Dance students and their teacher, Jenny Mendez, at the Beacon Center for Arts & Leadership. Photo by Ashley Mathus for Bushwick Daily.

Under the direction of Jenny Mendez, students from the Beacon Center for Arts & Leadership will be performing at this year’s Bushwick Open Studios. Performances by local Bushwick kids are a rare thing for BOS, as the festival largely consists of Bushwick implants, experimental and established artists. During a hectic weekend of art shows, installations and crowded streets, be sure to stop by Maria Hernandez Park on Sunday, June 2nd and watch the real kids of Bushwick do their thang.

The Beacon Center for Arts & Leadership operates under the Coalition for Hispanic Family Services, a multi-service community based organization whose mission is to serve the youth and families of Bushwick. They provide opportunities to create, critically think, communicate, and problem solve through arts-based activities that build leadership skills and empower the individual. Bushwick Daily visited IS 291 on Palmetto street to speak with the students who participate in the after school dance program. Not only did their passion for the arts shine through, but their support for each other was paramount. “It’s all about friendship.”

Ranging from 12-14 years of age, some girls have been at the Beacon for four years, others one week. At 2:30pm, they change into their dance clothes and begin warming up. The Beacon divides the year into three 8-10 week sessions, allowing the students to study a potpourri of movement techniques, including improvisation, partnering, props, hip hop, ballet and Capoeira. Mendez works to develop a constructive criticism dialogue in a non-competitive environment. She’s devoted to her profession, taking her class on field trips to the Joyce Theater and opening their eyes to the larger world of dance. Post-performance, Mendez asks her students what they were drawn to and why. When I asked what that may be, they all nodded in unison, “The energy on stage!”

Three of Mendez’s students auditioned for various New York performing arts high schools and were all accepted to Brooklyn High School of the Arts‘ dance program – they will start this fall. In preparation, Mendez held mock audition classes where her students could develop a keen eye for what to expect, including etiquette, attire and professionalism. A student remarked, “We had to be confident.”

Students Elizabeth Ochoa, Karen Gutierrez, Jasmine Espinal, Maylene Rosas, Rianna Sanchez, Gilsa Carrasco. Photo courtesy of Jenny Mendez.

Born in Mexico and raised in Texas, Mendez double majored in Dance and Communications at TCU. After moving to New York, she danced with Pilobolus for seven years and started at the Beacon in February 2012. Mendez wants to curate opportunities and empower younger generations of women. Teaching the vital foundations of ballet and modern, she also takes cues from her students and incorporates music in class they can vibe with, like Florence and the Machine and Erykah Badu.

The Beacon opens its doors as a creative outlet and a safe space. With its mission in mind, Mendez aims to use dance as a therapeutic tool and advocates the art form as another wonderful way to express yourself. “It’s one of the best things I’ve done.” Mendez said.

Don’t miss your chance to see the kids of Bushwick perform at BOS – they are certainly excited to see you there. Maria Hernandez Park; Sunday, June 2nd; 12 – 1pm.

Photo of Jenny Mendez by John Kane.
Students partnering at the Beacon. Photo courtesy of Jenny Mendez.