Non-profit dance movement tackles tough issues facing families and at-risk youth

In a cloud of dark smoke, teens in baggy jeans stand their ground as fists fly around them. A mother cries, watching her daughter sleep, realizing she knows nothing about her. Two parents spin in circles of blame, hurt and regret. Wondering where they went wrong.

These are all scenes from the Mpact dance movement’s production of Letters: Thriving Through Connection, which was performed in Calgary’s intimate Big Secret Theatre from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

But these scenes are also pictures of the world we live in. The phrase “art imitating life” couldn’t be any more true, and these scenarios may be all too familiar for youth and families in our society.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 10 to 20 per cent  of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder, and only one in five receives the mental health services they need.

This problem is only made worse when unhealthy attachments are made in response to the lack of authentic connections between people, and that’s the issue that Mpact hopes to bring awareness to.

“Connection heals.”                                – Connie Jakab, Mpact co-founder and artistic director 

The production consists of music, dance, rap, and spoken word. One of the writers, Rebecca Dawn,  drew from her own personal experience in order to develop her character’s story.

“Most of these youth that are at risk didn’t wake up one day and think, ‘Hey, I’m gonna destroy my life,’ and their parents didn’t either,” says Connie Jakab, the co-founder and artistic director of Mpact.

“I was even reading diaries and journals back from when I was in high school and through university,” says Dawn. “That was actually a transformational experience, ‘cause when you bring those things to light, and share them, you can take a negative experience and create a work of art out of it.”

Through this raw and powerful performance, Jakab hopes parents and their children  recognize the importance of getting help. At the end of the show, Jakab revealed that her personal inspiration comes from having a nine-year-old son who  struggles with mental health, and shared her source of hope and strength.

Jenny Chanthaboula wrote and performed a spoken word piece in the form of a letter titled Dear Mom, which was interpreted through dance while she spoke. Chanthaboula also teaches poetic expression to youth. Photo by Emily Holloway

“Connection heals,” says  Jakab. “The only thing that’s gotten me through a lot of the things that I’ve been through with my son for the last couple of years has been God, my faith in him. . .and also my community.”

In order to help those in the audience who are going through difficult times, Jakab showed them they are not alone by providing a list of helpful resources that she has used herself (shown below).

Jakab and the Mpact team strive to think differently and discuss important issues through their art, giving hope and community to those who need it and bringing positive change to the world. Future performances and more information about this movement can be found at mpactdance.com                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The editor responsible for this article is Ashley Grant, agrant@cjournal.ca

If you or someone you know is suffering and needs help, there are resources available to connect you to the right people. When there is a medical emergency, an imminent safety risk, or an emergent mental health concern, present your child to the emergency unit at the Children’s Hospital. You can call 911 to receive ambulance or police help driving to the hospital if the child is unwilling to go but needs to.

FOR PARENTS
When there is a non-urgent mental concern or question, access information through ACCESS MENTAL HEALTH at 403-943-1500

If there is a situational crisis, support can be accessed via:

Distress Centre: 403-266-HELP

Community Resource Team: 403-299-9699

Want to know about programs in Calgary for your child? Call the easy 211 for one-stop resource info.

FOR KIDS/TEENS
If you are experiencing depressing thoughts or anxiety, it takes courage to ask for help. If you don’t know where to turn you can call:

Mental health help line: 1-877-303-2642

HealthLink Alberta: 1-866-408-5465

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Phone 24 hours: 403-264-TEEN (connecteen)