D2 Dance Club: A Cradle for Emerging Youth Culture

The room was relatively quiet, other than the sound of isolated instruments playing from a laptop. They were on the floor laying on hacked cushion puzzles that one can often see in kindergarten playrooms. Although they were told by their teacher to close their eyes and focus on their breathing, one student could not resist and peeled one eye open to peek at who their visitor was. A few minutes after, the same girl picked up her cushion and decided to rummage through her knapsack. She fiddled with her phone and seemed to have lost interest in the class. The teacher lets her be.

“The teacher lets her (him) be” is a predominant note scribbled on my journal during my several visits. In D2 Youth Development and Media Center, this notion seemed to be implicitly practiced not just within the confines of the dance studio. All staff adhere to this – to let them be and to allow them to learn or participate at their own pace. By them, they specifically point to the youth. They are committed in fostering youth involvement through voluntary input and not through imposed supervision, in order to encourage active citizenship. I was curious why the organization catered to the youth specifically and D2 Manager, Gyöngyi Kispál, did not hesitate to explain. She narrated that many people find it difficult to motivate teenagers but she contends that if you can find the correct way of involving and communicating with them, teenagers can be very productive. The central focus is to advocate for youth engagement and leadership where they will have a space to express themselves and participate in community activities that will build their skills and self-esteem which is what D2 has been doing from the beginning.

During both formal and informal discussions with Ms. Kispál, she has accentuated that D2 is a fairly new non-profit youth organization.  It was only last December 1, 2013 that it structured its youth development project in such a way that underprivileged young people will have access to resources and facilities that were educational and interesting. The programs embedded in this project are mainly led by the youth themselves and with minimal guidance from the staff. By handing them the responsibility, it allowed young people to exercise their leadership and communication skills amongst themselves in which they then share their ideas and goals without the pressure, nor judgement, from the adults.

When I was taking note of this, I could not help but fathom possible disputes involving organizational control and structure with this kind of approach. Although I was aware that “youth development programs are designed to prepare adolescents for productive adulthood by providing opportunities and support to help them gain the competencies and knowledge needed to meet the increasing challenges they will face as they mature” (Roth, Brooks-Gunn, Murray, and Foster, 1998), giving them unrestricted control may be problematic later on. This approach nonetheless remains integral in all of D2’s programs as it then gives the youth the opportunity to construct outputs or creations that reflect their interests as well as their own understanding of social issues, wherein one of the embedded programs is the D2 Dance Club.

Like most dance studios in Szeged, Hungary, D2’s designated dancing space is nestled underground of an office building in Dózsa Utca 2. You have to walk down a flight of stairs before stepping on to a long passage that also functions as a common room and storage room at the same time, which thereafter leads to a dimly-lit small alcove before seeing the door to the dance studio. Upon entry, you will be greeted with shadows of people’s feet that can be seen through the two glass windows on one side, a bowed mirror in front, and grey linoleum flooring. The space, with the upper walls and ceiling covered with egg cartons and graffiti, is large enough to ideally house 15 to 20 dancers at the same time. It is important to take note of the appearance of the area itself as this reflects D2’s efforts in maintaining a practical space for its programs and what they lack in terms of affluent interiors, they make up for it with creativity and resourcefulness. 

During a one-on-one interview with Dorà Csóti-Gyapjas, Dance Club Coordinator, she explains that those who are interested in becoming part of the dance club or in taking part in its classes do not need to shell out anything, other than their creative ideas and love for dancing. Everything is free. D2 organized the program back in 2013 in such a way that those who cannot afford to pay for dance classes will finally have that opportunity to do so without worrying about class or membership fees. Something that she shares with other people as money is observed as a dissuading factor. As long as there is interest, anyone can just walk into the D2 office and inquire about the dance club.

D2’s dedication to youth-centeredness is also noticed in the schedules of their dance program. All activities always start at four in the afternoon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in order not to lure the youth away from their formal academic obligations. This is an initiative that clearly strengthens the organization’s objective of providing a creative space for young people after school hours and preventing them from getting into juvenile quandary. I viewed this quite reasonably pertinent since most of the members of the dance club were between 12 to 18 years old and adolescents at this age range are usually looking for prospects to interact with their peers or searching for activities that will keep them preoccupied in their hours of boredom.

The D2 Dance Club has two class groups namely Nia and Youngsters. Nia is coined for the class referred to as ‘peaceful dancing’ in which the movements are more connected to the ground or floor, while Youngsters focus more on ‘variety’ as they were not concentrating on a specific dance form. In this class, there is a play of hip hop, contemporary, salsa, and samba and the choreography can be that of the youth or the teacher. The dance product of the classes are then showcased in the organization’s major activities and other by-invitation occasions like festivals, school orientations, and community social events. Because of this, D2 has also attracted young people from other areas like Budapest, Kecskemét, and Debrecen.

It is clearly observed that its method in implementing the programs is setting a cultural trend among the youth in Szeged. With youth leadership in the forefront, freedom of expression and active civic engagement are not going to lag behind. Today’s young generation is being encouraged to get involved more and to expand this involvement beyond their personal spheres through creative spaces like D2’s dance club. However, there is a vulnerability element to be contemplated when responsible adults give wide-ranging hegemony in the hands of young people. It is common observation that the young may lack knowledge or may need more experience to practice prudence, and in being so, they have the tendency to attempt the impossible that is often difficult to implement without clear perimeters. Without defining borders, there will be no structure. If there is no structure, there will be no constancy. If there is no constancy, there will be no definite direction. There will be, most likely, this infinite exploration of possibilities that is positive if it will construct a community, but risky if it will cause destruction. What D2 is inculcating is a bold move that helps mold an emerging youth culture that is more active and independent in the community, but like any community building feat, it should always be a collective effort where the responsibility is equally shared by both the youth and the adults, each understanding their respective roles in society.

As part of my output, I decided to expand the feature story by painting an art piece of how I perceived the youth organization. The piece was part of an exhibition called “Dance in Szeged: An Ethnographic Dance Research” held last year at the Reök Regional Art Center in Szeged, Hungary. 

An important note to consider is that the focus of this feature story is D2’s Dance Club, however please also note that D2 caters to other artistic endeavors as well and these involved expressive arts like photography, radio, and film. If you want to know more about the organization, you can visit their website here

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