Our mission is to radically improve the lives of incarcerated women through the healing power of dance. Through our Trauma Informed Dance Teacher Trainings, we use “Cathartic Choreography” combined with leadership skills – to empower our graduates to conduct peer to peer programming within the prison. Throughout this transformative experience, we teach the nuts and bolts of choreography, pro social skills and group dynamics.
Just as importantly, we facilitate therapeutic journaling that nurtures introspection and self-awareness that incarcerated women often need.
We have seen this technique help our students deal with physical and mental illness, including PTSD and complex trauma. Our trainings are impacting the lives of our students by changing the prison culture from punitive to restorative.
This Dance Class Is Healing Inmates Inside Prison
"Dance changes everything. It helps me…become a better version of myself.” CNN went inside La Vista Correctional Facility in Pueblo, Colorado, to talk to prisoners participating in the “Dance To Be Free” program that aims to confront trauma. For inmates, it’s a way to heal. For administrators, it’s part of a plan to reduce recidivism
How It Works
We Mail DVDs
We mail the interested prison a complimentary set of Dance To Be Free DVDs for the recreation department & inmates to review and experience for themselves.
If the DVDs generate interest, DTBF will schedule a live Teacher Training program for the prison.
We dance at the prison! Our Teacher Trainings are 3 days long (3-4 hours a day) and intended for ALL skill levels.
Prisons Where We’ve Danced
In 2019, Dance To Be Free offered 9 teacher trainings in 6 states and 7 different facilities.
During these trainings, DTBF certified 167 incarcerated women.
Since DTBF’s first teacher training in January 2016, DTBF has certified 492 incarcerated women.
In just 2019, 270 women participated in 884 classes taught in prison.
The classes taught in prison were led by 45 of DTBF’s most consistent graduates.
We launched our program at Denver Women's Correctional Facility in 2015. In 2016 we expanded to La Vista in Pueblo, CO. Dance To Be Free has completed 7 teacher-trainings in Pueblo's medium-security women's prison. Over 150 incarcerated women have completed our program. La Vista is demonstrating the fruits of our labor! After 4 years of continual trainings - they are sustaining the program themselves like no other facility. They are teaching us! 140 women show up every Friday night at 6p to take our graduate's classes. A sea of bright yellow t-shirts fill up the gym as friends and enemies dance alongside each other. It's pure magic!
Dance To Be Free has completed 7 teacher-trainings at The Nebraska Correctional Center for Women (NCCW). In May of 2018, DTBF was invited to speak at the first ever live streamed Tedx Talk (line HERE) out of a prison. We shared the stage with 7 women serving life sentences who not only inspired the audience but humanized an often stigmatized population! NCCW has been the most supportive and welcoming prison we have had the privilege of working with since 2016.
In 2017 we expanded into 3 women's prisons in Arkansas in their medium and maximum facilities. There is little to no programming in these rural facilities due to their remote locations. We have maintained our programming due to a large amount of graduates sustaining the classes and local support with our Little Rock Community. We are returning in 2019 to offer additional teacher trainings along with reinforcing the work we did with our original trainees.
In 2018, DTBF expanded to 2 facilities in Hawaii, the maximum women's prison on Oahu and the jail on Maui. We were given permission to film at both facilities during 3 teacher trainings. Hawaii is another world and in need of programming! Please check out our footage HERE
In May of 2018 DTBF expanded to Mississippi's minimum security women's prison in Flowood where we certified 22 women as dance teachers. In September of 2018 we expanded to the max facility where we certified 24 women and were given the chance to film our training! In March of 2019 we returned to the max facility to train an additional 25 women who are now dancing with the general population 4 times a week - 85 at a time!
Lowell Correctional Institution located in Ocala, Florida was our 13th prison and 8th state. Lowell is the largest women's prison in the U.S. housing 3k women. We had an incredible group of 24 eager and ready students! We are now on our third training as of June of 2019. Since Lowell is so huge they have every type of incarceration - from youth offenders to death row. We are collaborating with Florida State University on researching the benefits of our program.
