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These women in Bay Shore want to unite the community through their popular and all-inclusive “MOVEment” program that just started operating out of JLR Dance Unlimited at 5 Fifth Avenue in Bay Shore.
Project MOVE is so much more than dance — it’s a three-prong, arts-in-education program that combines dance, costume design and theater arts.
Oya Bangura, Briana Ude, Nuala DeGeorge, and Stephanie Pitocco each play a role in fulfilling these aspects of the program.
“I teach the theater and some dance, Stephanie does dance, Nuala who is a trained teacher in dance, also has a business where she does sewing and stitching,” Bangura said. “We were thinking what can we do to help the community, especially under-served communities?”
Bangura and Pitocco got to talking and decided to merge all their skills into one movement. Project MOVE was born in 2018.
Project MOVE is designed to nurture the “leaders of tomorrow” through a variety of programs, including hip-hop dance, theater arts, yoga, and costume design programs.
“What I like to do with my theater, especially with children and adults with disabilities, is use theater, some of the dance arts, and other mediums to build confidence. Or for them to find a way in, to communicate in another way,” Bangura said. “So if they have a speech impediment, helping them to build confidence to be able to stand in front of a room confidently in their own skin — it’s not so much that they will become dancers.”
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How Project MOVE works
Bangura said each class teaches a dance combination, builds students’ confidence through scene work, and then each student designs his or her own costume based on whatever theme is created with the teachers.
The goal is to have the students perform their work with the costumes they designed in front of their loved ones.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the classes were taught through the school system and Project MOVE programs became part of a student’s day, Bangura said.
At first, they were teaching at local schools and the Great South Bay YMCA. But when the schools shut down and outside programs were no longer allowed in, Pitocco started to reach out to other schools virtually — one in California asked if they could do some dance workshops online.
Bangura was previously a dance coordinator at the YMCA, which got rid of their dance and theater programs, she said.
“It’s heartbreaking because a lot of these students don’t have dance company money,” she said. “It’s this program I designed at the Y and it’s family-based.”
Once it is safe to do so, they are hoping to start up programs within local schools again.
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What a class looks like
African Dance and Drum is one class in particular Bangura and her team designed for kids and adults.
The class of about 15 people starts off with costume design and crafting.
DeGeorge provides the students with some fabric, a stencil, glue, and other tools to create their own looks for their performance.
Each child comes up with a colorful garment by themselves and each shows them off at the front of the class when they’re done.
When the dance portion of the class begins, it’s high-energy from the very start of the warmup to the end of the class.
Drumming and thumping erupt in the tight space and throughout the class, everyone is giving their all and most importantly, cheering each other on.
Bangura and the whole team are not sitting on the sidelines shouting out the choreography, they are dancing shoulder to shoulder with their students.
The class ends in a circle where students dance their hearts out one last time while everyone claps around them.
“It’s a huge family,” Ude said.
Project MOVE is not just for children, Bangura stresses, but is open for adults and even allows families to be involved together.
Bangura not only teachers the class, but her two young daughters are enrolled as well — for her, it’s about “preserving the family unit.”
Arnetta McKenna of Bay Shore, her daughter Roisin, son Garrett, and husband Thomas all attend the African Dance and Drumming class.
Thomas and Garrett play the drums while McKenna and Roisin dance.
“I’m so invested in seeing it succeed, and it’s like a family affair,” McKenna said.
Roisin celebrated her ninth birthday during one of the classes — her fellow students and teachers sang happy birthday to her and made her a cake.
“[My favorite part] is probably the people that are in it, and doing what I love, which is dancing,” she said.
Scroll down for a video of a Project MOVE class and some photos. For more information, visit the program’s Facebook page and website.
Top: A student creating her own costume as part of the Project MOVE program.