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PSA addresses cyberbullying with dance

A recent public service announcement (PSA) is using dance and slam poetry to spark dialogue about a growing concern for present-day grade school students — cyberbullying.

953K – Inspiring Action Against Cyberbullying has been circulating the Internet since October 3.

In recognition of national bullying prevention month in October, Los Angeles-based dance troupes MusEffect and its pre-professional subsect, Muse Dance Company, collaborated with nationally recognized poet Azure Antoinette to produce the PSA.

“I was really hoping bullying would go out of style,” Antoinette says in the video. “But, with cyberbullying, it has undergone a rebirth.”

The government-run website StopBullying.gov defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place using electronic technology.”

Examples of this include malicious text messages or emails, rumors spread through email or social media networks, embarrassing pictures and videos circulated online, or fake profiles. It is also known as “e-bullying,” “mobile bullying,” “digital bullying,” or “Internet bullying.” Not too dissimilar from traditional bullying, the effects of cyberbullying has been linked to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and an array of other emotional and psychological problems.

“It isn’t human to make someone feel bad,” the spoken word artist recites, “Not on purpose, not over and over and over again.”

A shot from the Cyberbullying PSA 953K. Photo by Susana Capra.

A shot from the Cyberbullying PSA 953K. Photo by Susana Capra.

According to Antoinette’s verse, 953,721 represents an absurd number of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ — a number that could never truly reflect one’s real friends and family members.

Jessica Starr, 32, is the film’s choreographer and co-director. She is also the CEO and director of Muse Dance Company, founded in 2005, as well as MusEffect, which debuted in 2013. Starr says the main goal of both organizations is “to raise awareness for various social issues through art.”

The choreographer/director has been a close friend of Antoinette’s for many years, and the two have collaborated multiple times on artistic projects.

“Right off the bat we connected,” Starr says of the first time she and Antoinette worked together in 2010. “We both had an extreme passion for effecting the masses and staying true to our moral code.”

The two partnered up to create a spoken word and dance piece called Look at Me, which explored body image issues and eating disorders.

As for the PSA on cyberbullying, Starr says the video was an ideal project for her companies.

“It was right in line with where our passions lie,” Starr says. “And we feel that cyberbullying is one of the more prevalent topics in today’s society, yet is misunderstood by many.”

“We worked hand-in-hand to initiate the concept and overall feel of the spoken word portion of the PSA. We both were incredibly committed to ensuring the words were chosen wisely to paint the exact message we wanted our audience to receive.”

The cast of 953K with poet Azure Antoinette. Photo by Susana Capra.

The cast of “953K” with poet Azure Antoinette. Photo by Susana Capra.

Starr adds that she also worked closely with the film’s director and MusEffect’s technical director, Nik Gravelle, to create a visual flow to the video.

Overall, Starr hopes the PSA will “encourage compassion and awareness” around a challenging subject.

Since posting the video to YouTube, it has gained nearly 990,000 views.

The PSA has also received just under 200 comments, ranging from huge props to the video’s creators to skepticism around how verse and movement can have an impact — or if cyberbullying is even an issue at all.

“This is beautiful and brought me to tears,” one respondent writes. “I shared it with the staff of the middle school where I teach.”

“Cyberbullying is a joke,” another commenter says. “It doesn’t really happen. It’s online, so just shut it off.”

But research counteracts this.

As mobile devices and new media becomes more readily available, cyberbullying appears to be on the rise in American schools.

A study by the School Crime Supplement of the National Crime Victimization Survey, which analyzes school crime and safety rates around the country, shows an increase of approximately 1.5 million American teens affected by cyberbullying in 2009 to 2.2 million students in 2011.

In 2005, two criminal justice college professors, Dr. Sameer Hinduja of the Florida Atlantic University and Dr. Justin Patchin from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, launched an online hub for cyberbullying information called Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC).

According to data compiled by the professors over the last decade, one out of every four teens has been victimized by cyber bullies and one out of every six teens have cyberbullied others.

Starr says she has not been personally affected by cyberbullying, but has heard countless stories of young people who have.

A shot from Cyberbullying PSA 953K. Photo by Susana Capra.

A shot from Cyberbullying PSA 953K. Photo by Susana Capra.

“Today’s youth puts far too much value and importance in their social status,” she says. “How many ‘likes’ they receive per photo and who comments on their status, defines their self image on a daily basis.”

She stresses the importance of having conversations with youth about what true human connections and interactions look like beyond the Internet.

Traditional bullying is still more common, a study by nonprofit research organization the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project says. But with a significant uptick in digital accessibility, cyberbullying is increasingly becoming a concern for students, parents, and teachers.

According to StopBullying.gov, all 50 U.S. states have some type of law or policy addressing bullying in the school systems. Though, each state varies and not all include legislation around cyberbullying. Select states, including Arkansas, California, and Minnesota, now criminalize cyberbullying. Others, such as Nebraska, Kentucky, and Georgia, have proposed policies or laws surrounding online bullying.

As for Starr, she simply hopes the PSA will have some type of impact.

“I think we are a long way from ending cyberbullying,” Starr says. “But if we are able to affect one person through our work, then that is enough for us.”

For more information about cyberbullying, visit Cyberbullying.us or StopBullying.gov. To get the latest information on Muse Dance Company and MusEffect’s projects, visit MusEffect.org.

By Stephanie Wolf of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): MusEffect dancers in Anti-Cyberbullying PSA 953K. Photo by Susana Capra.

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