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South Valley Journal

Dancers celebrate life to the tune of suicide prevention

Nov 12, 2019 03:06PM ● By Jet Burnham

Riverton drill team finds thrill for life on stage. (Jet Burnham/City Journals)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Can dancing help prevent suicide?

Dance instructor Kristin Barlow believes young people can have a more positive outlook on life when they are part of a team or group. She created Dance for Life Nation, which provides anti-bullying assemblies and free ballet programs to Box Elder County schools. Barlow hopes to expand programs to Salt Lake-area schools.

“We're going into the schools, and we're trying to use dance as a way to get kids involved and off their devices and getting out of feeling isolated,” she said. “We're trying to use that to help build self-esteem, help build confidence and get kids involved.”

Members of Riverton High School’s drill team know how therapeutic dance can be.

“Dance helps me the most with my challenges in life,” said Hallie Kearns. “You can express yourself in movement that you can’t do with words.” 

“Dance helps me express how I feel,” said Hannah Watkins. “If I’m having a hard day, I know I can count on dance to let go and release my emotions by pushing myself in dance and letting my emotion take over my dancing.” 

“Dance is my escape from the world,” said Madi Ratliff. “Whenever I’m feeling down or upset, I always turn to a good dance combo.”

Riverton High School’s drill team was one of 15 high school drill and dance teams invited to perform at Barlows’s second annual Dance for Life Suicide Prevention Charity Gala, held Sept. 28 at Copper Hills High School.

Barlow, who has been involved in the dance industry for 28 years, wanted to raise awareness in response to the high rate of suicide in Utah. Instead of a walk for life, she decided to organize the Dance for Life event. “So You Think You Can Dance” season 15 champion Hannahlei Cabanilla was the guest dancer and provided a master class for local dancers.

“It's just a good, hopeful event for the great dance community to come together to bring awareness to the issue and to show unity for this cause,” Barlow said.

The event provided mental health resources and an opportunity for those touched by suicide to talk together. Guest speakers at the matinee and evening show included Mrs. Utah America 2019 Alisha Staggs (former head coach of Taylorsville High drill team), mental health expert Christy Kane, Ph.D., and Rep. Ben McAdams. In addition to 15 local high school drill and dance teams, professional dance groups such as BYU Ballroom and Ballet West as well as local dance studios were invited to perform. 

Lexi Labrum, Riverton High’s drill team coach, said the event was an incredible experience for both coaches and dancers. She said drill team is a competitive sport that can cause dancers to get caught up in comparing themselves with others.

“Dance for Life provided a wonderful opportunity for us to take a step back and remember that we are wonderful and so are so many around us,” she said. “It truly was a moment for us to dance in honor of our lives and for those that we can remember as well. It was a great reminder that we are lucky to be doing what we are doing and that we all are enough.”