North Texas Teens Combat Issues Like School Shootings Through Dance

Junior Players dancers want to dance their issues away.EXPAND
Junior Players dancers want to dance their issues away.
Christopher Trevino
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There are many issues facing teenagers today, from gun violence and immigration to bullying and sexual abuse. In its production series Transformation Project, Junior Players, a nonprofit North Texas theater organization, has been digging deep into these issues with some of the "most talented and well-deserving high school dancers" in the area.

At 8 p.m. Aug. 16 and 17, at Moody Performance Hall, the five-year-long series will be capped off with its last production "Revolution." In the show's final installment, the teen dancers search for solutions to these issues, says Rosaura Cruz, choreographer and co-creator of the series.

"One of the things that we strongly believe in is really giving a platform to our youth so they can identify and find their voice, and really have their opinions invested in the work that they're doing," Cruz says.

The 13 teenage dancers chosen for the production came together to discuss the issues they felt most affected them, their peers and their community, and how art has helped them tackle those challenges. They were then paired with choreographers to put their struggles to music, stage combat and other choreography.

Cruz says: "The premise of this particular show is to say (to the students), 'OK, you think gun violence is an issue in your schools. When this happens, there are policies, there are assemblies, but you still feel like that's not enough, or what the adults are doing is not enough. Tell me what solutions you would create to talk about gun violence or immigration reform.'"

Favian Herrera Jr., another choreographer for the show, created his piece about immigration. In his conversations with the students, one of the stories he heard was about a family that was given three weeks to leave its home in El Salvador after a run-in with gang violence.

"In three weeks time, they gathered everything they had and fled to the United States," Herrera says. "That struck me deep in my heart."

Cruz's piece is about identity and finding uniqueness in oneself, she says.

"It's a really diverse cast, so a lot of them feel whitewashed and like they don't fit in," she says. "They're like, 'I find every day more and more that I'm not going to fit in with these groups even though I've tried, so I have to just be me.'"

The schools represented in the production include Woodrow Wilson High School, W.T. White High School, the Grand Prairie Fine Arts Academy and many others.

When Junior Players was founded in 1955, its focus was on presenting traditional children's theater productions performed exclusively by children and teenagers. In 1989, the organization shifted its focus to providing free programming to children and teenagers across North Texas. Participation in the Transformation Project comes at no cost to the students.

Sara Romersberger, a stage combat specialist and faculty member in Southern Methodist University's theater department; Taylor McKie, owner of Diversity Dance Studio in Flower Mound; and Andrea Rivera, a student from Woodrow Wilson, also choreographed pieces for the production.

"Even though we're choreographing, it's really a student-motivated project," Herrera says. "We just really are trying to shed some light on some of the struggles that they go through."

Tickets for the production are $10 and can be found at juniorplayers.org/tickets. Paid parking is available around the theater and doors open at 7 p.m.

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