One is Not Enough: Reflections on the Teen Leadership Institute

 How do you write a blog when you’re speechless?

That’s really the best way to describe the state of the DX team after last week’s Teen Leadership Institute. We walked into the week with a list of eight teens and the sketch of a plan. We walked out  with eight new Dance Exchange family members and incredible outcomes we never could have planned for. The memories that were made, the lessons that were learned, and the growth that was catalyzed…well, suffice it to say that one blog post would never be enough.

With that, I’ll turn to a theme that emerged during our Teen Leadership Institute: One is not enough. One leader is not enough. One leadership style is not enough. One voice is not enough to carry the stories of many. One form of artmaking is not enough to hold all that needs to be expressed.

Because my reflections are not enough to truly capture this experience, I’ve invited several individuals who were absolutely invaluable to the Teen Leadership Institute to contribute to this blog post.

Here are some thoughts from Matthew Cumbie:

As I sit here, a few days after our Teen Leadership Institute is over and a few hundred miles away on another gig in Texas, I can’t help but feel as if so much distance has been put between myself and that experience. And yet, I also feel like it’s still so close, living under my skin and in my body. There are so many things I’m taking away from our week together, but one of most powerful memories that is quick to surface each time is how I felt when watching and experiencing these amazing young leaders facilitate during our final event together. There was such clarity and confidence, and such grace in holding our attention and the space; I was beaming the entire time, continually reminded as to the capacity that these young leaders posses to do just that, and reminded of the many reasons why I love what I do. I know preparing for our institute, I felt anxiety and uncertainty about what would really transpire in our time togehter, and most definitely about what this event would look like. In doing some research this week, I stumbled on an old Polynesian saying that I think really captures what surfaced for me last week when contemplating leadership: 

It is said that the true navigator reaches a point where it is not that you go out in search of the island; instead, you point your boat in the right direction, and the island comes to you.

And I can’t thank the teens from our Teen Leadership Institute enough for helping navigate our course together. 

Now, from Elizabeth Johnson:

What an awesome week!  The teens were invested, curious and collaborative. It was so great to be back at my DX home and sharing facilitation with the incredible Matthew Cumbie and Amanda Newman. Although we haven’t worked directly together, as leaders we are cut from the same DX cloth, so the planning and execution of the week was super fun and rather seamless.  It was also fantastic to be joined by our ASU student intern Elena Kerr, bridging my Arizona and DC worlds.

Although I have organized and led several teen institutes over the years, I felt this week was particularly multidisciplinary. Liz Lerman has said, “When you ask a question big enough, often you need more than one discipline to investigate it.”  Therefore, when looking at content as broad as what does it mean to be a leader, having multiple entry points kept things fresh and interesting. There are so many meaningful moments but for the purposes of this brief entry I will share 5 that stick with me:

1) Teens standing still and silent, eyes closed and full of anticipation, ready for our first blind lead on day one. No matter how many times I have done Blind Lead, there is always something powerful and revealing in this classic DX tool.

2) John Borstel reading our “scroll” of student writings paired with powerful images as we performed our “Unique You” Build-a Phrase.

3) Participant Jemel with chalk in the parking lot, drawing an image with the words “I am a leader” during a session led by guest Tashi Gore.

4) Performing the “leadership is a bridge” gesture with our panel of community leaders.

5) The strong voices and grounded bodies of our teen leaders as they facilitated our final showing.

So thanks TLI 2014!  I can’t wait to hear and see where you go.  I’m already looking forward to next summer!


And here’s a brief but heartfelt sentiment posted by ASU intern Elena Kerr to the Teen Leadership Institute Facebook Page after the Saturday Event. (Elena spent lots of time documenting our week together, and we’re looking forward to sharing more photos from her!)

SO proud of all of the wonderful teens for being such calm, confident, and courageous leaders at the Friday morning class and again on the Saturday sharing! It was such an incredible week that ended with a showing that left me feeling so touched and proud. All of the teens showed enormous growth and outstanding leadership skills! What a great week with great people!


And, finally, a tiny bit more from me:

It’s a humbling experience to walk into the room with such seasoned facilitators as Matthew, EJ, John Borstel, Tashi Gore, Cassie Meador, and Shula Strassfeld….It’s even more humbling to watch a group of eight teenagers step up to the plate and become leaders in their own right. We watched these young adults negotiate unique challenges, create answers to questions that had never been asked before, and connect with each other in ways words cannot describe. In following them through the process of discovering their voices, values, and goals, I rediscovered my own and fell in love with this work all over again.

I’ve never felt more excited to move toward the start of the Teen Exchange in the fall. There are exciting currents of ideas, hopes, goals, and challenges coursing through my mind and body, and I can’t wait to hit the ground running in September with some familiar teen faces and some new ones. Please be in touch with me ( or Matthew ( if you’d like to hear more about the Youth Programs at Dance Exchange. 


All photos taken by John Borstel.


About Amanda Newman

A graduate of the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance, Amanda joined Dance Exchange in 2014 as Resident Artist, Communications Coordinator, and Youth Programs Facilitator.