At the Central Virginia Correctional Unit #13, we worked with a dozen women in a minimum security/work release facility in Chesterfield, VA. We had the privilege of being filmed by Freethink based out of Washington, DC ( Video HERE ). We hope to return in 2019!
In May of 2019 we offered our first teacher training in TN to a dozen women who were eager to dance, express, share and move. Like our other remote locations, Bledsoe has little volunteer support due to the distance to Knoxville or nearby cities. We hope to return in late 2019!
We are now running our trainings in North Carolina, the 10th state DTBF has reached. In early January 2020, and simultaneously while Lucy and Chloe were training women in South Dakota, we trained and graduated twenty more women at Swannanoa Women’s Correctional Center in Black Mountain, NC, Dance To Be Free's 16th prison. We are also in contact with the women’s prison and a county jail in Charlotte, with high hopes to keep expanding here.
Our 17th prison will be in the summer of 2020! The Warden in New England, ND reached out to us in late 2019 eager to bring DTBF to her facility and is paying for our training!
It costs $6k to fund one full Teacher Training. Click to sponsor a prison today!
Your $6,000 donation will provide a full 3-day training program benefitting approximately 25 women. Program costs include three days of cathartic dance instruction, group work, and therapeutic journal facilitation by DTBF professional instructors and facilitators, program and journal packets for each participant, and a set of training DVD’s (left with the prison as a resource to continue the program), and operational costs.
A contribution of $500 certifies one inmate to become a dance teacher as they complete their sentence. This skill can be used while they are still serving time or when they exit the prison system. Some inmates serving life sentences have the option of teaching their fellow inmates dance. Job skills after prison reduce recidivism and increase self-esteem.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Does a Prison Get Involved with Dance To Be Free?
Do you know of a women's prison that could benefit? Here's what to do:
1. Send us an email and let us know of your interest.
2. We mail (for free!) the interested prison a set of Dance To Be Free workout DVDs (11 classes, 60 minutes each) for the prison staff, recreation department to review before implementing program. If approved - to be viewed 1 or more times per week.
3. If the DVDs generate interest, Dance To Be Free will begin talks to collaborate with the prison to bring a live Teacher Training program to the prison. DTBF brings our original curriculum, music, journal prompts and DVDs for each training.
4. Inmates are certified as Dance To Be Free dance instructors which allows our graduates to sustain the program themselves. DTBF returns to each prison for numerous trainings where we certify new students while working with our original trainees (if they are still at the facility).
Why Dance In Prison?
"Dancing is seen as a reparative experience that directly contradicts the terror, helplessness and invisibility of trauma to enable survivors to reclaim ownership of their bodies and their lives." Bessel A. van der Kolk, MD
In addition to dancing being a healing experience for inmates suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), recidivism is a core criminal justice concern. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states: “Nationally, 30% of adult offenders released from state prisons are re-arrested within the first six months of their release. Within three years of their release, 67% of ex-offenders return to prison.” Employment and community engagement are critical factors determining long-term success of released inmates. We aim to reduce the high rate of recidivism by addressing the root cause of why a recently released inmate would return to prison: unaddressed PTSD.
The Power of Synchronized Dancing
This quote sums up the mission of Dance To Be Free - "We have already seen and heard from the inmates at DWCF about how their social interactions have shifted since dancing together.
"In our recent study, we found that synchronizing with others while dancing raised pain tolerance. It also encouraged people to feel closer to others." Bronwyn Tarr
Inmate friends, Krystal Watts, left, and Stephanie Foster, give each other a high five after one of the dance songs. Members of Alchemy of Movement in Boulder have started the Dance To Be Free program at Denver Women's Correctional Facility. For more photos and a video, go to www.dailycamera.com
Cliff Grassmick Staff Photographer November 15, 2015
Why Women In Prison?
