The Power of Dance and Restorative Care

Published: September 30, 2016


Over the summer, the girls at Hope for Justice’s Shine Career School in Cambodia have been learning a variety of dance techniques thanks to devoted volunteer Caroline Rowland.

The following is a diary tracking Caroline and her students’ summer and their progress, both with their dancing and through the process of restorative care. It intersperses interviews conducted by Josephine Rees, Hope for Justice Cambodia’s Storytelling and Teaching intern, with blogposts written by Caroline herself.

5th August – Josephine

Last Tuesday I was able to sit down with Caroline Rowland, the newest intern at Hope for Justice Cambodia, to discuss her upcoming dance programme. Originally from the UK, 23-year-old Caroline is a Leicester-based artist. Since earning her Bachelor’s degree in dance from de Montfort University, Caroline has taught contemporary dance at special education schools, assisted in a number of dance workshops, and worked at the Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester. Over the next five weeks, Caroline will use her expertise and passion for the arts to teach a fun and intensive dance course to the students at Shine Career School. Speaking with Caroline allowed me to gain insight into her personal motivations for teaching dance to sex trafficking survivors in Cambodia, what will be covered throughout her lessons, and how she hopes to make a positive contribution to the work already being done at Hope for Justice Cambodia.


Interview with Caroline:

Josephine: Why do you think dance is important?

Caroline: I think dance is a great tool to help people feel confident and empowered. It lets you realise the strength and capacity of your own body. It’s also a great tool to express yourself, to release emotions. If you have that kind of tool available it can really help you out.

Josephine: What motivated you to teach dance to the girls at Hope for Justice?

Caroline: A few years ago I learned about a dance company that taught dance to survivors of sex trafficking. I researched more about sex trafficking and realised it is an issue that I felt compelled to do something about. Later, I learned more about the people and history of Cambodia and realised it is country that I [felt] especially drawn to. One day, I attended an event in Leicester promoting the work of Hope for Justice in Cambodia. I spoke with a representative and learned that Hope for Justice would be interested in a dance programme for the girls. Everything just came together!

Josephine: What are you most excited about?

Caroline: I’m most excited to see the students engaging in classes, smiling and having fun. I’m excited for them to do a great performance at the end of the five weeks. I’m excited for them to feel a sense of pride in doing something they didn’t think they could do, or perhaps didn’t even know existed.

Josephine: What kinds of dance will you be teaching?

Caroline: Mainly contemporary dance, but also some capoeira, catac and yoga. I’ll have two-hour time slots. I’m planning to include some really good fun warm ups and repertoires. Eventually I hope the girls can make up their own dance routine. At the end of the five weeks there will be a big performance incorporating everything the girls have learned.

Josephine: What do you hope to achieve at the end of the five weeks?

Caroline: I hope to achieve that the girls feel that they have achieved something, that they have done something new and found their own style. Everyone moves differently and I want them to feel like they can ‘own it’ and be themselves no matter how they move!

So, over the next five weeks, each of the girls at Shine Career School will be introduced to a variety of dance techniques and musical genres. By encouraging the girls to take part in new, challenging and enjoyable activities, dance is one of several initiatives throughout Hope for Justice Cambodia’s restorative care programme that aims to nurture the girls’ confidence and develop individual knowledge, interests, and opportunities.

The dance programme will further provide each girl with an outlet for creativity and a significant mode of individual expression. This particular dance programme at Hope for Justice Cambodia, and the positive atmosphere Caroline creates for the girls, is important in fostering happiness, confidence, and empowerment in each survivor throughout the process of restorative care.


15th August – Blogpost by Caroline

“Ok so have you thought about where you want to do the final performance?” [Hope for Justice Cambodia’s Country Director] Stacy turned to me during one of our weekly meetings. “We can’t do it in the school, there isn’t enough space; we have to be careful in public spaces for the girls’ safety.” My brain scanned though the options. The skate park: it’s a familiar space for the girls, an open space with enough room for the dancers and the audience, and it’s safe. I went to check the space out, imagining where the audience would sit, how it will work around the skate ramps. It started to feel real and very exciting.

