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Astoria youth dance company wins big at Philadelphia ‘Battle for the Belt’ competition

Astoria dance
The Secret Society Dance Company of Astoria takes first place in two categories at Philadelphia’s “Battle for the Belt” competition. (Photo courtesy of HANAC)

As Black History Month drew to a close last weekend, The Secret Society Dance Company (SSDC) from Astoria traveled to Philadelphia to compete in the “Battle for the Bell” competition and captured first place in two categories.

SSDC competed against dance troupes from Ohio, Massachusetts, Delaware, Illinois, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Astoria dance
The Secret Society Dance Company of Astoria takes first place in two categories at Philadelphia’s “Battle for the Belt” competition. (Photo courtesy of HANAC)

The dance team was created as part of the nonprofit HANAC’s youth programming, known as HANAC Astoria Cornerstone, for middle school and high schoolers living in public housing in Astoria. The talented group of BIPOC dancers uses the expressive art form of dance to engage in social justice and celebrate Black culture. Cornerstone programming was developed by New York City Department of Youth and Community Development to engage year-round programming for adults and youth who reside in NYCHA housing developments.

“Since we started this program in 2016, we have seen our young dancers engage in social justice and grow into community leaders,” HANAC Astoria CornerstoneProgram Director Rafael Santana said. “Our dancers use this program as a safe place to be themselves and connect with other young people, and introduce culture through their love of the arts.”

The Secret Society Dance Company has taken part in various projects and competitions winning the third-place prize at the 2021 New York City Department of Youth and Community Development’s “Step It Up NYC” competition. Through social campaigns and dance performances, young people between the ages of 10 to 21 competed to raise awareness and express their opinion on various social issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement. HANAC’s youth programming feeds into the organization’s larger mission to serve the most vulnerable throughout the five boroughs.

“HANAC is a nonprofit organization that has served New York City for over 50 years, providing affordable housing for seniors, offering counseling opportunities and partnering with organizations in underserved communities to offer year-round youth programming to create foundational and ongoing positive change,” HANAC Executive Director Stacy Bliagos said. “The Secret Society Dance Company is part of HANAC Astoria Cornerstone, youth programming, offering young people ages 8 to 21 years old a safe space to express themselves within a community of their peers.”

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