San Francisco Bay Area
profile by Cherie Hill
Moving Parents and Children Together (MPACT) is a program of Luna Dance Institute. Founded in 1992, Luna brings creativity, equity, and community to children through professional learning for educators and model programs in public schools, early childhood centers, residential centers, libraries, and at Luna’s Dance Studio located in Berkeley, California. The MPACT program was founded in 2001 to bring parent–child dance classes to families in the child welfare system.
In 2001, Luna teaching artist and attorney Chantal Sampogna became curious if family dance could help her clients who had been separated from their children due to court mandates. Luna took on her inquiry, piloting short family dance sessions at the Alice Arts Center in Oakland, and at the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco. The program addressed issues of equity and cultural humility from its inception. Eventually MPACT expanded, and Luna Dance formed a partnership with the Solid Foundation. This recovery center provided three houses for women who were in the process of rehabilitation and regaining custody of their children. Now, in its 18th year, MPACT serves residents at East Bay Community Recovery Services’ Project Pride, and Magnolia Women’s Recovery Program in Oakland and Hayward in addition to providing free family dance classes in Berkeley and Oakland libraries, and community centers.
““...when they say, ‘now look your mommy in the eyes,’ she’ll look me in the eyes and I just feel closer to her when we do that. You know...it has an impact.”
— Mom in Residential Center
Over many years, MPACT has partnered with: a parenting high school program; a residential facility with a California Department of Corrections contract; fathers at early childhood centers and faith-based social service programs; community centers; the Boys and Girls Clubs; and public libraries. Teaching artists in California have studied with Luna through MPACT internships, and have built family dance programs in their own communities. Luna holds Family Dance Institutes, attended by teaching artists locally and abroad. In 2014, “Engaging Families in Dance: An Investigation of Moving Parents and Children Together,” conducted with lead researcher Edward Warburton, was published in the International Journal for Education in the Arts.
At present, Luna holds partnerships with Project Pride and Magnolia Women’s Recovery Center, residential centers for women; TRYBE, an early childhood agency; and public libraries in Oakland.
MPACT classes have proven to be beneficial for families under duress. MPACT serves families who are in the process of reunification, broadly defined to include: separations due to court mandates, substance abuse, domestic violence, immigration, military service, homelessness, illness, adoption, fostering, or other situations.
Through MPACT, partner agencies realize their goals by integrating dance and play, as well as embodied parent education, into their programs.
photo courtesy of Luna Dance Institute
““...when you remember a mother holding hands and swinging her child in circles, and the beaming look on the child’s face as they giggle and grin with pleasure, you realize the power the connection prompt given has to entice families to bond using dance.”
— MPACT Teaching Artist
All MPACT classes integrate relationship-based creative dance with embodied parent education. MPACT classes help parents gain confidence in their ability to interact physically with their children; facilitate the parent-child bond through relationship-based dance curriculum; and provide families with a safe, comfortable environment to play and dance together.
Relationship-based dance is when people dance together in pairs or in groups, and are given the opportunity to experience the essence of relationship and communication. They discover new ways of knowing themselves and finding empathy for others. Boundaries are established and possibilities are revealed.
Luna Dance Institute piloted its first series of MPACT classes at the Solid Foundation 18 years ago. Luna offered parent–child dance classes to families through our studio, but faculty wondered if our relationship building dance curriculum could benefit children and their parents in the Dependency Court System. Following a training with Dr. Mary Claire Heffron, director of the Center for the Vulnerable Child at Children’s Hospital Oakland, Luna faculty thought carefully about the structure of an MPACT dance class that would be developmentally appropriate, and designed to enhance the parent–child relationship using the elements of dance (body, energy, space, time).
The first session of classes occurred as a pilot, to give Luna and the Solid Foundation the opportunity to shift the curriculum and structure based on new learning. Program leaders wanted the classes to be co-taught so more than one perspective could inform program development. They took their time to plan the unit of lessons; to write personal reflections following each class, and the first pilot session concluded with an evaluation focus group with the parent participants.
Sample relationship-based activity from a family dance class in library:
Over/under/around/through with shapes:
Adults make a big pokey shape
Children poke body parts through your adult's shape
Children go under your adult's shape
Adults make a low sharp shape
Children go over your adults shape
Now go around your adult's shape
Children make a big shape
Adults stick body parts (hand, foot, head) through
Adults go under or over children's shape
Families make connected shapes together
(pointy, long, big, smooth, pokey)
Movements to do holding the shape:
Bounce, rise/fall, shake, slide, turn, gallop, travel
Families do your own dance. Consider trying over/under/around/through or connected shapes.
To conduct a community-based dance program with integrity, you need to hold yourself accountable to not only excellence in what you know—the dance program—but with perseverance that respects the culture of the organization you are working with and the students you are teaching. Practicing cultural humility and establishing trust stand at the core of partnering with community-based organizations, building relationships, and teacher collaboration to serve the needs of clients and the program.