Daniel Banks and Adam McKinney, the founders of DNAWORKS, recently spent time in Israel working with two young men – both of whom studied dance – left immobile below the ribs after a gunman opened fire last August on a safe space in Tel Aviv for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender youth. The Jewish Forward recently wrote about Banks and McKinney’s experience and approach, which focuses on utilizing creativity and artistic expression to strengthen the healing process and build personal identity. Here is an excerpt from this inspiring story.
Last August a gunman entered the Aguda building in Tel Aviv and opened fire on the crowd at Bar Noar, a safe space for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. He killed two and wounded a number of others before escaping without trace or identification.
Two of the wounded, 15-year-old “Alef” and 19-year-old “Yud” (names changed for privacy reasons) had studied dance, concentrating on ballroom and hip-hop, but their gunshot injuries left them without sensation or mobility below their ribs. Confined to wheelchairs, they believed their dancing days were over.
Enter Daniel Banks and Adam McKinney of New York-based DNAWORKS. Banks, originally from Brookline, Mass., and McKinney, a former Alvin Ailey dancer who grew up in Milwaukee, heard about the attack at Bar Noar, and through their friend Avi Blecherman — a social worker with the International Gay Youth Organization in Tel Aviv — they heard about the tragic injuries to the dancers.
DNAWORKS, the organization they founded, creates original dance and theater (plays, multimedia, etc.) with groups around the world, using an innovative organic process designed to draw out creativity and self-expression. A grant from the Jerome Foundation had enabled them to work in Israel with an Ethiopian dance company, Beta Dance Troupe. While working with the troupe, they connected with many different theater and dance groups, Arab and Israeli alike, specifically those that use performance as a way into identity exploration.
…Not wanting the young men to believe they got involved with them for publicity purposes, Banks and McKinney were extremely reluctant to speak of their involvement. Nor did they get involved with them in order to play hero. DNAWORKS is not a therapeutic dance organization and does not go into communities to heal pain. Still, McKinney and Banks cannot deny that their interactions have a nurturing effect. During one of their sessions, they assisted one of the young men in standing up for the first time since the attack.
“We are artists. We feel that the power of art is healing. We didn’t go in thinking about how this would help their rehabilitations from a medical perspective — we know that creativity can help in the healing process,” McKinney said.
In this case, they started by simply trying to be “four people experiencing joy and sharing in the creativity that each person brings to the room,” Banks said. Their lives in the hospital were challenging, with intense, daily rehabilitation, tests and physical therapy. McKinney and Banks tried to give to them a couple of hours a week where they could go back to something that they loved. And although Alef and Yud’s bodies have changed, McKinney explained, they did not work from a perspective of the bodies being “incomplete.”