WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION (PART 2)
BIO & ARTIST'S STATEMENT
Currently and for the last 16 years, Susan Slotnick has gone behind the walls at The Woodbourne Correctional facility and DFY (division for youth prison) every Friday and Sunday to bring the joy of modern dance to incarcerated men and boys under the auspices of RTA Rehabilitation through the Arts.
For the past 40 years The Figures-In-Flight Dance School was a dying breed among dance schools, until Susan retired the School in 2015. Susan never wanted to own a building. Without the economic pressure of ownership, she could teach in accordance with her humanistic values; no glitz costumes, no competitions, and everyone no matter their size, shape or finances was welcome. Her choreography dealt with serious themes geared to inspire audiences and students toward social justice activism. Students also studied a philosophy based on mindfulness and practicing kindness.
In 1995, the Company attained professional status, launching a paid tour of New York State schools with a dance drama aimed to prevent bullying.
This endeavor began a life, a long desire to use dance to foster social justice. But it is her work with male prisoners teaching philosophy and modern dance that she claims is the apex of her long career. She has volunteered for 15 years in boy's and men’s prisons as well as with AIDS and cancer survivors, the homeless, and the indigenous poor of the Caribbean, All have been the recipient of her love, talent and attention.
Feature articles about her have appeared in Dance, Dance Teacher, and Dance Studio magazines. In 2014 she received the "Caring Heart Award" from Dance Studio magazine for her work with incarcerated populations. In 2010 Susan was featured in the Huffington Post as the "Greatest Woman of The Day" in celebration of Women's History Month. Two radio documentaries have aired about her humanitarian work with prisoners.
In addition to her work in dance, Slotnick continues her career as a painter. For ten years her painting, Compassionate Baby was on display in the Sloan-Kettering Hospital’s Pediatric Oncology Waiting Room. Currently, Susan Slotnick is a member of Roost Art Gallery where she has exhibited in a one-woman show.
Slotnick is also a writer. Since 1988 to the present, she has been a featured columnist for the New York State newspaper The New Paltz Times. A documentary profile about her entitled “The Game Changer,” has been accepted at 15 film festivals including the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. In 2014 “The Game Changer” won first prize for best documentary short at The Harlem Film Festival and The Cannes Film Festival (The American Pavillion). She is currently writing a memoir. This year 2016 she received the prestigious Justice Through the arts and journalism award from the NYSACDL New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
by Andrea Paredes
Susan Slotnick, a SUNY New Paltz alumna, has transformed her Hudson Valley home into a gallery of her artwork. Portraits of her daughters, done in vibrant colors, hang along the walls leading to the studio where she spends her time painting and dancing. Slotnick has been a columnist, choreographer and painter throughout her life, with strong ties to social justice. Through her creative outlets she has gained a plethora of stories and experiences with children, incarcerated men and underprivileged people.
What motivated you to teach dance to incarcerated men?
I’ll go back to a specific experience. I was 18 and I got into a car with a bad boy. I was unhappy with my family of origin and was not doing well in school. I had a reputation of being fast when I was in high school but I wasn’t. I was actually a virgin until that night. I was date raped and I lost my virginity that way. When I got home I spent the whole night dancing. I danced to a song called “Some Kind of Wonderful,” then all of the Drifters’ old music. By the morning I felt fine. It was like the thing had never happened, I felt so good. What I did not know then is that dancing actually changes your brain chemistry, so it is an antidepressant. From that sexual assault experience, I said, “Gee that gave me such a sense of freedom from my own pain. Where do people need to feel free that aren’t free?” I immediately thought, “Prison, what more specific a metaphor than that?” That has easily been a high water mark of my career.
Where did your passion for social justice come from?
I grew up in Scarsdale, New York. When I went to junior high I noticed the difference in the way that the black kids were treated in school. Then I was flunking out of school myself, so we used to hang out in the projects together. However, the big thing was that I had this black teacher, Alfred E. Hampton. He was the most loved teacher in the school and it was a status symbol if he came to your house to have dinner --I mean he was famous. One time I went swimming at the YMCA in White Plains and I saw him in the lobby. He was watching TV. That’s when I found out that he lived with all these disenfranchised men there. I realized that he couldn’t find a decent place to live because black people weren’t allowed in the good neighborhoods. Lastly, there was Ellen Daniels. She was the smartest girl in my grade and she was reading this big, thick book. I thought, “I might not be as smart as her, but I can read that book.” The book was “The Exodus” by Leon Uris. It is about the Holocaust, which is something I wasn’t aware had happened. I guess my parents thought at twelve years old I was still too young. While flunking out of school, I read everything in the White Plains library under the Holocaust. Well, that’s quite a social justice education -- between the black girls in the projects and the books in the library. That is how it started.
Out of all of the careers you’ve explored throughout your life, which has been your favorite?
I think choreography is my favorite because it is the one I developed the most and it involved working with other people. There are moments when a painting changes your life or when a book changes your life, but I did choreography with very intense social justice themes. It was terrific to be able to nonverbally work on things that were aimed towards healing the world and making the world a better place. We have to devote our lives to healing the world and if each person did that in their own way, whether it be by creating something beautiful for people to look at so they get a break from the ugliness that is around them, then we can make magic.
If you can give your younger self advice now, what would it be?
There is more to you than you think.