Photo credit: Catalina Jackson-Urueña

Photo credit: Catalina Jackson-Urueña

I was inspired to offer this workshop at EastSide Cultural Center after seeing this compelling mini documentary. I came up with the idea to offer a one week dance intensive that would offer young girls access a professional art experience that also provided opportunities for self exploration and empowerment.

Photo credit: Claudine Naganuma

Photo credit: Claudine Naganuma

The roots of the GIRL Project began with the support of Rhodessa Jones through the Theater Bay Area technical assistance grant and the support of Denise Pate and the Oakland Craft and Cultural Arts, Individual Artist grant. Through those grants, I was warranted the support to start the GIRL project. Along with Individual donors and a generous matching grant from Felice Newman and Constance Clare, I partnered with the East Bay Asian Youth Center’s mentorship program and offered a week long dance workshop for Roosevelt Middle School girls at the EastSide Cultural Center in the San Antonio neighborhood of Oakland, during Spring Break.

In the San Antonio District of Oakland I found that girls are facing a variety of dangers including physical assault, kidnapping and gun violence. Phase 1 of this project began with a week long workshop for girls at the EastSide Cultural Center on International Boulevard Boulevard and 23rd Avenue on April 14-18, 2014. This exciting work brought dNaga together with the East Bay Asian Youth Center, EastSide Arts Alliance, Oakland Sol Education Garden Project, and Rice & Beans Childcare Collective. The workshop included modern, hip hop, composition and dance history, urban planning and community gardening, with an overarching theme of exploring identity, freedom, growing safe spaces by sharing personal experiences to build a strong community of girls.

Photo credit: Claudine Naganuma

Photo credit: Claudine Naganuma

The central theme that arose through the interviews and dances made by the girls during the week centered around finding a safe space in Oakland.

As a development out of the GIRL project, I’ve also been interested in the work of Persian scholar Farzaneh Milani. She teaches Persian studies and Women’s Studies at the University of Virginia. Farzaneh Milani wrote the book Words Not Swords. Her work around the notion that Freedom of Movement is central to gender equity is important. Farzaneh Milani expresses that she would like to add to Virginia Wolf’s idea that every woman should have a room of one’s own, that women have the freedom to leave and return to it at will without having to pay a high price. She adds that without freedom of movement, a room of one’s own is a prison cell. Freedom of Movement is, in fact, article #13 in the Declaration of Human Rights.


A long-time student of Danspace and a company member of dNaga, Catalina Jackson-Urueña, created a short documentary of the GIRL project in addition to an original dance piece entitled, “Shift the Culture,” performed at an event at her high school aimed at raising awareness about sex trafficking.

The notion of Freedom and safety inspired me to create a new section performed at Tapestry on May 3, 2014 called Freedom of Movement, performed to Amy X Neuburg‘s Difficult.

After the completion of year two of the GIRL Project, Claudine Naganuma was invited to teach dance workshop at La Esquelita to the 6th graders in the Fall of 2015. 

Support for 2014 and 2015 GIRL Projects received support from the Oakland City Council and funded by the City of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program, as well as the following:


Felice Newman and Constance Clare, Timothy Gordon and Donna Mickleson, Farzaneh Milani, Glenna Johnston, Tam Bing Tom and Peggy Tom, Janet Keller Laureen and Timothy Yoshino, Ann Mary Carney, Matt and Maria Tracy, Cathy and Tim Thompson, Debbie and Gary Naganuma, and generous anonymous donors.

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