Why Brooklyn? Why not Brooklyn? Brooklyn is the most populated of the five boroughs that make up New York City, with more than 2.5 million people. It has deep cultural roots, representing many distinct ethnicities. The neighborhoods within Brooklyn each have their own identity, yet have a similar feel, a vibe, a culture that unifies the residents across ethnic groups, socio-economic lines and more. The borough is expanding rapidly, becoming one of the most diverse areas in the country. Yet… it is home to more than 500,000 underserved youth, in desperate need of recreational activities and artistic opportunities. Brooklyn may be the new hotspot in NYC, but there is still great need for change.
The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center is an answer to that need. For years, politicians and community members alike have been calling for change, saying we need to create spaces that will allow children to open their minds and flourish. Opening this performing arts center will place one of the arts’ most vivid disciplines right in the epicenter of all the growth and diversity.
Why Bed-Stuy? The Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn is alive with energy, alive with the arts – but it’s not thriving as it should. The children aren’t given enough access to thrive, and the community continues to be the epicenter of disastrous health issues such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and obesity. If a child wants any significant exposure to the arts, parents have to shuttle their children out to other, more prosperous areas – Fort Greene, Park Slope, Manhattan. The children have to leave their world and go into someone else’s to escape the rise in gang culture and the proliferation of guns that are readily available in Bed-Stuy’s public housing complexes.
There is precious little in Bed-Stuy that says, “I’m proud.” The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center aims to cultivate and grow humanity in the area. “We aren’t celebrating our children enough,” says Smallwood, “Opening this center is my way of saying I am invested in the neighborhood. Bed-Stuy is more than bodegas and liquor stores and fast food chains. I have invested with my heart and soul and hopefully, from that, we will breathe new oxygen into the neighborhood.”
Why dance? “Dance helped me define myself; it helped me realize I was a beautiful person living in this concrete jungle called Bed-Stuy,” explains Smallwood. She used dance as an opportunity to block out the noise of the world and listen to her truth. Dance opens the mind to possibilities. Dance gives the mind and body access. Dance may not be everyone’s oxygen, but it certainly can help them find clarity in their own lives.
The greatest benefit of dance is that it sparks one’s imagination and nurtures individual creativity in a unique way. Dance classes share the joy of physical self-expression in a supportive and structured setting, having a positive impact on people who have limited physical abilities, who act out or who have a difficult time sitting still. Involving children in dance also teaches the basic elements of creative movement, such as time, rhythm and design.