Hanan Hameen Leads Free to Dance Workshop on Juneteenth

Arts, Education and Curriculum Specialist of over 20 years, Hanan Hameen is joining the International Festival of Arts & Ideas for her fourth year. Hameen is the current program committee chair of the Dixwell Pop-Up Festival Steering Committee and will be bringing the New Haven Community her workshop, Free to Dance, Monday, June 19 at 4pm at the Festival Center on the New Haven Green.

Free to Dance will be an African dance class that will bring participants back to the root of storytelling. Hameen’s goal is to connect those who attend to a way of expression developed through movement, movement which provides meaning. Styles include traditional African movements and hip-hop, Hameen will connect these dance styles to folkloric storytelling and the culture from which they were born. She hopes to pass on the knowledge of Africa to those of all demographics in order to provide everyone with a different understanding of themselves and their fellow human.

The workshop is being held on Juneteenth Day which marks a prominent day in black history. June 19, 1865 slavery was abolished in Texas three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was enacted. Juneteeth Day celebrates the emancipation of slavery in the confederate south. Much like the date, the name, Free to Dance, also holds heavy significance.

“We weren’t allowed to dance, we weren’t allowed to participate in our traditional culture because dance for us is more than just dancing, that is how we told the history,” Hameen said, “passed down through various forms of intelligence, it wasn’t verbal linguistics, it was audible, it was kinesthetic.”

Deeply rooted within Hameen’s soul is an artist who praises her history through her art, movement and teachings. Hameen was born and raised in New York, but had family rooted in New Haven due to the Great Migration. Her father was a jazz drummer and her mother a dancer and independent filmmaker. At the age of two Hameen began dancing and the rest was history.

As a certified principal, Hameen implemented a curriculum within the Board of Education in New York that focuses on the need for art in the lives of young people and art intermingling with their formal education. In 2010 after being diagnosed with lupus, Hameen began recovery in New Haven where she noticed that many youth around her were falling victim to violence. “If they only knew who they were, that they were brothers and sisters,” Hameen articulated, “that no matter where they come from, no matter what language they speak, that we all come from the same place which is Africa. We are all same.”

Hameen began taking the issue into her own hand and created Africa is Me! an inclusive program taking place once a month in New Haven’s Stetson Library, the hub of black culture in New Haven. Africa is Me! is an interactive and hands on learning experience for people of all ages determined to make a difference in the lives of community members.

She recalled the story of one of her former dance students, the student and his friends would always stand outside of the library, but never enter. Every time Hameen would set up her program in the library, she’d invite the group of students to join, little by little the students began to engage, it began with passing on the invitation to join, then they would stand outside of the program room watching and eventually the became leaders themselves within the program. “Now they not only come into the program, they are there before I even get there,” she said, “they are assisting in leading...they look forward to it.”

Throughout the years Hameen began noticing a change in her students, ones who were once silent now speak up and have an abundance of ideas to share.

Recently Hameen worked with the Arts & Ideas high school fellows and taught them the basis of her Africa is Me! program. Fellow Emily Locke said, ““The most important thing I got out of Hanan’s visit was the need to appreciate my own culture. I am blessed to come from a beautiful place, just like Hanan, and she reminded me to be grateful for my heritage.” After a class full of dancing, expression, movement and music, Hameen left the students with the feeling of pride and equality she wanted to spread when her Africa is Me! program began. “Hanan encouraged us to see ourselves through the lens of Africa. I believe this is a lens that can change the way society is today, because although we are a nation of immigrants, in reality we are all from the same people,” high school fellow Isabel Adolphe said.

Hameen has fostered the growth and independence of hundreds of students through not only her Africa is Me! program, but through her Artsucation™ curriculum as well. Artsucation™ is described as “the interdisciplinary application of the arts as creative sciences combined with traditional academic subjects”. Artsucation™ was developed based on the way Hameen learned growing up, noting that the combination of arts with traditional academic subjects help retention, understanding and connection to what the student is learning. “It’s not about how smart you are, but how you are smart,” Hameen said.

Although Hameen grew up in a specialized STEM learning field and was highly advanced for her age she learned that intelligence lies in various forms and those forms must be acknowledged to fully teach a child. While school systems are cutting arts programs Hameen believes that art education is beneficial now more than ever. With education typically being based on one culture with one type of learning students who needs the arts often lack the ability to access it, leaving them to be labeled as problem students, when instead they just need to be taught in a different fashion.

Hameen leads her charge with the following the two quotes, “Education needs Artsucation™” and “Become your best with H.I.G.H E.S.T.E.A.M.” Hameen provides students tools to be successful in H.I.G.H E.S.T.E.A.M: Healthy Living, Inclusive Instruction, Geography, History, English and Language Arts, Science, Technology, Engineering, Artsucation™ and Mathematics. Optimising improvement for others is what Hameen strives to do with her work in education through art, culture and lifestyle. Over the past few years Hameen has developed Lupie-Licious Fitness, a regiment that helps members cope with and manage symptoms of lupus. Much like her plans with Artsucation™, Lupie-Licious Fitness focuses on the needs of the individual, rather than a general consumer, with fitness, nutritional and destress methods built to fit their personal needs. Hameen lives her life with a passion to help others grow and succeed in the best way they possibly can. Through support of groups like Arts & Ideas and SURJ CT, Hameen is able to spread her message to a large demographic.

“It’s all about a village,” Hameen said, “that’s why the culture is important because culturally it’s not about people doing things by themselves, when you’re talking about melanated people, people of hue, people of African descent. It’s about everyone doing their part individually for the whole. Our people coming together to make things happen, to make things work, to keep things going.”

For more information about Artsucation™ call 470-444-9570 or email artsucationacademynetwork@gmail.com

- By Montana Telman