social justice through dance

M3 Program (Movement + Mentorship = Metamorphosis)

Keshet’s teaching faculty of professional dancers and teaching artists facilitate daily dance classes as part of the credited high school curriculum on site at YDDC and the Camino Nuevo Youth Center, New Mexico’s state juvenile detention facility, to provide a holistic environment for students to learn literacy, math, science, and conflict resolution through dance and choreography. Students completing these courses can then continue their work with their Keshet mentors through pre-release and post-release program while they transition out of the facility, providing a structured mentorship program through the parole and reintegration process.

Keshet is so much more than dance; Keshet is rehabilitation and restoration.  Keshet teaches our kids about math, English and conflict resolution, but more importantly, Keshet teaches our kids to dare to dance.  To dare to dance, is to dare to really live.  If Martha Graham was right and “dance is the language of the soul,” then Keshet teaches our kids to find their voices.  Incoherent mumbles are transformed into ecstatic shouts of “I can laugh!” “I can love!” “I can dance!”

– Greg Nelson, Director of Community Initiatives, State of New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department

There are three stages to Keshet’s M3 program – Introductory, Intermediate, and Advanced. Keshet currently reaches approximately 100 incarcerated New Mexico youth per year in the Introductory and Intermediate levels; and approximately 10 students per year in the Advanced level.  Participating students track a 28% improvement rating on math, literacy and science skills based on pre- and post- tests; a 20% reduction in conflicts with other inmates and staff compared to non-participating inmates; and 0% recidivism rate for students who complete all levels of the program as compared to the 50% state juvenile recidivism rate within the State of New Mexico.

  • Introductory: Keshet uses dance to teach math, science, literacy and conflict resolution skills to males and females through a credited class within the high school on-site at the State Youth Detention Center
  • Intermediate: Students who complete the Introductory Class can choose to move into the Intermediate phase considered “pre-release.”  In this phase, programming is customized for each student to span the remainder of his or her sentence (ranging from a few weeks to a multiple years)
  • Advanced: Upon parole/release, Keshet customizes a new track of programming to support the process of parole and reintegration. This programming varies widely based on parole circumstances, geography, etc.

While the M3 Intermediate and Advanced Levels are highly customized to the student/s and the situations, the M3 Introductory curriculum addresses six main subject areas by pairing a style of dance with an academic or social skill topic.  The six units are structured as follows: modern and math; improvisation and science; ballet and grammar; jazz and self-esteem/mood; partner dancing and social relations/conflict resolution; and hip hop and poetry. Each unit uses movement to explore the subject matter kinesthetically allowing time for discussion, creative explorations, problem-solving, and group dynamics.

For example, the math unit develops a “math warm-up” in which the full warm-up sequence is developed collaboratively using math concepts to explore and define movement.  Leg swings are at acute or obtuse angles; movement patterns take geometric pathways; bodies shift directions at varying degrees within a circle from 0 to 360; etc. The math unit also includes collaborative choreography exercises in which a particular number of dancers (for example, eight) must enter the space at different times, reaching a point in the music after 96 counts.  Shifting 96 to 12 sets of 8 or 24 sets of 4, the 8 dancers work to develop movement patterns to enter the space through division and multiplication along with creative problem solving necessary to reach their end goal.  Basic grammar lessons include exploring an understanding of word classes (i.e. nouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, etc.) and integrating these various types of words into choreography.  Each student is assigned the “role” of one of these types of words – one student is a noun, another an adjective, etc.  How will a noun and an adjective relate to one another? Where are they in space related to each other? Where and when do other parts of the sentence enter the piece of choreography? From this exploration, writing exercises occur in various topics.  One example is goal statements. Utilizing the grammar lessons developed through movement, students apply this knowledge by writing out goals for themselves – where do they see themselves in five years or ten years? After writing and sharing the statements, each student transforms their goal statement into movement, embodying the imagery they expressed in their written work.  These movement phrases are then taught to the entire class, with each student taking the role of leader/choreographer and directing the class to understand the movement of their goals.  Once the entire class has learned all movement phrases of each person’s goals, this full collection of movement is transformed into a complete piece of choreography. 

Artist to Artist Dynamic:

A critical element of the M3 program success stems from the relationship between artists.  The M3 staff artists approach each student as a fellow artist, not as an inmate or juvenile delinquent. This mindset, while often unspoken (and sometimes spoken), is a powerful shift for the student. It is commonly the first “label” they have been given that embodies something positive, creative, and full of potential. The fact that the M3 faculty are professional artists outside of the prison/M3 context is a critical component to the relationship.  It says to the student that a professional artist finds value in his or her voice as a young artist and validates what they discover with that voice; it removes any confusion that the teacher is part of a punitive-based or court ordered system (social service, parole monitor, etc); and it underscores the artist/M3 faculty presence in the classroom (jail) is by choice with the intent to create art together.  For the M3 teaching faculty, their art is not a hobby, it is a passion, a career, and a life path.  For a young person, developing a relationship with an adult mentor who has chosen to make a living doing what they love is an important role model to access and often a new experience for these incarcerated children.  This becomes a critical component as they explore their own process of self-inquiry to discover what it is that they wish to do with their lives post-incarceration.   The difference in labeling a child a “case file number” versus a “dancer” or a “choreographer” has tremendous power to change the trajectory of that child’s life.


Movement for Mercy


Mercy /noun/ compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm

Movement /noun/ an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed; a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas

Movement for Mercy: co-created performance installations with system-impacted youth; including residencies and partnerships throughout the U.S.


Upcoming Performances:

Keshet Dance Company presents: Movement for Mercy

This live dance performance centers around the themes of community, relationships, shared history, and intersections of experiences. Co-created and performed by a team of collaborating artists from Keshet Dance Company and Keshet’s M3 program participants, this production has been created inside and outside of prison walls. How do the physical spaces and lived experiences of freedom and incarceration influence the collaborative creation process and ultimately the artistic product?

This performance experience is followed by a Q&A with the artists discussing the work, the creative process, and the intentional and transformative intersections of arts and juvenile justice.

When: Saturday, May 30th 7:00pm; ;Sunday, May 31st 2pm

Where: Keshet Center for the Arts, 4121 Cutler Ave NE

For more information on Movement for Mercy or to inquire about your community getting involved, contact Shira Greenberg, Shira@KeshetArts.org

makers space experience