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Dancing Our Way to Mental Health: Presenting the “It’s Real” Program for Teens

26 Oct 2021 — 3 min read

By Blanca Joyner


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I am a self-proclaimed “dance mom,” and am currently a mom to two tween kids. My 11-year-old daughter dances at The Spot Dance Studio in Nampa, Idaho. A lot of the dance families and I will often help each other out by car-pooling, which is where I interact with other dancers from the studio. I enjoy being able to help, and to hopefully be a trusted and safe adult to teens from our dance studio.

While our primary connection is through dance, I listen and share with these teens, and I believe that everyone can benefit from learning about mental health. I care about these dancers, and I know that the studio director and her dance instructors also care about them. The teens spend many hours, multiple times a week, with their dance teachers and dance friends – and we notice when something seems wrong.

Over the past year, we had noticed that a number of our teens had been struggling with low self-esteem, depression and anxiety. Sometimes they would share that they were sad on social media accounts. Other times, they made comments about not feeling good enough, or like no one loved them. Sometimes, they were extra quiet and seemed to isolate themselves from their friends. We also learned that some of our teens were self-harming, which broke our hearts. We wanted to do something to help, but we weren’t sure how to address it.

I was aware of the nearby Utah chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, because I worked with Taryn, the AFSP Area Director, years ago. We had both worked for Paul Mitchell. I had continued to follow Taryn’s work with AFSP on social media. I learned that the chapter offered educational programs about mental health, so I reached out to her for help in pointing us in the right direction.

We decided at the dance studio that we should host one of AFSP’s educational programs — It's Real: Teens and Mental Health, which is appropriate for ages 14-18 It made sense to us because our dance studio is a second home to a lot of these dancers, and dance is a great outlet for teenagers. It felt like it would be helpful to give these teens a safe and fun space to learn about mental health, and let our teens know that we are here for them.

Taryn taught a 1.5 hour program via Zoom on a weeknight after dinner, making it easy for the teens to attend. We had a projector, and displayed the Zoom meeting against a walk in one of our smaller studio rooms. We had about 30 teens and some parents attend. They seemed excited and nervous to come. Everyone enjoyed it. Some of our teens loved sharing about their experiences, and they interacted with each other during the Q&A segment.

We learned from the presentation that we all need to take care of our brain to be mentally healthy. We learned that we are not alone in this, and that it is normal for people to not always feel happy. We learned that different things help some of us, and that we all need help sometimes. For instance, some people find it helps to get grounded outdoors, while others enjoy listening to music and doodling indoors. We learned to be aware for warning signs that someone (including ourselves) may be struggling and what to do about it; how to talk to our friends about mental health; and when it is important to get a trusted adult involved. The program included beautiful images and videos that our teens connected with. 

This was a very successful event for us and we would love to do it again.

Learn more about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s It’s Real program.


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