Speaking Through Dance

A USF professor is using dance to convey powerful messages on important social issues - from bullying, to dating violence and suicide awareness.

USF Dance Professor Andrew Carroll directs student Sarah Watson who starred in his "Dating Violence" video, as Videographer/Photographer Candace Kaw records their work.    Photos by: Candace Kaw | CoTA

By Barbara Melendez

      USF News

TAMPA, Fla. (April 22, 2014) – Dance has told many a story – of love, of conflict, of vengeance and of loss. Andrew Carroll believes the art of dance can tackle serious issues as well. And he is proving it – through creative research with a purpose – using dance to teach concepts and ideas to spark change for the better.

The USF College of The Arts School of Theatre & Dance professor’s work looks into “using the medium of dance to act as a language to address and bring awareness to social issues, specifically bullying and now dating violence,” he explained.

Carroll produced an anti-bullying video titled “Bullying, End the Violence, Stand Up For What's Right” in 2012 which is currently used in organizations in numerous countries, as well as here in the U.S.

“All have commented that it eloquently depicts lessons and issues pertinent to bullying, and all the organizations are using it to engage viewers and prompt discussion and dialogue,” Carroll said.

The media has taken notice. News stories about the anti-bullying video have been featured on ABC, CBS, Fox and Bay News 9.

“Due to its success, I produced the new one, geared towards dating violence and recognizing signs that a relationship might not be healthy,” said Carroll. “I was just awarded funding to produce another video geared towards suicide awareness and prevention advocacy.”

USF Dance Professor Andrews Carroll directs a scene from "Speaking Out Without Words": Dating Violence, Recognizing the Warning Signs," with students Sarah Watson and Steven Rogers.

Completed last August, “Speaking Out Without Words: Dating Violence, Recognizing Warning Signs” has been requested by domestic violence agencies in Ireland, Russia, Greece, Germany, Kosovo, Albania and others, as well as by the Los Angeles Unified Public School System that has over 1000 schools.

The Feminist Messaging Project, an organization in Philadelphia is showing the video on its site after seeing a story about Carroll’s work.

“I also recently received an email from the CDC in Atlanta asking permission to use the video as part of its domestic violence programs.”

Serving as a key item to build a toolkit around, the videos dramatically show concepts, personal interactions and feelings. The effect is to prompt whole lesson plans that ignite serious conversations.

From Training Videos to Inspiring Videos

Carroll’s foray into this realm began with the Florida Department of Health’s need to train its non-English speaking cleaning staffs. Another pamphlet just wouldn’t do, nor would a lecture. And there was a need for a medium that would overcome language barriers and fully involve the intended audience. Enter Carroll with a training video in the language of dance to model the desired behaviors. The resulting product had an added advantage.

“With repeated viewings, things can sink in,” he said. “They needed a vehicle that could convey educational material in a relevant and pop culture way to engage and be understood by everybody. It really worked.”

It worked so well Carroll was asked to create two more for the Florida Department of Health. That got him thinking. As he considered doing something of the same sort on the topic of bullying, a looming deadline pushed him to get it done sooner than later.

“I had a student who I knew would be terrific in the solo for this project and he was close to graduating so I had a short window of time. I knew he could carry the role.

But first he had to learn more.

A scene from the video "Bullying: End the Violence, Stand Up for What's Right," with dancers Tyler Orcutt and Nicole Diaz.

“I wanted to be accurate and thorough so I researched the problem and contacted organizations and honed in on what would be beneficial and helpful. There was a lot about getting those who witness bullying to stand up for what’s right and protect the victimized. That’s how ‘Stand Up for What’s Right’ became the title.”

His research also told him to address the growing issue of cyberbullying.

“There was a time victims of bullying could escape, home was a safe haven. But now those who are going to bully have found they can stalk their victims online. There’s nowhere to go.” Carroll explained.

“We also wanted to make it clear that females get bullied as well, not just boys and the bullies can be any gender or any race.” Carroll emphasized this in his casting which reflects the diversity in victims and perpetrators.

Just as Carroll researched what he needed to know about bullying to make his video relevant, he has learned more about dating violence. One of the ways it begins to show its face is in controlling behavior. Consequently, the video shows a couple in conflict over using a cell phone and how one dresses.

A New Dance Vocabulary

Portraying problem behavior to make a point is a new experience for the accomplished choreographer.

“This work has opened up so many new ways of expression. It’s forced me to build on my own movement vocabulary as a dancer and a choreographer. As an artist I’ve grown,” he said.

“Another benefit is that these dancers are being seen. This is a paying gig for them, their first professional experience and they can put it on their resumes. Our dancers are becoming beloved figures in far flung places. Who knows what paths will open up to them?”

Also of importance to Carroll is how this project exposes all kinds of people to dance.

Dance students Brittany Williams and Julian Valme in a scene from the "Bullying" video.

“I’m grateful that my genre is being seen by new audiences, this art form I love so much and that I know is so expressive, people who may have never seen this kind of dance performance. It’s wonderful to be able to add to my field and the social justice field.”

The public’s exposure to USF is yet another benefit.

“Each video begins with the USF logo, so our community at large is seen by literally masses of people nationally and internationally as being invested in social causes.”

Videos on depression, substance abuse, peer pressure, gender and sexuality issues, and healthy body image are on Carroll’s “to-do” list.

“An issue I’m being asked to address is street harassment, something I need to learn more about,” he said. “When you think about it, students are tired of having people lecturing them and being handed another pamphlet. And of course, there’s the language barrier and the expense of translating. Here’s a language that is not written or spoken – in a sense I’ve created a new language that engages the audience in something that invites repeat viewings.”

The Creative Process

Carroll sits down and creates a story board to concentrate on what’s going to happen and figure out how many dancers it will take. He’s as concerned with the locations and the technical concerns as he is with the artistic ideas. Then he chooses a cast. The production begins taking shape in the rehearsal studio.

Dance student Nicole Diaz in a scene from the "Bullying" video.                                           

“That’s where we begin to create the fabric of movement that will illustrate the educational concepts. It’s really trial and error as we change angles of heads and arms, tinkering with the movements. It’s truly a wonderful process. We come up with ‘movement phrases’ and then I sit with the videographer who sends me the footage as we go along. The whole thing is multilevel and interdisciplinary.”

Then there’s the editing and just as important, the music. Carroll had a sense of the kind of music he wanted in mind and when he actually found what he was looking for he was faced with how to obtain the rights to use it. He wrote to the composers.

“I explained what I was doing and I sent them the footage we had. They said, ‘yes’ right away. I really am grateful to these kind and generous musicians who give their music to this worthy cause.”

Famed choreographer Martha Graham once said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” Carroll is adding the potential for healing the soul to this language.

For more information about “Stand Up for What’s Right” and “Speaking Without Words: Dating Violence, Recognizing Warning Signs,” contact Carroll at acarroll@usf.edu.

Melendez can be reached at 813-974-4563