by Ann Cooper Albright
Girls in Motion is part of the programming for the Bonner Center for Service and Learning at Oberlin College. It is overseen by Ann Cooper Albright, Professor of Dance and Chair of the Department of Dance and directed by college student mentors.
Girls in Motion was launched during the 2003-2004 school year by Ann Cooper Albright with the support of top administrators in both Oberlin College and Oberlin City Schools. Ann began the program in order to give adolescent girls an opportunity to experience the full power and expressive potential of their bodies and to learn collaboration and leadership while still having a lot of fun.
We have learned a tremendous amount from our fifteen years of operation. We are consistently revising aspects of the program to ensure its continued success. Several years ago, college student leaders for Girls in Motion taught a class for prospective mentors a through the Experimental College (ExCo) program . The ExCo class continues to strengthened the after school program, and makes it possible for Girls in Motion to expand to Prospect Elementary School. This formal structure gives the college student mentors a space and time to reflect and discuss their experiences. By becoming an ExCo, Girls in Motion doubled the amount of college mentors and students participating in the schools. Student leaders of the ExCo developed a curriculum, which exposed mentors to both theory and practice behind physical movement as a means to female empowerment. Becoming an ExCo also enabled the students involved in Girls in Motion to create a structure for institutional memory and sustainability of the program.
Our participants are elementary and middle school girls in the Oberlin Public Schools. We teach these young women how to throw their weight around, physically and metaphorically.
Here is one example of a modified sun salutation, which we do to focus and warm up at the beginning of the program. While it is a simple physical exercise (so that everyone can do it, and it is easy to remember), the crucial part is the verbal litany that accompanies the movement. Half Girl Scout Pledge, half yoga mantra, these words provide a framework in which realize the larger implications of that physical exercise. We begin standing, stretching the hands to the sky (‘I reach to the sky’), then bend over and touch the ground (‘I press into the earth’), and spiral the body around (‘I gather all the energy around me’). Next, we take our right legs back into lunge and trace a semi-circle with the right arm (‘I open to one side’), and coming back to facing front with the palms together in front of your chest (‘and I center myself’), repeat to the other side (‘I open to the other side, and then center myself’). Next, we jump back into plank pose (‘I create a bridge from my school to my community’), and then come into child’s pose (‘I gather into myself’) and walk back to the front of the mat to stand in mountain pose (‘and walk forward to become present in the world.’)
To become present in the world. Just standing, aware of the sensation of that line of energy running from the earth through one’s spine to the sky. Many of us take this moment for granted. We do it everyday rising from our chairs, or in technique or yoga classes. And yet, in the context of a middle school environment with its chatty, attitude-filled street energy, this can be an amazingly profound experience.
We believe that Girls in Motion produces several important results. As documented by the mentors and the parents, the girls involved with the program begin to feel better about themselves and their bodies as they develop confidence through physicality. We believe that engaging these girls in group activities facilitates a safe and fun sense of community. It also provides opportunities for each girl to emerge as a stronger leader.
This work takes lots of improvisation and patience.