There are times during this project where I am reminded of the significance of what I am doing. Last Friday afternoon, all the girls gathered around in a circle in the hall at Shine School. With the help of the translator, I told them the plan for the performance in two weeks’ time. There was lots of nerves and lots of questions. “But what if I am not good enough?” “What if I am too nervous?”

Encouraging words were translated back into Khmer, and Vanna (project manager at Shine School) gave the girls a long motivational speech about never giving up and believing in themselves.

After Vanna spoke, the girls burst into applause and their nervous energy depleted. But mine only increased! I am only here for such a short amount of time. Is it long enough for me to gain the girls’ trust and show them how beautiful and powerful and strong they are? Have I distilled in them enough confidence to dance in front of all the staff as well as I know they can? Do they believe in their ability?

Classes have really started to ramp up now, getting ready for the performance next Thursday! The girls’ commitment and concentration is increasing every session and I am so proud of them. I am getting super excited to see their final performance.

“Teacher, why are you leaving so soon?”

“Because I have to go home.”

“I don’t want you to go!”

“I don’t want to go either.”

Sadness, regret and guilt flood in. Only a week and a half left with the girls at Hope for Justice…


30th August – Josephine

I was able to talk again with Caroline to reflect on her teaching experience with the girls at Shine Career School over the past five weeks. In just over a month, Caroline has introduced the students to a variety of dance techniques and routines, aiming to build their knowledge, skills, and self-confidence in the process.

This interview, prior to the final performance, gave insight into Caroline’s overall experience, including her thoughts, feelings, and favourite memories about her work with Hope for Justice.


Josephine: What has it been like teaching dance at Hope for Justice?

Caroline: It’s been very special. I’ve learned so much every day; about the girls, about how to teach certain techniques, how to keep the girls engaged during class, and how to build their self-confidence. The girls are all great, imaginative, and creative dancers.

Josephine: What was your favourite moment?

Caroline: My favourite moment was last Friday. At the end of class, I have recently started to give the girls compliments. I look them in the eye and tell them: ‘you are amazing’ or ‘you are beautiful’. Last week [one of my dance groups] started to copy me, turning to each other and complimenting their classmates. Everyone was telling each other they were ‘amazing’ and building each other up. It was a magical, lovely moment.

Josephine: What have you focused on during your dance classes in the weeks leading up to the performance?

Caroline: The girls have learned a number of routines. For the final performance I have chosen a combination of the steps they enjoyed most, mixing contemporary dance with capoeira. Lots of kicks, cartwheels, and big open movements demonstrating [the girls’] strength and power. There are two groups, and each group will be doing their own performance, followed by one big ensemble piece combining both groups.

To prepare the girls for the upcoming performance I often split them into two groups: one half being the dancers, and the other half being the audience. This way the girls can get used to the idea of performing in front of people. As some of the girls are quite nervous about the performance, this activity aims to build up their confidence.

Josephine: How do you think the performance will go?

Caroline: I am confident that it will go well, and I really look forward to celebrating what the girls have learned. It’s incredible to see how far they have come in just five weeks.

Josephine: What will you miss the most when you leave Hope for Justice?

Caroline: I’m going to miss the girls so much. I really feel like I’ve bonded with them over the last five weeks. Leaving Hope for Justice is going to be really tough! I’ve had a wonderful time!

