Words by Anna Day
Feature image by Raising the Barre
Who are Raising the Barre?
We’re all about ‘Raising the Barre’ on mental health through dance, providing opportunities for students to get involved in eliminating stigma and creating awareness about mental health and its challenges, and also providing members with a safe space to go to. Each of our dance session involves a sit down aspect where members can talk about day-to-day life with mental health, ill-health and illness. Additionally, students can reach out to executive members on their own if they would like to speak privately. As the executive are also students, we stress that we are not trained professionals, although have executive members with some levels of training such as Mental Health First Aid and work in mental health. Of course, we will provide services when necessary, but the idea is to help students keep on keeping on!
Research shows that exercise is as good as anti-depressants for mild to moderate depression, and also helps with various other disorders and issues. Dance is, of course, a form of exercise, and allows for expression of creativity, thoughts, and feelings. Through dance, people are able to share their experiences, good and bad, and communicate to others what it might be like to be in their world. So we use dance as a platform to express ourselves and to maintain well-being!
How did Raising The Barre start?
Raising The Barre was designed in 2017 by our prez, Joanna Gladwich. This is her story:
When I was a teenager, I went through some trying times and experienced poor mental health as a result of that. At that time, I really struggled to reach out and talk in fear of being judged because of the stigma that was surrounding me. After some time though, I decided that I needed to reach out for help, but I didn’t have the tools to adequality express myself through words. As I grew up a dancer, I did what I did best and created some choreography to show people how I felt. And while I wasn’t physically listened to, I felt heard. Because of that, I felt like I was ready to conquer my fears and talk to someone about what I’d been going through. But there was a quote that really spoke to me—Shane Koyczan says “If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.”. It took me a while, but I picked up the pieces and I drew up the design for Raising The Barre, using dance to express your mental health in a nonjudgmental space—because the truth is talking to people can be hard and scary for some. The way you express yourself is up to you! Naturally the very first dance piece we put up on our YouTube page was that choreography that started it all. And now, as an organisation, we’re doing all we can to help others get through their challenges, as well as get rid of that stigma that so often stops people from reach out for help.
How did social distancing alter these goals?
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were unable to continue with sessions face-to-face. But, we did our best to keep members involved and having fun! Thankfully we were able to stay in touch with members and still offer support to anyone who needed it through our socials. Our prez whipped up some choreography in a style that allows you to dance without needing a lot of space, called Tutting, and started a Tutting Tuesday’s campaign on our social media platforms, with the tutorials on our YouTube page – which are still available for you to learn!
What is Raising the Barre looking forward to the most for the rest of the year?
We’re keen to get back into sessions when it’s safe to do so. But we’re mostly excited to keep eliminating stigma, supporting students, and having fun! We want students and non-students to feel like they’re supported and that they have somewhere to turn when things get a little too much, but also when things are fine. We’re here to support you at any time in your mental health journey!
How can we get involved with Raising the Barre?
The best way to get involved is to sign up with us through USASA on our club page! You can also stay involved on our socials and keep up to date with our tips and choreography at home. We don’t just post choreography, we post information about mental health, tips for study, funny memes and more!
What would you say to those of us who have two left feet but would still like to be involved?
Dancer or not, you can still come and have some fun! We can help teach basic dance technique, if that’s what you want to learn. In some sessions we use everyone’s abilities to create awesome choreography as a group, other times we’ll teach choreography made by the exec team. But we believe that everyone can dance! And the choreography is made so everyone can get involved!
If dancing really isn’t your thing, that’s okay. While we focus on dance, we also support any healthy and creative methods of expression! We want everyone to feel like they can get involved.
This piece was originally published in Edition 35 of Verse. View it in its original PDF form via ISSUU.