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Seattle dance studio PowerGirl celebrates girl power



PowerGirl Dance founder Melanie Skinner leads tweens in a high-energy dance workout.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

 

Who run the world? Girls. From the ferocity of their fists pumping, legs marching and ponytails whipping to the beat of the Beyoncé anthem, it’s easy to believe that the girls in Melanie Skinner’s PowerGirl Dance class may very well run the world one day.

PowerGirl Dance on Capitol Hill isn’t like other dance classes. Students don’t wear tutus or compete for roles. There are no steps to memorize or strict rules to follow. Girls show up to move their bodies and be wholly themselves in a judgment-free space.

Each class begins with a discussion of girls and women’s issues, including gender equality, beauty standards, and social justice. On a Friday afternoon in her class of 7- to 10-year-olds, the girls circled up, each sharing one quality that they loved about themselves.

“I love that I’m strong,” said Cosette, 8. In turn, girls described themselves as “creative,” “smart” and “different.” But some of the girls struggled to identify a positive quality with confidence.

“There’s so much pressure to be perfect. Getting good grades, being beautiful, being thin, even being extroverted,” says Skinner. “They have access to social media, but that makes them feel like they’re not succeeding in a way that other people are.”

Before founding PowerGirl Dance, Skinner performed as a soloist for 15 years in the Pacific Northwest Ballet. She credits her mother, a feminist and civil-rights activist who raised three children on her own in the 1970s, for modeling the grit and perseverance necessary to go after your dreams.

“When my mother died five years ago, it was a really pivotal point in my life,” says Skinner. “It caused me to think about what my legacy would be in this world.”

In 2016, Skinner made it her mission to imbue girls like her own daughter, Fiona, with the physical and mental fortitude to overcome the barriers facing women in modern society. Her work is already making an impact.

It’s my belief that by just being in Melanie’s presence, one becomes a better person,” says Cynthi Lysne, Cosette’s mom. “Since Cosette has started taking her class, she has grown as an individual. She inhabits her own body with confidence. She celebrates that she is a girl and she is strong.”

Skinner’s self-possession truly seems to be contagious. As she aerobically dances at the front of the room with big, powerful movements, the girls loosely follow her lead, syncing their own styles with the steps. Upbeat music with positive messaging from artists including Lady Gaga, Missy Elliott, Macklemore and The Ting Tings keeps the energy high, while the low lighting frees up the girls to dance with abandon. They’re having way too much fun to be concerned with how they look.

But for the record, they look fierce.

 

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