Through Caroline’s dance classes, the students at Shine Career School have been given a unique and special opportunity to develop their knowledge of a variety of dance techniques as well as challenge themselves to practice new techniques. Not only have the classes encouraged the girls to actively participate in new and exciting activities, they have further given them a safe and comfortable space in which to express themselves, to support each other, and to foster positive relationships with their classmates. Despite being nervous in anticipation of the final performance, the girls have learned from Caroline how to positively use their new skills and harness their own power through movement. Caroline’s dance programme at Hope for Justice Cambodia has made an invaluable imprint on the girls’ happiness and strength, empowering and encouraging each individual survivor to embrace new skills, activities, and creative outlets throughout the process of restorative care.


7th September – Josephine

The 1st of September represented a special milestone for the students at Hope for Justice Cambodia’s Shine Career School. After completing an intensive and enjoyable five-week contemporary dance programme with former intern Caroline Rowland, the girls were given a unique opportunity to demonstrate their talents to an audience of Dream Home and Shine Career School staff members. Held in a fantastic, colourful venue at a local skate park in Phnom Penh, the event was divided into three performances; while one group danced to Bachar Mar-Khalife’s song ‘Ya Nas’, the second group danced to Max Richter’s ‘On the Nature of Daylight’. The third and final piece involved a combination of both groups performing an upbeat, inspiring routine to Florence and the Machine’s ‘Cosmic Love’. Each performance was hugely successful, encouraging the girls to have fun, work together, and showcase their immense efforts and commitment to dance over the past month.


As the girls performed with big smiles and expressions of determination on their faces, it was clear that Caroline’s dance classes made a very special and positive contribution to the restorative care programme at Hope for Justice Cambodia.

Stacy Biggs, Hope for Justice Cambodia’s Country Director, summed up the significance of dance as a therapeutic outlet and a tool towards encouragement and self-confidence: “Dance, like other forms of expression through movement, calms the body and rids the mind and heart of stress. Caroline’s dance programme has helped our girls to continue to find ways to use movement, specifically through dance, therapeutically and as an expression of themselves. They are more confident than they were five weeks ago when Caroline began her first classes. They have learned to embrace the unknown and take risks with their dance. They are no longer afraid of ‘doing it wrong’ or feeling embarrassed. At the beginning of Caroline’s programme, the girls danced with reservation. At the end, they danced with their hearts and souls. It was beautiful to watch.”


“In the weeks since the performance, many of the girls have continued to express a great sense of ‘happiness’ and ‘love’ towards their dance classes. One of the girls exclaimed that she felt ‘very proud’ of what they had accomplished during the performance, especially as many of the girls ‘hadn’t danced [contemporary dance] before’. Another girl recounted that she had ‘so much fun learning how to dance together’. While she ‘felt nervous before the performance, [her] worries went away once the music started’. When asked about their favourite part of the performance, one of the girls stated: ‘I really enjoyed dancing the final song with the two groups together. We practised separately and were nervous that things wouldn’t work out [during the performance], but when we danced everyone worked together and it all went well!’”


Many of the girls expressed a desire to continue developing their dance skills. “Before,” one girl stated, “I didn’t want to dance. Now I want to dance more and keep learning.” Other girls agreed, describing that they would “love to continue dancing” and “learn as many kinds of dance [genres] as possible”.

It is clear that the past month’s dance programme, culminating with such a meaningful and successful final performance, created a fun opportunity for the girls at Shine Career School that was also valuable in increasing their confidence while they learned, developed, and showcased their newfound skills in contemporary dance. Having encouraged such a positive response, the dance performance undoubtedly nurtured an important sense of pride and achievement in each of the girls.

The programme further provided an important creative outlet for individual expression, whilst still fostering equally important concepts of inclusive group work and healthy relationships with classmates. Working within Hope for Justice’s broad goal of providing comprehensive aftercare (including a vast breadth of skills and activities) for each survivor, Caroline made an important contribution to the girls’ happiness. She empowered and encouraged each individual survivor to embrace her individual power, strength, and creativity throughout the process of restorative care.

To find out more about the success of the Shine Career School, and Hope for Justice’s other projects in Cambodia, click here.

Words and photography: Josephine Rees and Caroline Rowland