Using dance to mentor urban youth and adults

Hoai-Tran Bui, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON – When Junious Brickhouse returned to D.C. from serving in the United States Army for nearly a decade, he didn’t return with war stories. He returned with dance.

While living on a base in Europe, Brickhouse met a host of dancers and artists who mentored him creatively and emotionally. But when he came back to his Virginia home in 2005, he was surprised to see that there was no space in D.C. for talented urban dancers to share and express their love of dance, similar to what he experienced in Europe.

That is why he decided to begin Urban Artistry, a nonprofit organization that promotes creativity through a variety of dance genres.

“What I was looking at was a lot of talented people in clubs and in gyms who were trying to figure out what’s possible with dance,” Brickhouse says. “And for a lot of common folk who just love movement and music, it’s hard to see that far ahead. So I wanted to bring a little of the future and bring it to the present, and give them an idea of what’s possible.”

For the first couple of years, Urban Artistry focused on an after-school dance program that operated as an educational program for at-risk youth. However, Brickhouse, who is now the executive director of Urban Artistry, questioned if the organization was reaching the heart of the matter by only mentoring children.

“I thought about a lot of the kids that I was working with, and they were really energetic about dance and about being a part of the group and being a part of something that they could get respect and notoriety for,” Brickhouse says. “But I saw a larger problem, a deeper problem. I saw that a lot of them didn’t have enough people in their lives that could help them build self-esteem and let them know that the things that they wanted to do were possible, and that they have value.”

The organization shifted its educational purpose to become a mentorship program for adults who teach kids dance. While Urban Artistry still focuses on teaching middle-to-high school kids dance technique, Brickhouse and Urban Artistry’s Director of Operations Emily Wessel decided teaching adults that can then teach children is even more essential.

“A lot of the people that were helping the kids, they hadn’t healed from their childhood issues around dance,” Wessel says. “And so, you can’t give away something you haven’t got. So we thought,