Dance Assembly success

Five months after non-profit organisation WISE (Wellbeing in Schools and Education) launched an initiative called Dance Assembly at Sentinel Primary School, deputy principal Tina Steyn says the programme is bearing fruit (“School pupils dance to relieve stress”, Sentinel News, January 25).

The initiative, which uses dance to reduce stress, was introduced on January 15 and has been running daily at the school ever since.

Carmen Clews, co-founder of WISE, says the aim of their work is to make a positive impact on the greater community and future generations. Together with a team of volunteers, Ms Clews runs the Dance Assembly practise, which includes mindfulness, movement, music and dance.

“The Dalai Lama once said, ‘If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world
within one generation.’ In addition, I believe that if every eight-year-old in South Africa is also taught and shown kindness, gratitude and self-love, we will eliminate violence from the country within one generation,” says Carmen.

Ms Steyn says the pupils gain a sense of freedom when they have an opportunity to release some of their repressed anger.

“A lot of these children come from very bad socio-economic situations, are exposed to different kinds of abuse, such as
sexual, substance, physical and emotional. During these sessions, they get the chance to express their feelings by dancing and afterwards, children seem to be more focused in class.

“The percentage of fights amongst them and their peers has also decreased. They tend to be more willing to participate in classroom discussions and are happy and content.”

According to Biodanza teacher, Shumi Chimombe, who is the Dance Assembly facilitator, one of the most rewarding parts of the work they do is witnessing the progress. “After only six months of Dance Assembly, we have seen radical changes in the children’s behaviour, especially in the boys who have gone from being extremely aggressive to one another, to being much kinder, connected, focused and ready to learn.”

Volker Schlettwein, transformation coach and facilitator, observed the WISE programme in action, and reported that he was particularly moved by the desperation of the children to be seen and acknowledged.

“The boys in particular cling to me. It is evident that many of these children carry a deep emotional wound around abandonment and abuse. Having lost my own father at a very young age, I know how damaging it can be to not receive healthy, supportive guidance into adulthood. These children have so much potential, and without additional guidance and support many of these incredible young beings will be lost to gangs and substance abuse. Many won’t even make it to adulthood.”

The challenge WISE now faces is sustaining the work it does with the children, and finding enough adults willing to volunteer so that they can reach as many primary school pupils as possible.

“It seems the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child’ is becoming increasingly poignant,” says Ms Clews. “Holistic and emotional health was never the original purpose of schools, however now that times have changed and many parents are either too busy or emotionally unavailable, school seems like an obvious place and opportunity for the whole child to be nurtured. For this to happen, schools and teachers need support and this is where there is a need for the community or village to step in and help.”

WISE are currently accepting applications for volunteers (both male and female) and the training will be done both in situ during the Dance Assembly classes and at specialised training workshops, initially starting in the Western Cape.

“Parents should take out time from their busy schedules and make time to have fun with their kids. When a child feels more secure and safe, learning will come automatically,” Ms Steyn told Sentinel News.

For more information on WISE volunteer programmes, email Carmen Clews on