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  • 105 – Assault, Trauma, and Healing: Why a Dance Teacher Sold Her Studio to Help Prison Populations

105 – Assault, Trauma, and Healing: Why a Dance Teacher Sold Her Studio to Help Prison Populations

For the last sixteen years, Susan Slotnick has gone beyond the walls at the Woodbourne Correctional Facility to bring the joy, passion, and healing properties of modern dance to incarcerated men and boys.

After retiring the dance company she ran for forty years, Susan was free to teach in concordance with her true humanistic values: mindfulness, kindness, social justice, and universal accessibility. Her volunteer work in the prison system is the culmination of these values. Through her love, talent, and attention, Susan has impacted countless lives and facilitated legitimate rehabilitative progress in men’s prisons, as well as AIDS and cancer survivors, and homeless populations.

Susan has witnessed firsthand the transformative power artistic expression can have on otherwise marginalized — or confined — communities. How can we holistically amplify our inmate programs so that those who return to society avoid becoming recidivism statistics?

Show Notes

[00:01] Welcome to another episode of Open Mike!

[00:43] Susan Slotnick’s background and bio.

[01:54] Susan, welcome to the show! Very happy to have you. I wanted to start with your background and childhood and how it prepared you for what you’re doing today.

[03:03] Susan was a “juvenile delinquent” with a troubled childhood exacerbated by wildly different parents and a traumatizing household. However, she had many different artistic passions and outlets for exploring them.

[04:37] How many years now have you been working in the prison system?

[05:28] Susan doesn’t believe in incarcerating young people, except in the rare cases they must be locked up to protect society.

[05:49] It doesn’t sound like you were ever concerned for your safety, walking into any of these prisons?

[06:51] In twenty years, Susan was only concerned for her safety once.

[07:03] What compelled you to seek this out, to go into prison to teach the arts?

[09:39] Are you formally trained in dance?

[09:43] When she was younger, Susan studied under the wife of famed Russian ballet dancer, Igor Youskevitch.

[12:51] Could you tell us about some success stories about people you taught to dance while in the system?

[16:08] One of Susan’s students who developed stage 4 stomach cancer was eventually released early, after multiple denied appeals, largely because of his participation in her dance program. The video of his performance can be found on her website.

[18:21] That story alone must have made the last twenty years worth it, right?

[19:13] Are prisoners generally receptive to dance? Are they good dancers, or does it even matter?

[20:59] 97-98% of prisoners are eventually released, which is a very important reason to be more interested in the quality of prison programming.

[22:22] The prison circumstance for a certain segment of the men makes them want to avail themselves to every possibility to have a better life on the inside — so they were willing to fully immerse themselves into the experience.

[23:26] Were you regularly able to showcase dance to the other prisoners? If so, how did they react?

[27:23] It looks like you update your Facebook page regularly, and it’s amazing to see these men dancing with such passion… what kind of feedback are you getting from strangers or your

Facebook friends about what you post?

[28:50] Is your program run on donations? Does it need help if people are inspired by this story?

[29:54] Susan doesn’t need any assistance, and simply requests people educate themselves via independent methods or her book, Flight: the Dance of Freedom.

[31:08] Susan, I really appreciated your story and your mission. Thank you for coming on the show!

[31:37] An interesting episode! We don’t oftentimes dive into this aspect of the incarceration system. Really inspiring. If you enjoyed this episode, please comment, share and like. Thank you for being with us on Open Mike!

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