“Yes! Just like that! Now just let go and fall backwards.”
Under the eyes of her teacher and fellow classmates, Abigail Stern, 18, took a deep breath, relaxed her body, and let go of the ropes that seemed to be her only form of support 10 feet in the air.
But suddenly the hint of fear in her eyes disappeared as she held the hanging position and realized this new move wasn’t as hard as she thought.
Abby Hylton, 26, teaches Fluid Revolutions, an aerial dance class for queer youth in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. The class is held at the Flowjo Dance Studio, located at 100B Brewer Lane in Chapel Hill. It is one of several programs organized by the Youth Community Project (YCP), a grassroots nonprofit that engages and creates safe spaces for local teens.
“One summer I was struggling with some mental health issues, and I needed to do something active,” Hylton said. “I wondered if you could do trapeze in the area, so I searched online and found out you can — so I started, loved it, and now I’m teaching.”
Hylton said Fluid Revolutions is a way for teens to hang out with other queer youth that has space for political discussions, but isn’t centered on them, like some other queer youth organizations.
“It also provides a space where people don’t have to worry about their pronouns being respected,” Hylton said. “They can feel free to engage in physical activity and artistic expression without that fear.”
Christine Abernathy, managing director of YCP, said encouraging that expression is what YCP is all about.
“If youth aren’t interested in sports they can kind of fall through the cracks,” Abernathy said. “We provide space for them to feel affirmed, where they can start their own projects that they’re actually interested in.”
Stern, a senior at Chapel Hill High School, will attend Agnes Scott College in the fall, after participating in various YCP programs for over a year. She said that YCP means different things to different people.
“I’m involved in several of the programs, but there are lot of other things I’m not involved in that seem really cool, as well,” she said. “I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and power in YCP programs, and my opinions have been listened to and respected, which, as a youth, is awesome.”
Stern also participates in Queer Youth Drop-In, another program run by Hylton. Every Friday night at the Teen Center (179 E. Franklin St.) from 8 to 10 p.m., queer youth can come and have a place to hang out with one another in a safe space
“There’s no commitment whatsoever,” Hylton said. “It’s a casual space — sometimes no one shows up and sometimes 15 people show up. It’s a toss up.”
Hylton, Abernathy and Stern all said the biggest challenges to YCP and similar programs are accessibility and organization around the teens’ schedules.
“With all youth programs those are the biggest challenges, but the great thing is you can come and make it what you want it to be,” Stern said. “We’re the ones deciding what it looks like so we can make it whatever we want. If there’s something you want to do, we can make a safe space for that.”
Hylton said the best experience for her has been seeing students in Fluid Revolutions engage in aerials as an art form and a physical outlet. The program encourages the students to show off their skills to others, as well.
Fluid Revolutions is preparing for a performance on May 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Flowjo.
“With some help from me, the students choreograph their own pieces, and we use the proceeds to raise scholarship for the camp,” Hylton said.
Fluid Revolutions started last summer in the form of a weeklong camp, where Hylton combined learning aerials with political workshops. Hylton said they discussed gender, sexuality and intersexuality, among other topics, topping it off with a showcase for friends and family of the students. The next camp is set for the week of August 8, 2016.
Hylton said she wishes Fluid Revolutions were something she could have accessed, as a teen.
“I think aerials has been really helpful for me, in terms of coming to terms with my own body, and has been really helpful for me to come out to myself about my gender identity,” Hylton said.
“Once you’re in the air and you’re upside down and you can’t tell what’s up and what’s down, you have to really figure out what part of your body you’re moving,” Hylton said. “That just translates to how you feel about your body, gender and sexuality.”
Teens interested in becoming involved with YCP and its programs can contact the organization’s Facebook or come to programs, such as Queer Youth Drop-In.
YCP’s next event is their second annual art auction, which will feature art by local teens. The show is Friday, April 8 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Carrboro Arts Center, which is located at 300-G E. Main St.
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