Today we’d like to introduce you to Meredith Harper Houston.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Meredith. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
In my line of work and through my mission, I try to change the perspective of how abused and neglected girls see themselves so that they can see their value. I started the Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet program to give girls in juvenile detention facilities a chance to claim a new life. Most of these girls are incarcerated for sex trafficking with some as young as 14-years-old. They are young girls who have experienced the worst that life has to offer. While they are presently in jail, their growth as young women was imprisoned a long time ago.
I want to give them the tools to move through life with grace and provide exposure to something that is so pure, powerful, and unexpected as ballet means devoting my time offering the type of beauty they deserve. Studying ballet changes their identity and makes them love themselves in a way that is completely foreign to them. By removing the sexual element, I am giving the girls the ability to connect to their bodies in a healthy way rather than the detachment they have learned to amour themselves with as protection from the objectification they experience every day. There is no such thing as a child prostitute. They are rape victims. We have to help them heal.
Has it been a smooth road?
A reflective transformative journey happened for me on the very first day that I met my swans at central juvenile hall in Los Angeles August 2016. I was feeding the girls for ballet slippers which is something I always deal with all of my students. I asked the girls what their street size was, and they started throwing up arbitrary numbers four, 6, 8. I look down at their feet into the numbers didn’t match up. I asked them to take off their socks and shoes to show me their feet. What I found was tiny feet full of tan lines and I asked him where the tan lines from they are the shoes at work in. And then you picture of those shoes and you know exactly what kind of shoes they’re working it. So what are they look like they describe clear plastic platform heels as we come to know them as stripper heels. It became clear to me the level of dysfunction that was going on here. It wasn’t about putting them in to choose and tiaras.
It was bigger than tutus and tiaras it was about basic needs not being met.
It’s about basic care and needs. Most of us have parents to shop for shoes for us and that’s how we know her shoe size. We know how our feet grow with each year, we were able to measure the growth of our feet with each year shopping for shoes with their parents.
They have no idea what their shoe sizes because no one shops for shoes with them. They simply wear with their forced to wear to do what they are forced to do.
I knew it was more than ballet classes, it was a wraparound program of mind body spirit and mental health. Every aspect of their lives needed to be addressed.
One of the main struggles is giving praise to a girl that doesn’t want it from you. She is so used to defending herself and being told everything she is doing wrong.
Sometimes, they have no idea what to do with support– it’s foreign.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Swan Within: Healing Through Ballet story. Tell us more about the business.
Ballet Changes Lives!
Through ballet, we are empowering and providing ballet to incarcerated teen girls who have been involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), sexual abuse, and physical abuse. We use ballet to heal the wounds from trauma by giving the basic foundations of grace. It is our goal to educate, train, and support these young girls to feel beautiful, powerful, whimsical, feminine, celebrated, enchanting, soft, athletic, ethereal… the ballerina story.
Meredith Harper started The Swan Within with a one (1) week, three (3) hr. intensive classes in October 2016, at Central Juvenile Hall facility with a focus on classical ballet technique, ballet etiquette, and therapeutic Circle Time. The culmination of this project included working with a local business to provide leotards and ballet shoes for a final recital which was viewed by thirty (30) people. Meredith is currently teaching therapeutic/classical ballet (10) hours a week at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, California and at Camp Joseph Scott in Santa Clarita.
We expect to improve the physical and psychological health of young girls by building their strength, self-reliance, confidence, and power, all elements of female empowerment, among young girls that are currently incarcerated or in Los Angeles County Probation.
The program also awards scholarships to graduates of the program, after they are released to continue their ballet training.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
We want to see a reduction in negative behavior and a reduction in repeat offenses when observing the direct benefit to the population we are serving. Increase access to the arts for underserved communities – Art inspires, edifies and unites. A community without art is broken, unrealized. Children who participate in the arts are better socialized and have improved academic performance. However, none of these benefits rebound to underserved communities, due to the lack of access, finances and engagement to the arts, particularly ballet.
- Address: 6565 Crescent Park West #Suite 401
Playa Vista, CA 90094
- Website: swanwitihin.org
- Phone: (310) 663-2299
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: Swan Within Ballet
Laura Kunin Class