Arts and Culture

Finding power in performance


by Jan Gillis ('07)

 
image: /_images/stories/mcavoy-walking-737-1200-655x393.jpg

Caitlin McAvoy ('15) empowers young women through dance

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy

Talk to Caitlin McAvoy ('15) for a few minutes, and you'll realize that performance is an important part of her life. Her Madison Experience as a Musical Theatre major and Honors student included acting, dancing and vocal performance. McAvoy's academic career provided an opportunity for self-discovery as well. "I realized there's an avenue for my art form to help people in a direct way," she says.

That realization stemmed from the Hillcrest Scholarship for Service and Leadership. The scholarship experience allowed her to travel to Deborah House in Sibiu, Romania, to teach dance to a group of 28 girls. Her goal: To research and implement a dance therapy inspired program for young, female survivors of domestic violence.

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy teaching dance

The challenge was daunting. Within a few days McAvoy needed to develop a rapport with the girls and prepare them for a public dance performance while at the same time navigating through a significant language barrier.

'If I had not had the education I received at JMU, I would not have had this opportunity or been at all prepared for it.'

"If I had not had the education I received at JMU, I would not have had this opportunity or been at all prepared for it," McAvoy says. "That is due especially to the Dance in Community class taught by Professor Kate Trammell. During that class students learn how to use creative movement and dance activities with various populations such as daycare classes, individuals with special needs and senior citizens."

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy teaching dance

What about the English/Romanian language barrier? "Communication was magical. We had a translator, but after the first day we didn't need the assistance. It's hard to explain, but we didn't need language. I taught by visuals, and the girls picked it up. Even outside of teaching we were able to communicate without a translator. We just used physical movement in order to convey what we needed to say," McAvoy explains. "I always say this, and it sounds so cliche, but dance is a universal language. After this trip it's much more than just a saying to me."

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy creating tutus for young dance performers

McAvoy used part of her scholarship funds to purchase leotards, tights, tulle, and prop materials for her Romanian students. The tulle, cut in strips and tied with ribbon, made perfect tutus for the young performers.

'I wanted to empower my students and help them see themselves as artists and strong women.'

However, the experience was about more than crafts and dance movement. "My senior Honors Thesis was 'Dancing with Romania: The Research and Practical Implementation of Dance Therapy for Victims of Sexual Abuse,'" says McAvoy. "I wanted to empower my students and help them see themselves as artists and strong women, which is why the performance aspect was so important."

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy teaching dance

Empowerment and performance go hand-in-hand. "It gave each participant a chance to say 'I am here, I have something to express, and here is your chance to listen to my story,'" says McAvoy.

"One of my favorite moments was post-performance. One girl came up to me and in her broken English called herself a beautiful ballerina. That idea, that she saw herself as a beautiful being and a capable artist—that was what I wanted to accomplish."

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy and student

In the end, McAvoy found a confidence and empowerment of her own. "In my future I see myself opening a dance studio based on positive body image and female empowerment, as well as continuing service trips of this nature," she says.

'Without JMU I would have never found this life path, but now I can't imagine my life unfolding in a better fashion.'

Photo of Caitlin McAvoy and students walking through countryside

"I went to Romania thinking I would change lives, but the girls changed mine in ways I could never imagine," says McAvoy. "I have now discovered what is the start of my life's work. I am planning my trip back to Romania and beginning my work locally to start dance therapy programs for girls surviving abuse. Without JMU I would have never found this life path, but now I can't imagine my life unfolding in a better fashion."

Learn more about the Honors Program.

Read more about Caitlin McAvoy's academic experience.

Published: Thursday, July 2, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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