Empowering Dance

Woman starts classes that teach different movements, self-esteem

By Emily Crawford In Santa Fe North October, 2004

Myra Krien knows that teenagers have big questions and sometimes, big problems.  She also knows from her own experience as an adolescent that dance as an art form can have a profound impact on a young life.

Four years ago, Krien decided to throw a lifeline to girls who needed one.  She started a dance program called SEEDs® that in one part dance instruction and one part life lessons.  (SEEDs stand for Self-Esteem, Expression, Empowerment and Education through Dance.)

A longtime professional dancer and instructor, Krien began SEEDs  “as a hook” to bring teenage girls into a dance program that would help them address, if not answer, some of their problems and questions.

“Every year, each one of them has something really intense going on,” Krien said.  Last year, she spent a lot of time “Holding those girls together,” after the death of one of their friends.

Heather McDonald, 17, was one of the participants.  She said the dance studio became a lifeboat after the sudden death of her best friend.

“Dance has kept me sane and given me something every day to look forward to.  It really gives my life meaning right now,” McDonald said in a phone interview.

Dancing has had such an impact on McDonald’s life that sometimes spends more than 10 hours a week at Krien’s Pomegranate Studios, where she takes classes.

“I probably spend more time at the studio than I do at home,” she said.

McDonald does work-study and an internship to help ay for some of her classes.  Since completing the SEEDs program, the young dancer has become part of Krien’s apprentice company, Ahatti.

The SEEDs program meets three days a week for an hour and a half each session.  The first hour, the girls lean American Tribal Style (ATS®) dance, a fusion style that incorporates Indian, Arab, Spanish and North African movements.

ATS can also be called belly dancing, Krien said, adding that she is constantly having to battle the stereotypes people have about the dance – many associate the art form with sex, she said.

Belly dancing has a “folkloric base,” Krien said, that “envelopes all aspects of life…there are a lot of difference aspects of life you can present (with the dance).”

After an hour of practicing the basics, the girls sit in a “Talking Circle” with their instructor, Lita Ovalle.  Ovalle will pose a question to the girls that leads to a floor discussion of topics like financial independence, leadership and what it mean to be a woman.

The circle is loosely based on a format often used at St. John’s College, said Krien, a graduate of the school.

Current SEEDs student Kate Cooper, 17, said she joined SEEDs to work on her body image.  Before joining the class, she felt “out of touch” with her body, she said.  But now the teen feels more confident and in control.

“I’m using parts of my body that I have never used before,” she said.  The dancing “grounds you in your body and makes you feel more secure in yourself.  It just brought a new level of conciousness.”

Krien can empathize with her students’ body image issue.  As a teen, she was told that she would never be a dancer, in part, because she was too heavy, she said.

But she never gave up dance.  “I had a very rocky teen time and dance has always seen me through, ‘ she said.

Krien feels so strongly about providing the program that, when unable to fund the program through grants, she has paid for it out of her own pocket.  The program costs approximately $1,000 per girl for the 10 months that SEEDs runs.

Krien is inspired by the change that she sees in the girls and by the powerful friendships that they build.

“They are learning how to be social and to be intimate with each other,” she said.  “They are more aware of their own roles in taking care of themselves.”

For McDonald, the community at the studio has made all the difference in her path to adulthood and provided a safe and healthy place to put her energy.

“I was sort of a crazy younger teenager, I never had a place to focus all of my energy and emotions ad turn it into positive things,” she said.  “I really think belly dancing came into my life exactly when I needed it and helped me through the hardest time in my life.”