Oberlin Blogs

Taking the Plunge

May 11, 2018

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

I lay on the dandelion-spattered lawn with my eyes closed and felt the hands of my twelve co-mentors beneath me. With their collective inhale, I felt myself lifted into the air. Another inhale, another lifting—I knew now that I was above their heads, their arms fully outstretched. The fragrant spring breeze caressed my skin. I thought about how high up I was, and realized that I was not afraid. With a 12-person sigh, I was lowered back to the earth, gently bumping down. In that moment, I smelled vivid, green earth. I opened my eyes, smiled, and was pulled to my feet to lift the next person.

The paragraph above describes an intense trust exercise I did yesterday in the Girls in Motion ExCo. Throughout the semester, we have engaged in multiple trust exercises, but this was by far the most intense. After yesterday’s meeting, I reflected about how much I have changed in the past year; how unafraid I have become. Much of my newfound ability to trust myself and let others carry weight—literally and figuratively—that I often try to carry alone, is due to my work with Girls in Motion.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take it back a number of months.

Sometime between my 4th and 6th day living in Oberlin, Ohio, I found myself in Warner Main attending a dance department open house. Upon walking in, I saw a professor doing Samba, colorful lights, and some people, intertwined, rolling around on the old gymnasium floor (this turned out to be contact improv, something I have since tried!). After a few minutes, everyone sat down in a circle, and various students and professors introduced themselves and talked about the various dance-related opportunities on campus. A woman named Naomi spoke, talking about the program she was trying to re-establish: Girls in Motion. She elaborated on the mission of the group: fostering trust, body positivity, and confidence in young girls through dance and movement. Her words resonated so much with me, as someone who suffered a lot in middle school (and whose suffering was exacerbated by the ballet world) and STILL struggles to trust myself and accept my body. I thought about how much I would have liked to have a program like Girls in Motion when I was in middle school. I knew that I had to get involved. I walked up to her after everyone had finished talking, and put my name on an email list. A few weeks later, I attended my first Girls in Motion planning meeting. Later, Naomi asked me if I wanted to co-facilitate a meeting with her—something that I agreed to do, but that also generated a fair amount of anxiety. But I did it, and after fall break, I started to go into the schools with two to three other mentors. Naomi came in the beginning, but couldn’t come reliably because of her busy schedule (that woman needs a google calendar intervention). Going into the school without her, and lesson planning, was also challenging. I had worked with middle schoolers before, but never in a non-academic capacity. I was nervous every time, and even when things went completely fine, I never really shook the feeling of unease until this semester.

At the end of last semester, Naomi asked me if I would co-teach the official Girls in Motion ExCo with her in the Spring. I was surprised when she asked. I thought it over briefly. The prospect of teaching an ExCo as a first-year with someone who had taught an ExCo for seven semesters was pretty intimidating. I was scared. So I agreed.

This semester I’ve successfully co-taught the ExCo with Naomi. I’ve alluded to the skills I’ve gained in past blog posts: calling parents, contacting school administrators, scheduling emergency meetings, comforting children, writing budgets, choreographing, facilitating meetings, planning events, sending ALL THE EMAILS, and more. Earlier in the semester, running the meetings—which usually consisted of games, reflection, discussions, teaching facilitation, and problem solving—with Naomi was really hard. I didn’t feel like I was prepared at all, and Naomi is a master facilitator with a lot of wisdom and experience. I haven’t been in many leadership positions before, and I don’t really see myself as a leader. When I expressed these anxieties to my father, he said that I should reframe my role as “providing leadership,” rather than “being a leader.” This really helped me. As the semester has gone on, I have gotten much more comfortable with leading meetings, partly because I feel like I have created a family. I now look forward to each and every meeting, when I used to be nervous beforehand. Meeting in South Studios every Wednesday for ExCo class feels like going home.

This past Monday, we put on our culminating event: a final performance in the Cat in the Cream. All the girls showed the dances they had choreographed to their parents, friends, and loved ones. The show went smoothly, and I was so incredibly proud.

Langston Middle School students and mentors on stage in the Cat in the Cream.


Prospect Elementary students on stage in the Cat in the Cream.


The day of the performance, we had our usual 90-minute session at Langston Middle School. The dance wasn’t finished yet, and the girls had expressed a lot of anxiety about stage fright in the weeks leading up to the performance, so I was nervous: for myself and for them. But we finished choreographing, and the first time the girls did the dance without us prompting them and finished exactly at the end of the music, I got chills. Seconds later, I started to cry. All of the drama, stress, hard work, and doubts evaporated in that moment and it became about everything that they had accomplished. Of course, all the kids noticed, and made a big deal of it. I told them, “It’s fine, don’t worry about it, NOTHING’S HAPPENING.” They didn’t listen, and I was encircled in tiny hugs.

The fact that there is only one Girls in Motion meeting left is nearly incomprehensible to me. Re-forming this group has meant so much. I have been so privileged to be part of such an incredible community. A week ago, I went to Naomi’s senior symposium talk, where she talked about integrative community arts projects. Throughout her talk, she spoke about her pedagogical model of a cascade, where new teachers, leaders, and mentors—through learning and being students themselves—are forged along each step of the process and thus create a ripple effect in their community. Even if I do not continue with Girls in Motion for my entire time at Oberlin, I feel the utmost confidence in the mentors and I know that the group will thrive no matter who takes it on after I leave. So, to Naomi, thank you. I am so glad I decided to take the plunge. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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