On the morning of LA-based dance company BODYTRAFFIC‘s performance at Staller Center on February 8, the dancers headed over to the new Stony Brook Children’s Hospital to spend time with a few of its patients. It was there, within newly painted and decorated walls lined with oceanic themed paintings and paper mache art, they met with and performed for about a dozen of the 40 patients in the hospital that day.
“It’s always very rewarding to be able to give back to the community and spread the joy of dance with everyone, but especially with those who are really in need of a pick-me-up,” said Jamal White, a dancer and BODYTRAFFIC’s social media manager. The last little girl he visited became his favorite because of her delighted laughter. She sat giggling and clapping along while two of his colleagues went through some of their steps. “It was the cherry on top.”
While the younger children seemed more interested in playing with the dancers and showing off their toys, some of the older children had an opportunity to ask the dancers questions about their work and the company — familiar territory for many of the performers. Throughout their tours, BODYTRAFFIC often goes on outreach missions. Usually, the group visits schools and teaches students some modern moves, or goes to retirement homes and works with elderly residents. However, for some of the dancers, going into a children’s hospital was a new experience.
“It’s one of my favorite experiences so far,” said Haley Heckethorn, who has been with the company for two and a half seasons. “It was really lovely, and especially doing that on a show day, it really inspires and brings a lot of energy. We travel so often and it is really taxing, so stuff like going to a children’s hospital, it reminds us of why we dance and why we love it so much.”
Splitting off into smaller groups, the dancers were able to visit a few patients in their rooms where they showed off a modified version of a dance they would later perform in front of hundreds at the sold-out Staller Center show. A few children joined in, learning some of the steps after some encouragement from the dancers.
“We visited this one five year old, I think he was,” said Rachel Secrest, a new dancer this season. “His name was Chris and he recently had surgery and was connected to a machine which was helping him. At first, we came in and he just laughed at us as we danced. We showed him some moves, and he was giggling and nervous, but his mom was with him and got him up and out of the bed. He still has it inside of him to want to dance.”
An emotional but so very rewarding experience, getting to spend time with the children became a bright spot in an otherwise high-stress day.
“It’s tough seeing these kids who are quite sick and hooked up to different machines,” Secrest continued. “But as much as I could I was trying to really look at their faces and do what I could to make them forget their troubles for a minute. I was seeing a kid I wanted to connect with and share a dance with.”
The outreach program was coordinated by Staller Center, Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and BODYTRAFFIC. “It was a wonderful collaboration, and we look forward to working with the Children’s Hospital again soon,” said Staller Center Outreach Director Paul Newland.
— McKenzi Murphy, Journalism Student