Meet 3 x World Champion Hip Hop Dancer, Brittany Byrnes - Dek Dek School of Dance Director.
Where it all began...
I first visited Home Hug in 2010. The kids’ love of dance was apparent from the first day I met them. Being a hip-hop dance teacher myself, I saw a perfect way to communicate with the children without needing to speak. I soon discovered that they were completely self taught – from mimicking YouTube videos! I began trading moves with some of the older boys and it wasn’t long before we started regular classes.
Mae Thiew’s plan:
The Home Hug kids were facing a lack of acceptance within the community and at school. Home Hug Director and 'most-inspiring-human-on-the-planet', Mae Thiew asked me if I would teach in local schools to help her spread a message of positivity. Home Hug put the word out that an Australian dance teacher was staying and invitations came thick and fast from every school in the province…even some that had previously turned Home Hug children away. Perfect! I devised dance lessons that could be taught without speaking. The classes were a hit and Mae Thiew’s plan worked brilliantly - my class served as a warm up after which she would speak to the student groups and their teachers about Home Hug and about HIV.
Over the years Home Hug has become my second home and my dance classes have become a fixture. When I visit we have a class every night and the kids will eat dinner as fast as possible to allow for more dancing time.
The Australian Group Travel Company:
In 2012, my friend Caroline O’Brien came to Home Hug and saw my classes in action. Caroline could see the positive impact the classes were having on the kids’ physical and mental health. In order to ensure ongoing visits on a regular basis and continuity in the children’s learning and progression, Caroline made a suggestion that her company would support me by funding my future visits. Hooray! We officially became the Dek Dek School of Dance. Being confident that I could make regular future visits, I began to plan and implement a structured and ongoing program.
Every child ....
Every child at Home Hug now participates in dance class, with the focus being on Hip Hop and Break Dance. We have also started a girl’s Lyrical Style class that encourages the teenagers to work together to create their own movement pieces. They love being creative and expressing themselves! As for the other half of my program, Mae Thiew and I have now refined our act. My classes now include educational aspects and have a stronger focus on physical fitness. Her act is a puppet show that uses humour and music to cover topics ranging from sexual education and health, to tolerance and acceptance of others. In late 2015 we toured countless schools, travelled to the mountains to perform at Mae Thiew’s monastery, and even spent a few days on the Thailand/Laos border delivering much needed sexual health education in high schools below the poverty line. It was a hard slog but an absolute honour to promote Home Hug and be part of Mae Thiew’s travelling show.
The Dek Dek School of Dance has seen many small victories of which I am so proud. I think our biggest achievement has been performing at the Department of Health in Bangkok. We put together a piece to display the strength of HIV positive children, and to illustrate how similar they are to other children. This was the first time our kids had been given a special dance uniform and I explained that dancers perform wearing the same clothes to symbolize unity and team work. They were thrilled. The dance was a huge success in so many ways, and the children gained incredible confidence and enjoyed a huge sense of achievement.
Many years ago the staff at Home Hug introduced dance therapy to bring quiet, often terribly traumatized children slowly out of their shells. I am so glad that I’m now able to put tailored programs in place that build on this. There are many creative souls at Home Hug, and music and art gives them an escape, an outlet, a form of expression, and a common love that brings them together. Importantly, dance improves physical fitness in the sick and weaker children. Break Dance in particular builds great upper body strength and they love to perform it as a demonstration of their strength and skill. I am so grateful that Caroline saw the potential in the program, and to The Australian Group Travel Company for their ongoing funding.
There are many creative souls at Home Hug, and music and art gives them an escape, an outlet, a form of expression, and a common love that brings them together. Importantly, dance improves physical fitness in the sick and weaker children. Break Dance in particular builds great upper body strength and they love to perform it as a demonstration of their strength and skill. I am so grateful that Caroline saw the potential in the program, and to The Australian Group Travel Company for their ongoing funding.
As for the future of Dek Dek School of Dance … I am now making regular trips to continue the program and train my student teachers, Aor, Dat and Aurng Arng. They relish their leadership roles. I had hoped that enlisting the help of these three would spark confidence in them… it has done that and so much more! Home Hug is an ever-changing place; no two visits have ever been the same so the program is quite adaptable and flexible. We play each day by ear - anything can happen in Yasothon! One thing that never changes though is the joy and laughter in our dancing every night.
We have already achieved so much with our program, and this is just the beginning. I am so proud to be part of something that brings so much joy to the kids, and I can’t wait to see where the Dek Dek School of Dance takes us all in the future!