Most people would not see a connection between dance and prison. But today’s guest, Susan Slotnick, is different. Susan is a visual artist, a choreographer, a dancer, a writer, an advocate for social justice and, for the last 16 years, she has volunteered in various correctional facilities teaching dance to inmates. She recently released a book called Flight: The Dance of Freedom, as a guide for those who want to find ways to use their skills to support inmates. In this episode, Susan talks about the journey of finding her purpose and the moment she realized she was doing what she had been put on Earth to do. She talks about the value of highly reciprocal work and the danger that comes in instances when you are working more for your fulfillment than for the good of others. It is not easy to maintain these boundaries, and Susan shares the challenges she has experienced when it comes to setting them.
We also hear about how dance creates a space for inmates to connect with their authentic selves, some assumptions Susan had going into her work, and the heartbreak she experienced at various moments. Susan is a teacher in the true essence of the word because she does not position herself as a savior, but rather gives her students the tools to help them on their journeys. To check out the full conversation, click on your favorite podcast platform’s link below.
Key Points From This Episode
People in prisons are victims as well as perpetrators. Susan knew that dance would be a powerful tool for them to heal, as it had consistently helped her heal throughout her life. Dancing in a particular way has been scientifically proven to re-wire the brain.
Susan believes that while resilience is something we inherit, it can also be nurtured. Being resilient is the foundation for what helps us to pursue our dreams, even when we are told we can’t achieve them.
Do not try to meet your needs while trying to meet the needs of others. You have to be clear on your motives and what you expect to gain when doing this kind of work because it could so easily cross the line. The good you can do can be encroached upon when you do not have these boundaries.
We all have an authentic self and a persona, whether we are in prison or not. Dance is a tool that allows us to step into our authentic selves and be seen nonverbally, all while being so beautiful that it inspires everyone watching to be their authentic selves at that moment.
Recognizing that nothing you have achieved has happened without others is the cornerstone of humility. Take the time to reflect on what other people have done for you in order to contextualize your achievements and realize they are part of a collective.
“I immediately knew that something about working with incarcerated populations was going to allow me to meet my need to find my sense of self-actualization, and those boys provided that for me.” — Susan Slotnick [0:03:27]
“Nobody ever saves anybody. Anyone who thinks they’re saving someone else’s life, that is narcissism at its worst. People save their own lives.” — Susan Slotnick [0:11:42]
“My experience with myself, with everybody I’ve ever met, with them is that everybody wants to let out their true self. Everybody has a deep spiritual need for authenticity, especially in an environment like a prison.” — Susan Slotnick [0:19:29]
“Whenever you work in a reciprocity situation where you’re giving and you’re getting back, which is basically when things are right, you have to be very hyper aware of the line of demarcation between you meeting their needs and you needing them to meet yours. Your heart can get broken when the boundary is fuzzy enough where they have started to meet your emotional needs without you being necessarily totally conscious of it. That’s where you get disappointed.” — Susan Slotnick [0:29:41]
“If you take away prison programming, you take away arts. You take away theater. You take away education. Basically, you just have people in cages, so the arts are very important.” — Susan Slotnick [0:31:01]
Links Mentioned in Today’s Episode
Benjamin Von Wong
Flight: The Dance of FreedomAmazing Grace with Boys’ Choir Of Harlem
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Revelations by Alvin Ailey