U of O professor talks incarceration and dance rehabilitation

When people think of rehabilitation in prison, they might think of books, exercise, and giving back to society. However, on Sept. 25, around two dozen students were introduced to another form of rehabilitation—dance.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the criminology department, U of O professor Sylvie Frigon, alongside choreographer Claire Jenny, presented students with dance moves, and information about the positive impacts that dancing can have on prisoners, and their rehabilitation.

In the 90-minute workshop, Professor Frigon highlighted how contemporary dancing is important in prisoners’ lives because it allows them to reconnect with, and feel confidence in, their bodies. “The bodies are disciplined in prison, and dance can offer freedom (from) that,” explained Frigon.

Upon meeting Jenny, who provides dance programs in prisons, Frigon began to formulate her theory that dance provides a means to express how bodies are compelled in prison. “Bodies are not only controlled in prison, but (they) are also different forms of resistance that prisoners use, and that (is) what we are trying to explore,” Frigon told the Fulcrum.

Indeed, the instructors showed the students a video of female prisoners who were paired off and asked to perform a choreographed dance—which was meant to foster trust and support in one another, despite their hostile environment.

While there is regular resistance to authority in prisons, Jenny told audiences that, given her experience in implementing dance programs, no prisoner had refused to partake in the activity.

In fact, she explained that due to the lack of other activities in prison, she found it essential for the women that she worked with to take part in something that makes them feel good about themselves, and release any tension that they might have been feeling.

“We are all bodies, and what they are doing in prison may seem abstract (for the class)—(so,) we wanted them to have some sense of what it actually felt like, (by showing the class how the dances worked),” explained Frigon.

However, despite the class’ newfound familiarity with the subject, the criminology professor explained that dance has not become a widely used means of reforming prisoners in the Canadian context. “It is not often proposed in Canadian prisons … (However,) in France it is a little bit,” she said.

According to Frigon, in France, it is the minister of culture who provides a budget for artistic dancing, which allows enterprises to enter into prisons to aid in rehabilitation of the incarcerated. Comparatively, Canada does not have the same system in place.

Nevertheless, Frigon remains an advocate for dance, and believes that it is an important initiative for a myriad of issues. “Dance has been used with different groups—whether (it be) with (the elderly), people with mental issues, or physical disabilities … dance permits different kinds of people to reconnect with their bodies.”

“There are some preconceived ideas about the body, dance, movements, but we are just beginning to scratch the surface.”