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Voicing the Feminine

Originally published in the Appleton Post Crescent (February 16, 2020)

In the midst of national and international issues related to silencing and the ways in which women, girls, and gender minorities’ voices have been marginalized, our community is setting the stage for girls to feel more confident in speaking up and out through productions that change the narrative.

Why does this matter? For one thing, it’s hard to tell a story—your story—if you feel like people don’t want to hear it. The more we value arts-based programming that makes the margin the center or brings lesser-heard voices to the microphone, the more youth in our community will recognize their words, actions, and gifts, whatever they may be, matter.

The Makaroff Youth Ballet’s production of Peter and the Wolf is, accidentally on purpose, helping change the narrative for women and girls by letting the story be told by a woman.

It’s not often that the big, bombing narrator’s voice is female, and that makes a difference. It shows girls that they can tell stories, not just have stories told about them.

With over 35 years’ experience teaching voice, Carol Jegen seems like the right woman to tell a story a new way, with a big voice, and for an audience of first through third graders, just beginning to decide for themselves how they want to perform their identities.

The production is uniquely female-centered: the roles of Peter and the Wolf are both played by female dancers, and with Jegen’s voice lending structure to the plot, there’s potential for audience members to question gendered expectations.

That doesn’t mean the arts are “for girls”; rather, we’re shifting away from gendered expectations so that we can create space for every body to matter, to have meaning, and to take center stage.

For MYB’s dancers, self-expression begins with movement. Other organizations help girls and women find their voice in different ways, though.

Chaminade, for example, offers all interested women the opportunity to join a chorus that’s been performing for over 75 years. The group also spearheads Girls Rock Fox Cities, where it provides a week-long rock program that includes private lessons and individual coaching, culminating in a final performance. And the Lawrence Academy Girl Choir program in some ways parallels MYB: singers who identify female audition and commit to rigorous training as they are empowered to find their voice, literal and figurative, in a rehearsal process that models curiosity, compassion, creativity, and collaboration.

What better lesson can we teach youth in our community than the inherent power they have to give voice to new stories, their stories, whether in song, sound, or movement?

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