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By: Tylan Porterfield
Growing up looking and feeling different in a dance studio is hard. Get access to an in depth plan to help your students love each other and themselves more
Why the Movement Began
I didn’t always worry about the darkness of my skin color. I loved the mocha richness of my skin at the peak of summer and was sad when my tan faded with summer’s end. I remember when I was about 9 years old spending hours in the blazing sun, without sunblock, until I turned almost dark purple.
However, around the age of 13 my tanning craze ended. “Oh my God, Tylan, I can only see your teeth and your eyes.” “No fair, if we play hide and seek in the dark Tylan will win. She’s the darkest of us all.” “Guys, I got so dark, but at least I’m not dark like Tylan.” These words were said like I had a disease, as if being dark was a cancer. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t have been so offended if the words had come from strangers, but they came from my best friends. I laughed with them until I realized they were laughing at me. I began to struggle to find comfort in my skin color. I started using lots of sunblock, even putting a towel over my face to avoid getting too dark, but the embarrassment I felt didn’t end with my skin tone. It shifted to my coarse hair texture, which after a year of begging, my mom let me get a chemical relaxer to straighten my hair.
I attended a predominantly white middle school where fair skin and straight hair was the norm. While the difference in my appearance sometimes made me feel left out, the negative remarks about my charcoal skin from my closest friends, who were also Black, made me feel worse. It’s hard having friends you think you relate to the most who hurt you the greatest. I dealt with colorism even before I knew what it was; it is real and it is brutal. Throughout middle school, I felt so ashamed of who I was on the outside that I began to lose myself on the inside: I was quiet when normally outspoken; afraid when normally courageous; uncertain when normally confident. I became someone who, today, I wouldn’t recognize.
It wasn’t until I attended a private high school where I began to love and appreciate all that I am. My ethnically diverse classmates readily welcomed and supported me upon arrival. They showed more interest in my mental wellbeing, something my previous friends never did. This helped me realize the toxic environment I was in and to reevaluate what friendship meant and how to manage it.
How the Movement Began
Today twitter hashtags such as #blackgirlmagic and #darkskinpopping have helped me embrace the Black beauty that I am. However, I realized that I wanted to live in a world with more than simple (yet effective) hashtags. I wanted to create a movement where everyone that struggles with their skin (black, white, brown, etc.), their looks, or their personalities could learn to love and appreciate everything that makes them unique.
After a little brainstorming I came up with the idea for “Love the Skin You’re (Melan) In” as a way to encourage people to love themselves. Before I started it was really important for me to start with middle schoolers because I know some people’s biggest insecurities stemmed from middle school trauma and mistreatment. I wanted to try to offer the middle schoolers at my school an outlet through dance to remind each of them how special and talented they are.
Working alongside Ms. Mode, we came up with a three-day lesson plan that would culminate during NDEO’s Love Your Body Week. My goal was to get dancers to have a somewhat uncomfortable, yet very important talk, about self-love and the ways we can do better to love ourselves despite our insecurities. Over the course of three weeks we created a list of things we loved about ourselves, had peers write down things they loved about us, and created a dance using those words as inspiration. Last week, the middle schoolers taught each other their movement phrases and the meaning behind each move. This week they will put those phrases together to create a culminating dance.
It has been such an amazing experience to watch these dancers go from being uncomfortable about sharing what they love about themselves to be able to make a dance showcasing the many ways in which they are amazing. I am excited to share this lesson plan with you so that you can be part of this movement and help your students love the skin they’re (melan) in.
Click below to View Pictures of the Lesson Plan in Use and Download the PDF of the Lesson Plan
Tylan Porterfield, 17, is a high school senior at Rutgers Preparatory School. She plays an active role in her student body council, is the creator of her school’s first sign language club and plays an active role in her school’s dance program. Tylan has been dancing since she was 9 years old and fell in love with the Art. When she attended her new high school and found that there wasn’t a dance program she petitioned to start one and has loved the program ever since. In addition, Tylan is also an activist for both gender and racial discrimination in her community. She is the former President and Vice President of an organization called Jack and Jill of America Inc. where thousands of African-American teens come together to talk about racial bias and support one another in their endeavors.