This profile is part of TakePart’s “Re-Visionaries” series, in which we highlight people who are shaking things up—and making a difference—in their field and community.
Is dance a viable method of gang prevention? Abby McCreath thinks so. She’s the founder of Groove With Me, a dance program run out of a studio in Spanish Harlem working to empower girls as young as five. Her instructors teach the girls ways they can take charge of their body while discovering the joy of dance. The program provides them with the resources to make better decisions in their lives. Talking to TakePart, McCreath describes how Groove With Me works and why she started it.
TakePart: What is Groove With Me, for people who aren’t familiar with it?
Abby McCreath: Groove With Me is a youth empowerment program for girls. It’s based on my conviction that if you capture girls before they embark on risk-taking behaviors and you build their self-confidence, then they’re going to be much less likely to find belonging in a gang or drop out of school.
I worked in a women’s prison in college, and I saw women who haven’t been straight and sober in, like, 30 years trying to lead better lives. I saw that they weren’t violent—they were just isolated. They didn’t know that there was anyone to help them—welfare advocates or domestic abuse shelters and stuff like that. That’s what Groove With Me really tries to do, is to prevent that isolation.
TakePart: How did you start it?
McCreath: When I grew up, high school was a hard time. My home was difficult, but my acting teacher really looked out for me. I was happiest when I was onstage dancing or choreographing.
When I grew up, I wanted to work [with] women on risk-taking behaviors. When I graduated from Brown University in ’94, I decided to put it all together by creating a dance studio.
TakePart: Is there something special or unique about dance that allows it to empower girls and women?
McCreath: I think it gives girls their body as their own. A woman should be able to shake her shoulders and her hips and touch other women and wear a leotard and tights. In that way, it gives them back their bodies. They can do whatever they want without anyone else sexualizing them. I also love the goal achievement of dance.
TakePart: How do you see Groove With Me growing? And how will $5,000 help you do that?
McCreath: We have and two dance studios, and we’ve been looking for a new space. We plan to add at least another dance studio because we have a lot of girls on the waiting list, and we only accept certain zip codes. There are more girls we could serve.
But I could also see Groove With Me continuing our work with new initiatives. We’re doing a project called “Art: A Catalyst for Change,” and we’re bringing in arts curriculum into a junior high school and a high school to address nonviolence.
TakePart: What compels you, on a daily basis, to continue with this work?
McCreath: I love the children. I love the families. And I really love the dance teachers. They volunteer their time, and they really touch me. They get out of work, their 60-hour week or whatever, and then they come to Harlem. They get out at eight o’clock, and then they have an hour-and-a-half commute to Brooklyn. I’m taking a bunch of teachers out tonight because I just adore them.
TakePart: What to you does being a Re-Visionary mean?
McCreath: I think Groove With Me is a Re-Visionary in that we believe in prevention. We know that if you make a girl feel good about herself, feel proud of herself, and you give her a community where she feels connected, it prevents the cycle of underachievement. It breaks the cycle of underachievement in a community of women.
This sponsored story is presented in collaboration with Kia.