“They told me I was a liability – a fire hazard.” Ten years ago, Damon Pfaff was kicked out of local community centres for spinning on his head. But now, 24-year-old Pfaff is back in those same centres teaching kids how to express themselves through breakdance. Pfaff and Marcel DaCosta run RHYTHM – a 12-week hip-hop dance program supported by a Youth in Action grant funded jointly by United Way and the Region of Peel.

Thanks to Pfaff and DaCosta, 16-year-old Shazad Omarali, is not skipping class or on the streets.

“I think the most important part about RHYTHM is that it helped me focus. I was into basketball and volleyball but couldn’t find time for anything. School suffered,” said Omarali. “Now through RHYTHM I’ve learned how to manage dance, volleyball, basketball and school. I don’t have time to waste on the computer or on violent activities on the street. It’s a way to escape from bad things that I could get involved in. Now, I focus all my energy on school, dance and sports.”

RHYTHM isn’t just about learning how to dance. It’s about giving youth the accessibility to foster their interests and professionally develop, not only as artists, but also as people.

“Participants learned about dance as a positive outlet for emotions (both negative and positive), as a method of conflict resolution and as a framework to express and understand their own cultures and the cultures of others,” said Pfaff.

Rapport Youth and Family Services is RHYTHM’s community sponsor.

“I think most of the kids come here expecting to learn a few dance moves. We don’t just do one thing. We engage them in various activities to develop them physically, emotionally fit and to make them more culturally sensitive,” says Pfaff. “We show them videos and ask them for their opinions. We discuss problems in the community. We’re training them to be leaders through dance.”

RHYTHM program graduates mentor youth new to the program. It’s their way of breaking down age barriers and really providing youth with a positive environment to be all that they can be.