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South LA

Building Community in South L.A.


Building Community in South L.A.

Brianna is a former member of CONTRA-TIEMPO's Futuro Junior Company, and has been interning with us all summer through the L.A. County Arts Commission's Arts Administration Internship Program. Here she reflects on her experience. 

Though based in Los Angeles, CONTRA-TIEMPO hasn't always spent a lot of time here, because the company has been fortunate to be on the road touring and sharing work nationally. That's changed over the last year, as the company has begun building a home in South Los Angeles.

Oftentimes, artists are berated for being contributors to the gentrification process. Even some of the most well-meaning arts organizations have set up shop in neighborhoods like South LA and found themselves facing stark resistance from community members. I mean think about it, if someone were to move into your home uninvited and unannounced, how would you react? Given recent threats of gentrification in South LA neighborhoods like Vermont-Knolls and Leimert Park, CONTRA-TIEMPO knew that in order to do it right, genuine and holistic community engagement would be a crucial step.

This is why CONTRA-TIEMPO decided to work with the Community Coalition to build community specific, context-driven engagement strategy that focuses on grassroots organizing, intentional community building, and forming genuine relationships with people in the neighborhood. Through canvassing the community and hosting Sabor Sessions (free weekly dance classes for the South Los Angeles community), CONTRA-TIEMPO has been able to grow some really rich relationships with community residents.

Witnessing and facilitating this beautiful process as CONTRA-TIEMPO’s Community Engagement Intern has been both an honor and a privilege for me. After over a month of hard work, South Los Angeles is finally starting to feel more like a home (and that's even with me being from South Los Angeles!). It’s not uncommon to walk around the neighborhood, see familiar faces, and strike up conversation with folks.

One story that reassures me that we are on the right track is of one of our Sabor Session participants who I initially just started talking to in passing, as she and her granddaughters were walking down the street outside of the Community Coalition building. I invited them in to dance with us, and she seemed wary of coming in. But then one of her granddaughters shouted, “Grandma! Grandma! We want to dance!” She looked into her granddaughters’ pleading eyes and finally decided to come in and see what the class was all about. Even as she walked into the building, the hesitation was still very noticeable in her face. “Only a few minutes,” she told her granddaughters as they ran to the front of the room. As it turned out, a few minutes turned into 30 minutes, which eventually turned into an hour.

Gradually, I saw the expression on her face become less and less resistant, until finally, she was smiling cheek-to- cheek. Since then, she and her granddaughters have come every week to dance and build community with us.

It is stories like this that make me aware of the transformative power of dance. The fact that she went from a reluctant passerby to a fully engaged "regular" is proof of how powerful it is to be given a space to have fun, build community, heal and express yourself.

I can honestly say it has been such an exciting time for me to take part in the beginning of what CONTRA-TIEMPO hopes to be a long-standing relationship with the South Los Angeles community, and I look forward to the weeks (and years) to come.