We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Beth Braun a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Beth, thanks for joining us today. Can you talk to us about a project that’s meant a lot to you?
The most meaningful project I’ve worked on is my current project, Esperanza Dance Project ( EDP ). I created the project in 2011 after my daughter, who was 18 at the time, disclosed to a friend that she had been sexually abused from as far back as she could remember by an extremely close family member. This family member was someone who was supposed to love and protect her, not hurt her. Throughout her life she struggled with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self harm and finally drug misuse. Two weeks prior to a time when my daughter spiraled so low and no longer wanted to live, she got a tattoo on her forearm of an anatomical heart with wings and the word “Esperanza.”
After I found my daughter the professional help she needed to begin her healing and recovery, I needed to figure out what I was going to do. At the time that my daughter was in crisis I was teaching and directing a dance program at two high schools in Tucson. I began learning as much as I could about the issue of childhood sexual trauma and sexual violence and what a young survivor might experience. Not only did I begin to understand what my daughter went through, but I began to notice similarities in my students and many students on our campus. Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault reports that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of 18. One day I was in the dance studio with my advanced class, made up of 24 girls and 1 boy, and it was that time that the enormity of this issue hit me. I knew I needed to do something to help create positive change in the lives of youth in our community.
I have been dancing for over 50 years and have been choreographing for over 30 years and I have seen the transformative power of dance and all art forms. Dance truly has been my life and my means for self-expression and communication. I began to create Esperanza Dance Project, a performance piece that integrates dance, music and narrative to spread awareness, educate, support survivors, start meaningful conversations and help youth to not feel so alone. Esperanza is the Spanish word for “hope,” the main message of Esperanza Dance Project.
Beth, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
I grew up in New York and when I was five years old my mother took me to see my first performance of the New York City Ballet, which was totally the inspiration for my future. At the end of the performance she asked me if I wanted to learn how to dance. I told her that I did and I have been dancing ever since! I studied classical ballet until I attended State University of New York at Brockport where, as a Dance Major, I began to study and fell in love with modern dance. In 1982, following graduation, I moved to Tucson, AZ where my family had moved while I was still in school. I lived and danced in Arizona and California for about ten years before moving back to New York. While back in NY, I studied at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, taught in universities and community colleges, danced with Randy James Danceworks and received an MA in Dance Choreography and Performance. I moved back to AZ in 1995, to be closer to my family, and was hired to direct a dance program in two high schools that share a campus. This was truly my dream job and I stayed for seventeen years. I love working with youth and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity to share my love of dance and art with many young people and hopefully, I inspired them in some way. In 2011 I created Esperanza Dance Project and would love to tell you more about it!
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
For me the most rewarding aspect of being an artist is the opportunity I have every day to impact the lives of people who experience my art. My experience with art has been that I have the ability to communicate in a deeper way that mere words may not be able. It is incredibly rewarding for me to be able to express myself in a positive way and have the opportunity to inspire others through my art. I have personally seen how challenging and overwhelming life can be. Dance has literally saved my life numerous times and I feel grateful and honored to be able to inspire and share a sense of hope with others who might be experiencing their own challenges through my art. Equally rewarding is having the means to spread passion, beauty and joy through dance.
In your view, what can society to do to best support artists, creatives and a thriving creative ecosystem?
Most members of my family and so many others that I know have chosen to spend their lives doing jobs that are unfulfilling and not very meaningful. Too often, when I talk to people about art, dance and the choice I made to pursue my dance career, they respond with, “You’re so lucky to do what you love!” True, I feel incredibly lucky to do what I love, however, it was a conscious choice and it was not always easy, especially financially. Our society likes to hang art up in their homes, go to concerts and shows and sends their children to dance classes and music lessons, yet the phrase, “starving artist,” describes too many of us. In my view, society can support artists by truly valuing our place in society and the necessary work we do. A thriving society is one whose art and culture are also thriving. I believe artists and creatives deserve to be paid a living wage and have health insurance available to them.
- Website: esperanzadanceproject.org
- Instagram: esperanzadanceaz
- Facebook: @esperanzadanceproject
Photographer: Larry Hanelin