It was in December 2011 when five girls sat together for the first time and over a few cups of coffee dreamt about a dance festival. They were Romy Kolb and Juliett Zuza, two professional contemporary dancers and choreographers, Sabine Heitzeneder, a medical researcher with a passion for dance, Angelika Redlberger, a young graduate in Business Administration, and another young graduate in Theatre Film and Media Studies, Christina Medosch. Two months later, SuperSoulMe was born as an association providing under-privileged children and teenagers with alternative dance education.
If she were to set her mind and heart into a space of no limitations, one year from now Christina would like to have at least five new members on board. She would like them to have a clear picture of what SuperSoulMe stands for and be able to carry operations fully. From the initial team of five co-founders, only two are fully active today. One of the five is now the mother of a four-week-old boy, one of them has moved to the US for a research project, and one has decided to go back to the business world as an employee.
From Theatre Film and Media to cultural management
“I wanted to be in the art, theatre, life art. This was very clear to me,” says Christina, who studied Theatre Film and Media Studies at the University of Vienna. It was a path of searching and listening to herinner call. When she first came out of school and went to university, her being drawn towards organisational matters and logic walked her through a couple of semesters in law studies – which turned out to be absolutely not her thing. So she switched and started over.
“I never wanted to be someone on stage, but I was fascinated by everything that goes around the stage,” she says. Cultural management, which she does today as PR and Project Manager at SuperSoulMe and as Production Manager with another dance company in Vienna, seems to be a happy ending indeed. Creative people need to feel completely free to express themselves and they need the safety that comes with having someone to rely on in order to get from A to B, literally.
SuperSoulMe works with children and teenagers in a way that helps them pull out all the strength they have and put it into something useful. During each dance class, they would work with their bodies, develop self-awareness and self-esteem, and eventually grow to respect themselves and the others around them. They would learn discipline and they would become responsible.
What has enormously surprised Christina is the feeling of community that exists among the students. “They have a way of meeting at eye-level and of befriending quickly,” she says. When SuperSoulMe organised their first dance class, they had 30 people attending. At the end of an hour-long class, they would all know each other. They would become part of a group, part of a community. “Not only for the duration of a class, but for the duration of two years now. It’s awesome to see what dance can do,” she adds.
Those who have seen Rhythm Is It! will remember Royston Maldoom’s credo: “You can change your life in a dance class.” It was in April-May 2013 when the SuperSoulMe team went to Sonderpädagogisches Zentrum 22 in Vienna, an educational centre for children with behavioural problems, to organise a five-week series of dance workshops. It’s fair to say their project did not go without difficulty. The team struggled to convince the teachers that what they were doing was something good for the children. It seemed to her that they felt threatened; it was as if their authority and competency were questioned. What convinced them at the end was that their students had the need for activities that went beyond the intellectual level. The organisation of this project remains the greatest challenge for Christina thus far.
A shy teenager’s solo
A boy at the educational centre, around 14 years old, seemed to have the traits every unpopular teenager would have. He was the odd one out, and he was the one not treated kindly by the other pupils. He would not open up to his teachers either. Christina had the feeling he had no close relationships within his school whatsoever.
To expose himself to the group, and to look at the others was not something he was comfortable with. He attended every class but sat in the corner during most of them. In fact, he would look for that corner of the room that would allow him to stay as far away as possible from the group. After a couple of weeks he joined in, free-willingly, and was soon even given a solo on stage.
“He did a wonderful performance!” Christina recalls.
Every half a year SuperSoulMe have “sharings”. These are evening performances where their dance students show what they have learned over the past semester. Parents and friends form the audiences. “When I see them [her SuperSoulMe students] waiting to perform, on the side of the dance floor, I see self-confidence in them,” saysChristina. “Over a few months, they gain the confidence to go out and dance on a stage, and not make a big deal out of it. This is something they take out of the dance class into their lives.”
Beyond social work
SuperSoulMe began with an idea shared over coffee back in December 2011. Angelika, Romy, Juliett, Sabine and Christina have turned the initial thought of a dance festival into an association that stands for high quality art made accessible to children and teenagers with socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Since then, they have worked with about 250 children and teenagers and have reached over 1.000 people. From breakdance to contemporary, from house to voguing, hip hop, afro and hustle, dancehall, popping, locking, waacking and jazz, it’s all about how the dance shapes and re-shapes characters and lives. Through “sharings” and “jams” – two-day workshops and performances events for everyone connected with SuperSoulMe, regular dance workshops and joint projects with education centres and institutions, SupreSoulMe is on its mission to create a perspective for one’s life.
The 1.500-euro prize they won at the Social Impact Award in 2012 was the first capital to enter the association. With an income of 10.000-euro in 2012 and 40,000-euro in 2013, the venture earns through membership fees and dance classes sold to adults. The team remain determined to continue offering their workshops for free to children and teenagers.
What SuperSoulMe needs today is a bigger pool of qualified people who can work with community groups. This is why they started SuperSoulProgram in October 2013, through which they train young adults to become dance trainers and mediators. Once the board is strengthened in numbers and competencies, which remains Christina’s main wish for 2014, the SuperSoulMe team will be able to analyse the potential of their initiative of becoming a social business.
At parting, Christina brings up a line from an Andy Goldstein speech. “A company starts in your mouth,” she quotes him. Not in your heart, and not in your stomach, although the gut feeling we all know about. “A company starts in your mouth because a company starts with a declaration. And a declaration, by definition, is something that is true in the split second that you say it.”
“I want to do it”, she then said. “I’m going to do it”, she told her co-founders. “I’m in, and we’re doing this.”