2016 Grantee Profile: Pretty Wings

Pretty Wings has been doing extraordinary things through their engagement of women from various, complex backgrounds. The program director, Jena Alma, operates on the belief that the arts can “heal, empower, unite, break stigma, raise awareness and create social change”. She put these beliefs to practice when she crafted Pretty Wings, a program that utilizes dance as a modality for healing.

“Dance was a place that I went to hide, and in it, I found my voice.”

Rather than offering only group class, which can be both highly intimidating and triggering, Pretty Wings offers private lessons that provide a safe(r) space for LGBTQ and racialized women to express themselves. Jena explained that “dance was a place that I went to hide, and in it, I found my voice”. Dance acts as a safe haven to foster self-exploration, and the Pretty Wings framework nurtures this.

Within the program, participants self direct the entirety of the process. In the initial stages, mentors and mentees work together to co-create the scaffolding of their time together, “we agree on preferred working and learning styles, necessary accommodations, protocols for missed sessions, and maintenance structures for safe(r) spaces”.

“Stories are medicine – for authentic transformation to occur, it’s critical to have a space to tell your story genuinely.” 

From there, participants continue to lead their narrative for healing, “Stories are medicine – for authentic transformation to occur, it’s critical to have a space to tell your story genuinely. Over a five month period, women, with the assistance of their mentors, create their own dance performance pieces that reflect aspects of their lived experiences”.

Within these sessions, mentors guide participants through a curriculum of various dance types, dance principles (rhythm, timing, musicality, composition), free styling, movement safety, and storytelling through movement. Following the workshop sessions, participants choose a song that reflects the narrative of their story and begin self-choreographing pieces that express their stories through movement.

A collective option is also offered for those who wish to join, and I had the privilege of participating in the first gathering. The primary goal of this session was to work towards creating a safe space and community for participants. We started in a circle, cleansed with sage, and began to share our stories. Coming from complex backgrounds, all of the women were able to carry empathy and understanding for one another. We nurtured our spirits with conversation, and filled our bellies with nutritious food.

Those who wished to share also had the opportunity to perform their dance pieces for the group. We were all able to release a piece of ourselves, and take in pieces of one another. We truly bonded that day because of the space that Jena and Pretty Wings were able to create. I can only imagine the places that healing can go from here.

Jena wrote to us, explaining just how ArtReach has helped Pretty Wings blossom:

“ArtReach has enabled me to grow and nourish the Pretty Wings project and continue to broaden my scope of practice as an artist, facilitator and program developer. The impact of the project has grown both qualitative and quantitatively because of the grant we received, and has encouraged us to continue to aim higher going forward. I am deeply grateful to ArtReach for allowing us to continue to do the meaningful work in community that we are so fortunate to be able to do.”

If you want to check out Jena and the women of Pretty Wings, you can catch them at their showcase on February 9th.  Located at the Peace Theatre, at 305 Dawes Road, the group will be performing both solos and collective pieces.  RSVP to their Facebook page – we hope to see you there!

Author: Cassey Andrews