“Kiki” is a term derived from a subculture within New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) community called the “Ballroom Scene” and generally refers to a party with good music and good friends, held for the express purpose of calming nerves, reducing anxiety and stress. As part of its model youth programming, Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) has created groundbreaking Kiki-related events that have been serving marginalized, at-risk LGBT young people for more than ten years.
HMI shares Variety’s philosophy that the lives of young people can be transformed through the arts. We demonstrate our commitment to this by offering arts programming built on the belief that all young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe environment in which to achieve their full potential. Since most of the LGBTQ youth in the Kiki subculture are African-American and Latino – many living with debilitating challenges as a result of violence and stigma, including family rejection – HMI’s Kiki programming has become home to a growing community of LGBTQ homeless and “throwaway” youth who draw strength and resilience from their remarkable dance talent.
On many levels, this supports the organization’s mission to serve the most disenfranchised LGBTQ youth and provide them with the highest quality services, programs and opportunities for a lifetime of success. With a generous grant from Variety, HMI has developed its “Kiki Lounge” into a multi-layered program called “Kiki Dance”. The program utilizes traditional dance techniques, combined with fashion and pageant structures, to nurture essential life skills, self-esteem and modes of expression. It allows LGBTQ youth to express themselves openly, while being supported by a caring community free of bullying, victimization and harassment.
HMI dance instructor Mariano Martinez teaches ballet, jazz, modern dance and hip-hop as vehicles for young people to share their personal stories, while developing social, academic and professional abilities. As Mr. Martinez explains, “The skills developed here can be applied to any career path. The confidence gained through achievements in dance help to build social skills and increase self-esteem. Once built, they can lead to a variety of career routes. These are skills I want HMI youth members to walk away with.”
Each month, Kiki Dance members showcase their talents for public audiences at HMI, community organizations working with at-risk youth, theater spaces and various other forums. Recent performances featured Wowed, an original choreography piece based on selections from Newsies, Beat Street, Chicago and other musicals. In addition, the program presents Stars of Change and its annual Awards Ball each January and, this year, will hold its first summer intensive workshop culminating in a final performance for each member.
The benefits of HMI’s Kiki Dance are life-changing. As one participant expressed, “Dance allows me to express myself and let out feelings, words and emotions that I’d usually keep to myself.” Another agrees, “This program allows me to transform into who I want to be, and how I choose to see myself. That causes the real me to be less shy, because the shyness has been overpowered.”
Those are great reasons to have a Kiki!
For more info on HMI and its Kiki Dance Program, visit www.hmi.org.
Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI) believes that all young people regardless of sexual orientation or identity deserve a safe environment in which to achieve their full potential. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth face pervasive societal stigma and overwhelming challenges. HMI offers these young people a supportive community that fosters positive youth development with pioneering programs that promote physical health and mental well-being, emotional resilience, academic achievement, job readiness, and artistic/cultural creativity. We do this in ways that embody our profound belief in these young people, deep respect for who they are and confidence in their untapped potential. Founded in 1979, HMI is the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit leader in LGBTQ youth service programming. Today, we serve more than 2,000 at-risk youth each year from over from 350 zip codes in New York and New Jersey, and an additional 12,000 young people through outreach efforts – as well as countless lives changed by our advocacy around the world. Visit www.hmi.org to learn more.