her home town of Kosciusko, Mississippi.
While procedures vary from prison to prison, Wallace always provides the music and trains inmates to teach her dances. Then she steps back and lets the women run the show.
From Westward’s Feb 15, 2019 story: Dance to Be Free Brings Dance Workshops to Women’s Prisons
Dance To Be Free is changing the lives of incarcerated women through the healing power of Dance!
Lucy Wallace, MA founded Dance To Be Free (DTBF) along with her Board of Directors in 2015. They started their weekly classes at Denver Women’s Correctional Facility and eventually implemented their teacher-trainings in January of 2016. They are now in 13 prisons and 8 states (CO, AR, MS, HI, NE, VA, FL and WA).
We use dance to change the trajectory of women in prison with the goal of helping women heal from complex trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through the body. Our organization trains inmates to lead dance classes and spread what we call cathartic choreography to other women.
Dr. Bruce Perry, a trauma specialist says we need “patterned, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory activity, literally, bodily sensing exercises. Developmental trauma happens in the body, where pre-conscious ‘implicit memory’ was laid down in the primitive brain stem (survival brain) and viscera, long before we had a thinking frontal cortex or ‘explicit memory’ function.”
The list of repetitive, rhythmic regulations used for trauma by Dr. Perry, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Pat Ogden and others is remarkable. It includes singing, dancing, drumming, and most musical activities. Perry’s research confirms the results we are experiencing, whether we are dancing in maximum or medium facilities; dance heals – racial boundaries soften and those that were enemies come together in the dance.
We have certified over 300 inmates as dance teachers who can hold space, connect, inspire, choreograph and lead a DTBF class. Our graduates then sustain the program, offering each other classes during the week when DTBF is not present. If they are going to be released in the near future, they will leave prison with a tangible skill to bring back to their community, which in turn impacts the alarmingly high rates of recidivism.
Lucy Wallace, MA
Lucy bought Alchemy of Movement (AOM) in January 2010, a dance studio in Boulder, CO, after receiving her master’s degree in Psychology. Her psychology background led to the birth of Dance To Be Free due to the therapeutic and cathartic quality of her teaching style.
In March of 2015, Lucy founded Dance To Be Free along with her Board of Directors. Dance To Be Free’s mission is to share the healing power of dance with women in prison nationwide. The cathartic choreography and passionate music leads to physical, spiritual and emotional healing without the burden of talk therapy. After weaving in play, meditative breathing, humor and empowering writing prompts, the trainees report feeling “A weight has lifted off my chest,” “I can have fun sober” “I feel Free in my mind although I’m in prison.”
Facts & Stats
Recidivism is a core criminal justice concern. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states: “Nationally, 30% of adult offenders released from state prisons are re-arrested within the first six months of their release. Within three years of their release, 67% of ex-offenders return to prison.”
Employment and community engagement are critical factors determining long-term success of released inmates. We aim to reduce the high rate of recidivism by addressing the root cause of why a recently released inmate would return to prison: unaddressed PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).
“57.2% of females report abuse before admission to state prisons versus 16.1% of males.” -Bureau of Justice statistics, US Dept. of Justice
“Dancing is seen as a reparative experience that directly contradicts the terror, helplessness and invisibility of trauma to enable survivors to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives.” -Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD
This quote sums up the mission of Dance To Be Free – “We have already seen and heard from the inmates at DWCF about how their social interactions have shifted since dancing together. As Bronwyn Tarr stated: “In our recent study, we found that synchronizing with others while dancing raised pain tolerance. It also encouraged people to feel closer to others.”
Article in Fortune Magazine, “This Is Why Women Are the Fastest-Growing Prison Population” https://fortune.com/2015/12/10/prison-reform-women/
“6 in 10 women are in federal prison for nonviolent drug crimes. For every woman who has committed murder, there are 99 drug offenders.” – Amos Irwin Chief of Staf at the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
“PTSD increases risk of criminal recidivism among justice-involved person with mental disorders.” –Criminal Justice and Behavior 2014
“As the former Warden at DWCF, seeing this program bring tears of joy. Thank you Lucy!” Dona Zavislan
“Everyone had so much fun! Whomever sees this and is a Warden at a Women’s facility needs to contact these ladies. They change lives!” Denise Davidson, Warden at NCCW
“I’ve gone from 8 meds down to 1 since DTBF.” Mary, LVCF
“I don’t feel like I’m in prison for an hour on a Sunday, and I love that. I love the normalcy of that…you don’t feel so alone.” C. Hardy, DWCF
We are %100 solely funded by passionate donors like YOU! Whether you are excited about prison reform or the healing power of cathartic dance, your donation in amount goes directly to the soulful rehabilitation of incarcerated women across America. YOU are changing lives!
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Source: Dance To Be Free
Thanks and EmBody’d Blessings! Tina