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Dancing With Purpose


What do ballroom dancing and sexual abuse prevention have in common? If your answer is “nothing,” you’ve never been to Kealoha Hooper’s ballroom classes on Molokai. While some might view ballroom dancing as old-fashioned or out-dated, Hooper is using ballroom to teach lessons of respect and start conversations about a problem plaguing many of today’s communities: violence and sexual abuse of children.

Ballroom dance classes sponsored through Molokai’s Consuelo Foundation, an organization working to prevent child neglect, violence and abuse, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) are teaching Molokai students more than how to rumba, fox trot and tango. The classes are enriching lives by improving self-confidence, communication, acceptance of others and regard for personal boundaries, said Hooper, a ballroom dance instructor who danced professionally with at Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Portland Oregon.

“My overall objective is to teach people about respect,” Hooper said. “The context of respect and how to respect others [and to teach] personal responsibility, that’s the goal for [Consuelo Foundation’s] prevention work.”

According to the Foundation, ballroom dancing has been known to teach self-confidence, self-worth and the respect of others. Partners must be considerate and provide counterbalance to dance. The goal of the project is to protect children from sexual abuse and teach them the importance of valuing individual boundaries, using indirect dancing lessons.

“I recommend it to everyone, especially adults. It’s a good time to get to know yourself better, gain ownership of your body and it’s fun,” said Tiana Merino, a dance student and homemaker who began classes in November. “The classes teach about respecting your partner no matter who you were dancing with.”

In 2012, a study titled “And How Are the Children?” asked communities with a high Native Hawaiian population about the cultural and social conditions of their children and families. When participants conveyed the problem of sexual abuse on Molokai, the Consuelo Foundation partnered with the OHA and Child and Family Services to effect positive change on Molokai.

To aid in the mission of childhood sexual abuse, Hooper began the three-month dance series, now held twice a year, in November 2013. Free classes are offered for keiki ages 7 and up Wednesday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Molokai Youth Center, and for adults ages 14 and up every Thursday from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Kalaniana`ole Hall. The dance series has proved popular, with more than 20 students enrolled in the first adult session last year.

“When you ballroom dance, you have to make sure [you know] what your responsibility is…and how to gain respect from ourselves and give respect to the person you are dancing with,” Hooper said.

Hooper expressed that issues of child sexual abuse are often avoided in conversation on Molokai for fear of damaging family relationships; however he said he hopes the classes will raise awareness and generate discussion.

“[The classes] really teach you about respecting your boundaries and respecting your partner’s boundaries,” Merino said. “The hardest change I have seen in myself was letting go…and trusting and respecting my partner to lead me.”

For more information or to participate in the ballroom dancing classes, contact Hooper at 646-0134.


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