We touch the lives of a diverse group of people. Almost all have no dance experience, and most are living under constraining circumstances.
Syzygy Dance Project started in 2010 with one class at the San Francisco County Jail. We currently offer 10 ongoing movement programs in the San Francisco Bay Area in jails, veteran’s hospitals, addiction recovery centers, with the elderly, and in hospitals. We’ve touched the lives of over 3,000 people through dance and witnessed people transform physically and emotionally, improving their self-esteem, and expressing a desire to making positive changes in their lives. The populations we work with are personally meaningful to many of us at Syzygy Dance Project.
Read a SF Chronicle article about our work in the jail
Watch a short video of our jail class
Read a personal account of dancing with veterans
We never know how many people to expect or who will show up when we enter the jail each week. Many of the incarcerated women we dance with are mothers and when we work with finding movement for their goals, they give us dances of reuniting with their children and families. The dance of recovery and sobriety often shows up. Sometimes women join us just to escape their bunks, wanting to top each other, and demanding the music they like. By the end of class, they leave discovering a little more about themselves and feeling more relaxed and alive. We have also been struck by how dance connects people even in a contentious setting like jail. It’s deeply moving to see barriers dissolve and diversity thrive as African American, Hispanic, Caucasian and Chinese women who speak little to no English dance, laugh, and support one another as one community.
Current sites: Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin and SF County Women’s Jail
Watch a dance inspired by the movements of female inmates and choreographed by Sylvie Minot.
“Today I connected with the pain of my self-induced abuse. I want to continue once released.”
“We had three deputies dancing in our chaos circle, and I impulsively asked them to go in to the center and let us hold them, thinking they would never do it. To my surprise they went into the center, the inmates held the outside and they all LOVED it. The experience is still with me.”
SF Gate's video of our movement class in SF County Jail
In the VA Hospital, we see that the transformative power of dance is about the simplicity of moving and not about how much you can move or what steps you do. We dance with proud men who have served our country in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Some of these men are recovering from substance abuse. Some are in wheelchairs and can only move parts of their upper torso or one side of their body. Some are bed-bound. We also dance with female veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). For many of these men and women, the idea of moving their bodies can be embarrassing, scary, and/or physically challenging. But most of them end up dancing with us in their own way whether it’s taking our hands and lightly swinging our arms together, tapping a little toe, smiling, or standing on the side shaking a rattle. Some offer us cool staccato moves and lively chaos dances. At the end of the class, we create a live sculpture that connects us into a powerful moment of stillness and celebrates each of our unique ways of moving.
Current sites: VA Palo Alto Healthcare System
“It helped me release my anger.”
Read an article about our work with veterans.
Watch a dance inspired by the movements from the veterans in our weekly class and choreographed by Sylvie Minot.
It almost always takes some time to quiet the chatter and voices at the start of class with recovering addicts. These classes are mandatory for the participants. Some do not want to be there, others are apprehensive about moving their bodies. They often feel cautious, timid or self-conscious. Many have experienced physical and sexual trauma and feel unsafe in their bodies. Most have never danced sober. However this attitude rapidly transforms during the class. Through movement, a sense of possibility, connectedness, laughter, trust and joy is often discovered. The groups are large and diverse and comprise of Caucasian, Hispanic, African-American and Asian women. The women are of every generation – some are teenagers, many are grandmothers. Some women are dealing with mental illness, homelessness and abusive relationships.
We focus on how to express suppressed emotions healthily through movement. We explore what it feels like to support and feel supported by others, how to trust in relationship, and face life’s challenges with conviction and commitment. It is very satisfying and powerful to watch these women transform week to week. When they first arrive they are often angry and depressed, their bodies are detoxing and they resist movement. With time their attitude transforms, their bodies lift and lighten, the sparkle returns to their eyes, their skin clears, and they become inspired by the many possibilities that await them.
Current sites: Options Recovery Services and VA Palo Alto Healthcare System
People with Chronic Illness
Chronic illness can disrupt a person’s life in a myriad of ways. In addition to disease-specific symptoms, patients often experience pain, fatigue, sleep issues, and mood disorders. Challenging emotions of anxiety, uncertainty, frustration and loss of control may arise. Learning how to manage stress and maintain a positive emotional, spiritual and physical perspective are key.
Our movement classes for people living with chronic illness offer gentle exercises and ways of moving that bring awareness to the body, enhance circulation, ease pain, calm the mind, release stress and help move through emotions. The support of peers, patient education on wellness and lifestyle modifications, and learning new coping skills through movement exercises are important aspects of this class. Participants often feel less fatigued and depressed, and more inspired and relaxed after class. They often experience greater acceptance and improved ability to manage stress, and find encouragement in knowing they are not alone in their illness.
Current Site: San Francisco General Hospital
Our Seniors in Motion class is about connecting to our bodies, letting go of our stiffness and allowing our own fluid movements to emerge. This class helps seniors to be more relaxed, alert, and connected to themselves. Our oldest participant is 108, and she is a testament to our belief that if we get our bodies in motion, no matter our limitations, we can experience the positive benefits of dance. During every class we see participants’ energy levels rise, and many explain to us that their bodies are in less pain because of this weekly movement.
Dancing also positively improves mental function, playing a significant role in preventing dementia. The New England Journal of Medicine conducted a 21-year study of senior citizens (aged 75 and older) that monitored the rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, in the participants. The researchers studied a range of cognitive and physical activities, and, surprisingly, dance was the one activity that was good for the mind, significantly reducing dementia risk. Regular dancing reduced the risk of dementia by 76%, twice as much as reading.”
Current Sites: Sausalito Village and Jewish Home of San Francisco
“After we had moved so much together, it feels like the stillness just naturally emerges connecting us. I feel a real peace that seems to blossom from the center of our circle, grows and swells around us, and permeates in to the rest of the jail.” - Janet, Teaching Assistant
“Moving my body while connecting to my emotions is such a powerful way to heal. I am happy this was the group we had for my last year at the jail.”
“I feel so much gratitude. I just returned from Afghanistan two months ago and did not know if I could ever feel joy again. Now, I know that I can. Thank you so much.”
“These folks have impacted the veterans so much. The groups are so popular. I work with vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and these guys have a lot of PTSD. When the vets come back the first thing they say is, ‘We really appreciate the 5Rhythms group.’ The vets come with a lot of anger, frustration, and depression and they just get out there and move.” - Darrell Green, Counselor, VA
“I remember the first time Sylvie came in to Options, I walked into the auditorium and the women were happy. That is not usual. They’re usually really not happy. And it was so wondrous to see them. There was one part I adored about her class, where one of the women gets to do a movement, and all the other women join and complement her. Most of the women have never, ever had anyone in their lives be behind them or follow them. The program right now is really a community, and I know that Sylvie contributes to that.” - Peg Miller, Counselor, Options Recovery Service
"I spent years being secluded; not getting out of bed.