Sophia Geiger loves dancing but not necessarily in the sense of classical ballet.
She finds what she’s looking for in the Teen Exchange. Part of the Dance Exchange, Teen Exchange offers opportunities for youth ages 13-18 to deepen their dance training and develop their choreographic potential through studio practice, performance and creative organizational leadership.
The 16-year-old sophomore takes a dance class at Northwood High School. Neither there nor in her studies at Dance Exchange are about turnout or how high you lift your leg.
With Teen Exchange, she explained, “you’re in charge of your own body. There are no rules here; you create whatever you want. It’s very supportive, and you gain a lot of confidence.”
Next week, Geiger will participate in Youth Arts Night, an annual event Dance Exchange sponsors. Dancers in the Teen Exchange won’t be the only ones showcasing their creativity.
Every year, other performers – who may or may not be taking dance at Dance Exchange – sing, dance, do karaoke, paint, recite slam poetry or demonstrate martial arts.
This is Geiger’s third year in the Teen Exchange. She has not taken formal ballet since she was six.
The exchange is not about conventional dance classes, she said, adding that she likes the fact that the program offers the opportunity to learn from a few different teachers.
The emphasis in Teen Exchange, Geiger said, is modern and post-modern, contemporary, “but incorporates a lot of different styles.”
In class, the teachers do not say, “don’t do this; do it this way,” she said. They’re more likely to say, I love what you’re doing. How can you expand it? Or, what made you decide to do what you do?
Members of the Teen Exchange have opportunities to create their own choreographic work, expand their abilities as leaders in their community, develop new friendships and participate in creative projects, said Dance Exchange resident artist Juliana Ponguta.
“Our youth programs are the foundation for everything Dance Exchange does, which is based on intergeneration participation and the premise that everyone can dance, said Ponguta. “We always ask, who gets to dance,” where is it happening, and what is it about.”
As opposed to other schools of dance, participants don’t need to have experience. “We have a range of people and experiences in all classes, said Ponguta.”
Members of Teen Exchange have multiple options for participation. Rehearsals and creative development time, held on Thursday evenings, is required of all Teen Exchange members.
Teens are encouraged to participate in Dance Exchange’s Foundations of Contemporary Dance on Tuesdays, where they are providing support in building their capacities in contemporary dance.
There’s also a Youth Exchange for kids ages 7-12, which introduces them to collaborative dance making and performance. Its dancers will also participate in Youth Arts Night.
“The event is geared to the entire community,” said Ponguta. “We collaborate with different organizations serving youth to lift up people through the creative process.”
A part of every event is engagement with the audiences, to help people in the audience discover their creativity. Participation is embedded into every evening, not just watching, she added.
Any local young artist who wants to share talent on stage on Youth Arts Night should visit their website, www.danceexchange.org, to sign up.
Geiger anticipates that dance will always be a part of her life, even if it’s not the main thing. Besides, her boyfriend will be studying dance in college.
The Youth Arts Night takes place Thursday, May 23, at 6:30 p.m., at Dance Exchange, 7117 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park. 301- 270-6700. $20 suggested donation at the door.