| The students at Woodside Elementary give rousing support to dancers from the Footlight Dance Centre as they chant in unison “No more bullies!” Express photo by Willy Cook
It’s not often that a ballet performance provokes fist pumping, but Footlight Dance Company is no ordinary dance company. Under the direction of Hilarie Neely, the group has taken up its biggest challenge to date: a mission to help end bullying. And judging by the reception of students across the valley, it’s a topic that’s dancing on the tip of many tongues.
The senior members of the company are touring “NoMoreBullies, Acceptance, Responsibilty, Empathy” to all the valley schools ending with a communitywide presentation Saturday, Feb. 9, that will include dancers from the Idaho Falls School of Ballet under the direction of Deborah Bean and Alysha Oclassen’s Dirty Feet Dance Company.
The dancers interpret the subject of bullying though ballet, modern, jazz, tap and hip-hop dance forms. In advance of the school shows, Neely went to the schools and asked for submissions in writing about students’ feelings about bullying. She also taught students a “flash mob” response with arm movements and vocalizations of the mantra no more bullies so they could interact with the dancers at the end to Lady Gaga’s anti-bullying anthem “Born This Way.”
Additionally, Neely said, “each student in the community will receive a bracelet saying ‘NoMoreBullies,’ so when we enter each performance we are all standing together to recognize the issue, find ways to feel safe and confront the issue.”
For the past 20 years, Neely has provided a provocative dance presentation to area students, but this year took on a poignant bend with the mountain of stories across the nation of disastrous turns brought on by bullying. Neely said the district had a strategy in place at the schools and she sought to complement its efforts by offering the message through a different medium.
To make that happen, Neely was able to draw on a generous grant from the San Francisco Ballet/Sun Valley organization. The elite company told organizers that if its show last fall was a success, it would contribute back to the community. It was and they did, Neely said.
“In walked my grant and made my dream come true,” she said.
Neely took her idea to her fellow teachers, who at first were a bit timid about the topic, but once she assured them of her confidence in them, they devoured the opportunity and began choreographing the program.
At a recent performance at the Community School in Sun Valley, the petite Neely made her way to the front of an audience of hundreds in the gym and led them in an anti-bullying cheer.
She then narrated each set, interspersing actual student contributions that set up the dance.
It’s evident that the subject is not only weighing on students’ minds, but that they’re begging for help with the matter.
Consider this from Community School student S. Busby:
“Kindness is a simple thing. Far less complicated than a ring. For every mean child that lies in bed, many tears have been shed. Over time we grow and change but memories only rearrange. Hurtful words haunt our mind, language has hurt our kind. Nasty boys walk on by I wonder if they question why. But either way from the path they have strayed, their broken hearts have been frayed. A mother, father, or a friend. One could have saved them before they turned to condemn ... Kindness could have changed it all before the boys went and made them fall.”
The resounding message is, if you see something, say something.
Olivia Ott explains the loneliness of being bullied.
“I stand there red as a tomato, and they laugh. No one stands up for me. I sit there with my head bowed, shoulders hunched, face scarlet and they jeer … Where is the respect? The acknowledgment of my ache, the proof that I too am a person?”
As Evan M. urges, “The best way you could be the nice person is to stand up. Go ahead and help that one person out, and don’t be the one standing in the sidelines watching.”
Neely said the show has already spurred a dialogue with the bullied and the bullies coming forward to share their stories and their pain.
“For the next two weeks, 4,000 students will have a chance to stand together against this problem,” she said. “That’s a powerful thing.”
Stand up, speak out
When: Saturday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m.
Where: Community Campus performing arts center in Hailey.
Tickets: Benefit The Advocates. $10 adults, $5 students.
Where to buy: Iconoclast Books, Ketchum, from Footlight Company dancers and at the door. Or by calling 578-5462 or visiting www.footlightdancecentre.com.