Click below to learn about the increase in women being incarcerated:
What does Complex Trauma and PTSD have to do with it?
"Complex trauma describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect. They usually occur early in life and can disrupt many aspects of the child’s development and the formation of a sense of self. Since these events often occur with a caregiver, they interfere with the child’s ability to form a secure attachment. Many aspects of a child’s healthy physical and mental development rely on this primary source of safety and stability." (nctsn.org)
In order to heal trauma that lives in the body, Dr. Bruce Perry, a trauma specialist says we need “patterned, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory activity, literally, bodily sensing exercises. Developmental trauma happens in the body, where pre-conscious ‘implicit memory” was laid down in the primitive brain stem (survival brain) and viscera. Long before we had a thinking frontal cortex or ‘explicit memory’ function. The list of repetitive, rhythmic regulations used for trauma by Dr. Perry, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, and Dr. Pat Ogden and others is remarkable. It includes singing, dancing, drumming, and most musical activities.”
Perry’s research confirms the results we are experiencing inside of our 13 prisons; whether we are dancing in maximum or medium security facilities our students are hungry for our alternative approach. For the most part they have been exposed to cognitive therapy which has its limitations due to the physical nature of trauma.
Rates and Cost of Recidivism
Nationally, 97% of the offenders in jail today will be released and then return to the communities from which they came. Statistics show that 30% of adult offenders released from state prisons are re-arrested within the first six months of their release. Even worse, within three years of their release from prison this increases to 67%, or two out of three, ex-offenders returning to prison." Project Hope Re-entry Initiative
The US spends $80 Billion a year on incarceration. The cost of recidivism outweighs the cost of programming!
Reentry - What happens to women who are released from prison?
Reentry is a complex issue. Here are some resources for recently released prisoners in Boulder County, CO:
Bridge House: A day shelter, resource center, case management, employment program, short-term housing program for men and women. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1603 Walnut St., Boulder; 8:30 to 11 a.m. Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, 4869 Broadway, Boulder; 303-442-8300; boulderbridgehou
FOCUS Reentry: Pairs mentors with Boulder County Jail inmates before release to assist in transition finding housing, employment, transportation, family reunification and communication. 720-304-6446; focusreentry.org
OUR Center's Starting Place: Provides daily hot meals, groceries, clothing, local transportation, ID assistance, prescription assistance, laundry, showers, self-sufficiency classes, referrals to night shelters and more. 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at 220 Collyer St., Longmont; 303-772-5529; ourcenter.org.
The Reentry Initiative: Provides assistance with pre- and post-release, 72-hour transitioning, housing referrals, job readiness, mentoring, food assistance, IDs, mental health, relapse prevention, government benefits, education, transportation and legal assistance. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the OUR Center, 220 Collyer St., Longmont; 303-772-5529 Ext. 233.
REMERG: An online resource updated daily with detailed information of re-entryorganizations, community agencies, faith-based organizations and more. remerg.com.
Boulder County Jail Education and Transition Program: Helping inmates reenter the community safely and as productive members of their communities and families. Contact Community Justice Services Division Manager Monica Rotner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jail Based Behavioral Services: Provides case management for screening, assessment and treatment for substance use disorders, and co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders for those in need while in jail and in the community upon release. Contact Case Manager Laura Spicer at email@example.com.
Partnership for Active Community Engagement (PACE): An outpatient program with Boulder County Probation Department for persons on probation who struggle with mental illness, substance abuse and criminal behavior. Contact Chief Probation Officer Greg Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2-1-1 Colorado: Dial 2-1-1 for resources to all health and human services, from housing to legal assistance, across the state.
Thanks to the Boulder Daily Camera for compiling this list.
Is my donation tax deductible?
Yes! Please use our Tax ID #: 47-4034630
Where is my money going?
When you donate to Dance To Be Free your money goes toward operational expenses, travel/room & board, and the director's salary. It costs about $500 per inmate to certify as a dance teacher, and $6k per out of state prison to cover teacher training expenses.