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Dance lets York prison inmates 'be free'

Dance lets York prison inmates 'be free'


They found their freedom in prison-issue grey T-shirts and shorts, white socks and tennis shoes.

They learned to move in unison, mentally dance themselves outside the locked gates, liberate their better selves.

For the dozen inmates at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women, the Dance 2B Free seminar went beyond dance.

They read poetry, wrote poetry, journaled, learned to choreograph a dance. They felt the music.

With leaders Lucy Wallace and Gayle Nosal, of Colorado, they figured out how to crack the shells that locked up a lifetime of feelings. They worked together, agreed on decisions, listened to each other.

No one gave up. 

Fear might have kept some of them from participating in a group like this in the past. But for some reason, they stepped forward this time, more curious than afraid. 

As Cristina tells Meredith on Grey's Anatomy, "Dancing makes you brave." 

They found a release and a connection at the same time, a healing from the inside out.

"It's like every move I complete shakes a little more of my week, my stress, away from my bones," said inmate Sarah Cullen of Omaha.

She could see changes.

"If we can't change ourselves here then where are we going to do it?" she said.

She's had trauma in her life she buried, she said. She pretended she didn't know how she felt, wrapped it up tight.

"This is a way to express what's going on inside of me through the outside of me," Cullen said. "They're giving us a release for that burden, and for that pain and for all that we're holding and that we need to let go."

For Demetrius Gatson of Lincoln, the upside of the seminar was the mix of music and fitness. 

"That's a plus for me, because I don't exercise," she said. "But what they brought here was way more than fitness."

It freed her mind, body and soul, she said.

On the second day of the seminar, they choreographed a dance to the song, "Water Fountain," by TUnE-yArDs, a song they chose for themselves.

And they learned a dance to the anthem for Dance 2B Free, called "One Day," by Matisyahu.

Sometimes I lay

Under the moon

And thank God I'm breathing

Then I pray

Don't take me soon

'Cause I am here for a reason

The song inspired Gatson.

"To me," she said, "he's talking about how he wants to be free. How he is not going to be down anymore. How everything is lifted up. How nobody's going to hold him down ... how everything is way beyond the place that he's in. And how nobody and no one can touch where he's going."

One day this all will change

Treat people the same

Stop with the violence

Down with the hate

Details of their lives emerged through their dance, and they found joy and depth in how they moved, said Jill Curran, an inmate from Lincoln. 

"In that, I found something that I didn't realize that I had lost," Curran said. "It reminded me of the simple things that I had missed. And I'm very appreciative of that."

She's been in prison 18 months. She has a year to go.

Now, Miranda May, who has four children, wants to open a studio when she leaves prison to help mentor high-risk teens and girls, and to have a place for women of all ages to gather.

May, a felon for 14 years, from the age of 18, wants her kids to know she is doing something while she's locked away from them. She wants other women and young families to realize they don't have to do illegal activities or to sell drugs to get money to fit in, she said.

"Because where you fit in most is with your family," she said. "I hate that I had to come here to realize that."

Curran also wants to teach others, both inside and outside the walls, what she learned in those four days last week.

"I took from my community. That's why I'm here," she said. "And so now I have something to actually give back. And that's what we don't get enough of in prison."

At the conclusion of the seminar, the women sat in a circle and told the warden, Denise Skrobecki, what they had learned. Then they danced for her.

They moved their feet, swung their arms, raised their voices in pure enjoyment. Like freedom.

Curran appreciated that the warden said yes to the seminar.

"We have such a wonderful warden that words can't be put to it," she said. "That's why I think we have to dance to it."

Dance, dance the night away

Make it the right dance, your way.

Dance, dance the night away

So you feel so great the next day.

Keep your dance fun and free

To be in the light with me.

--  Inmate Teresa Gillispie

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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