Nytasia’s Health and Wellness Dance Club

At just 24 years old, Nytasia Survia formed her own dance club to teach girls ages 6 – 18 how to process painful emotions and express themselves creatively. A recent “What If…” Mini Grant has helped her to continue growing the program.

Published August 11th, 2022

              While Nytasia Survia was away at college in 2019, a tragedy occurred: her stepfather suffered a severe seizure and passed away unexpectedly. Although the emotional stress and grief of the situation nearly caused her to leave school prematurely, Survia found support and solace within the dance community that she had become involved with. “I just found it to be therapeutic to dance in the studio or with the team because of that family-oriented aspect that they projected,” she remembers. “Every time I danced it felt like such a relief. I could take out my anger or my sadness.”

When Survia finished her degree at SUNY Oneonta the following year, she had come to view dancing as a powerful mental health tool. She also observed that many of the younger people she knew were struggling to express themselves emotionally and faced a lack of social and creative outlets.

The Health and Wellness Dance Club is completely free to participants, and has performed at the Crawfish Festival, Symphoria, the Inner Harbor, Annual Duck Race, the Pan African Village, and more.

Many had been impacted by the loss of someone close to them. “I saw that a lot of the community didn’t know how to deal with grief,” she said, noting that many deal with loss by acting out violently or in other destructive ways.

In April of 2021, Survia decided to start the Health and Wellness Dance Club for girls ages 6 – 18. “It has gotten way bigger than I thought it was going to be. I started off with 15 girls, and then I went to 18, to having almost 30 girls in the group.” Shortly thereafter, she connected with Debra McClendon – cofounder of the PGR Foundation. PGR, which stands for Poised, Gifted, and Ready, is a nonprofit that provides mentorship and other supports for girls in Onondaga County.

After attending an orientation session and submitting an application, Survia was awarded a “What If…” Mini Grant to support space, food, insurance, and equipment costs for her dance club.

McClendon helped Survia outline the structure of her program and shared ideas about where Survia could access additional financial support: up until this point, Survia had been paying for the program’s expenses out of her own pocket with money she had earned working a part time job. McClendon had worked with other youth who had received support for their projects via Gifford’s “What If…” Mini Grant program.

Designed to support community initiatives and grassroots organizations, these Mini Grants offer a pathway for applicants 12 and older to earn funding. Because grantees are typically paired with a fiscal sponsor, a 501(c)3 nonprofit status is not required to apply. “I was a little nervous because I had no background in how to apply for a grant,” said Survia. McClendon encouraged her to apply, agreeing to serve as her mentor moving forward.

After attending an orientation session and submitting an application, Survia was awarded funding to support space, food, insurance, and equipment costs for her dance club. “I just want to make it a safe space,” she says. “I have a lot of middle schoolers, and their challenges are gaining acceptance of themselves and their self-image.” Survia remembers facing similar challenges at that age. “I know they struggle with their identity and who they are as a person. For me, it’s about getting them on the right path and saying, ‘Hey – there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s ok if you’re thinking this way.’”

The majority of participants are new to dance, so Survia draws on her own experience learning dance in college to help get them started. She hopes to broaden their horizons by introducing them to new music and then showing them choreography to go along with it. This presents a balancing act, however, because she also has to keep them engaged with material that they are more accustomed to. “I try to incorporate TikTok’s and stuff so they know that I’m still up to date with them and so they know that I’m still cool,” she says with a laugh. Survia just turned 25, but says her students tell her, “You’re old if you were born in the ‘90s.”

The Health and Wellness Dance Club is completely free to participants, and Survia aims to keep it that way. “The only thing that the parents have to provide is transportation. We provide snacks for the kids, outfits for the kids – everything is provided.” Most new members hear about the program via word of mouth, and over the past year they have found a number of opportunities to showcase their choreography at events across Syracuse. “We performed at the PGR banquet, and then with Symphoria,” says Survia. They have also performed at the Crawfish Festival, the Inner Harbor, Annual Duck Race, and the Pan African Village.

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