Today we’d like to introduce you to Beth Braun.
Beth, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Our performances begin with the following story: “We’d like to tell you a story”. A story about someone who could be a kid at your school, maybe your friend, maybe your friend’s sister, your sister or you. She had an anatomical heart with wings tattooed on her forearm with the Spanish word “esperanza,” which translates to “hope.” Was this tattoo her desperate attempt to find hope in her life when in reality, she had spiraled deeply to a place of complete hopelessness?
The woman with the tattoo is very close to the heart of this Project. She led a secretive life, filled with overwhelming pain, shame and suffering. From as far back as she can remember she was the victim of sexual abuse. Now 21, she still feared that if her secret was revealed she would no longer be worthy of love. Throughout childhood and adolescence, this young woman found ways to temporarily avoid the pain, however, these self-destructive behaviors eventually served only to increase the intensity of her suffering to the point of complete despair.”
The young woman with the tattoo is my daughter and I created the Esperanza Dance Project (EDP) after discovering that she had been sexually abused by her biological father for as long as she could remember. Her life had always had many unanswered questions. She had suffered from depression, anxiety, chronic illness, eating disorders, she engaged in self harm and eventually drug addiction. In middle school and high school, she was so ill that she was out of school more than she was in school. At the age of eighteen, when she finally disclosed her abuse to a friend, as it says in the story, she had spiraled to a place of extreme hopelessness and no longer wanted to live.
Upon finding her the help she needed to begin her journey to healing and recovery, I then needed to figure out what I was going to do. I am a dancer, choreographer and high school dance educator. Dance has been my life since the age of five and has always been my way of communicating, even at times in my life when there were no words, and this was certainly one of those times.
I started to learn about childhood sexual trauma and finally began to understand many of the aspects of my daughter’s life that had previously been such a mystery. One in every four girls and one in every six boys will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen (Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Abuse). As I mentioned earlier, I am a high school dance teacher and am surrounded by teenagers all day, every day. I began to notice a lot of similarities in many of my students, students I would see around campus and my daughter and it was that point when I truly began to absorb the enormity of the issue of sexual trauma among youth.
In 2011 I created the Esperanza Dance Project. With a powerful multi-media performance piece that integrates dance, music and spoken word, EDP spreads awareness, educates about childhood sexual abuse and sexual trauma and delivers a message of empowerment and hope for healing.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
This has not been an easy or smooth road. The issue of sexual violence impacts all our lives, whether we are aware or not. We all have people in our lives, family members, friends, colleagues or ourselves who have experienced sexual violence or assault in some form and that has a direct impact on our relationships with them. The even more challenging part is that, because of the stigma and shame associated with sexual violence, it is not something that is talked about. Especially when the victim is a child or adolescent.
When I first started the project and approached schools to come in and present our assemblies, to my tremendous surprise, we were not welcomed into schools. I was told by a few schools that they were unwilling to give up their instructional time for trivial assemblies, that the subject matter was not appropriate for their student body, and that they were not going to open that can of worms.
However, some schools saw the value of what we do and welcomed us into work with their students. With each assembly we did and with every student that had the courage to come forward and tell us they no longer felt alone, I saw more and more how we are able to impact the lives of youth. This was the inspiration I needed to keep moving forward.
Tell us about your organization.
We are a nonprofit whose mission is to eradicate the stigma and shame associated with childhood sexual abuse and sexual violence. We do this through a multi-media performance that integrates dance, music and spoken word and delivers a message of hope for healing to the youth of Arizona. Esperanza Dance Project is an organization that uses art to spread awareness and educate about an issue that is plaguing our youth. We know there are very few, if any, other organizations that do what we do, how we do it. We present a powerful piece of art and create a compassionate and supportive environment through which gives our audience permission to feel and engage in conversation.
I am extremely proud of so many things that EDP does and has become. I am overwhelmed with the impact we have on the lives of the youth that we perform for. The conversations that happen following our performances are incredibly meaningful and profound. I am also extremely proud of how being a part of Esperanza has transformed the lives of the youth performers, many of whom have been a part of the project for numerous years. Through the work we do, and the special Peer Advocate Training, they become not only amazing dancers, performers and artists, but they also become compassionate and empowered advocates for survivors of sexual violence and social activists who care deeply about their roles in helping to create positive change in our community.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I feel that is has been my passion, my compassion and my unwillingness to give up that has been most important to my success.
- Every student that attends our performances receives their own copy of our comprehensive Study Guide. The Study Guides are our biggest expense. They cost approximately $3.00 per/student.
- Website: www.esperanzadanceproject.org
- Phone: 520-302-3590
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: esperanzadanceproject
Stuart Brenner and Larry Hanelin