A youth waits, anticipates a youth worker's arrival. The worker enters the shelter facility, looks around, sees the youth. The youth approaches, begins to speak. The worker stops, listens, waits for the right moment to respond, then moves on to speak with two other youth. As she moves, listens and watches, she gets a feel for the tone and tempo of the day, and then she takes off her coat and starts her shift. She is present, aware of her own mood and feelings as she becomes engaged with youth in the activities of the day.
Child and youth care work is like modern dance. Workers bring themselves to the moment, practice, plan (choreograph), listen to the tempos of daily living, improvise, and adjust to and/or change the contexts within which their interactions occur.
Consider, for example, the worker above. She moves into her day the way a skillful dancer moves on the stage. She, the worker, has learned her craft and developed her technique. As she works, she improvises and moves, informed by her instincts and her head. She senses, in other words, as well as knows where to be and what to say or not say. She is in each moment, sensitive to the needs of the youth and the environment in which they are interacting.
I became fascinated with this notion of child and youth care work as dance, especially modern dance, which is improvised, several years ago. I was looking for way to describe my own experience as a child and youth care worker in a residential center for boys. For me, the work was mostly about motion. I remember running, playing, struggling. The work also had a quality that was difficult to explain, an existential hum perhaps, an energy, tone, tempo that seemed to permeate and influence my movement. As time passed, I learned to rely on my instincts and my ability to improvise. I developed a sense of where I should be in proximity to the youth in my group. If someone was too far away or out of sight, I moved or shifted my position. Gradually I became more conscious of how my presence influenced my interactions. I learned that my mood, my feelings, and the way I moved played a role my work. I sensed when I was in and out of synch.
My curiosity about child and youth care work as dance was affirmed recently when I learned more about the work of scholars who were exploring youth work from a postmodern perspective. In postmodern youth work, a competent worker is able to act and interact with sensitivity to the multiple contexts within which actions and interactions take place. The worker learns how to move, act, or not act, with the awareness that each youth and situation is unique. He or she, in other words, improvises to the tempos of daily living and the contexts within which an interaction occurs.
Currently I am working with eight youth workers on a study of youth work as dance. Together we are analyzing their stories of moments of connection, discovery and empowerment with youth, which we refer to as the creative works that emerge during the dance.