Over the summer, it was not uncommon for Austin residents to find a group of young girls, ages 6 to 14, working on their dance moves in front of the Columbus Park Fieldhouse, with a little radio playing popular songs by their side.
And local residents have seen a young cheer leading team, in their orange and white uniforms, performing throughout the West Side, the most recent performance at Congressman Danny Davis’ back-to-school picnic and parade last weekend.
“It just captivated the crowd because it’s a really cute dance troop that brings a lot of energy to the people,” said Quiwana Bell, chief operating officer at Westside Health Authority.
“Everyone now is talking about the Good Neighbor Girls and wants to know about them,” Bell said.
Bell said she’s excited the girls will participate in the 5th annual community stage Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Davis Play Lot, 5437 W. Division St. Singers, poets, rappers and choirs from the West Side also will perform.
The dance and drill team, dubbed the Good Neighbor Girls as part of the Good Neighbor Campaign Austin, is comprised of 31 young girls and two coaches, most of whom are Austin natives, said longtime West Side resident Latorria Brown, who started and coaches the team.
The idea of forming the girls dance group came to Brown after she had conversations with a number of children and parents during a baseball game at Columbus Park two months ago.
“A lot of girls want it; the parents want it,” said Brown, 29. “I realized it’s something for the girls to do. Our girls don’t have games on the field.”
It only took two weeks for the idea to become reality.
“A week later, I found on the internet decent, low-priced outfits,” Brown said. “In probably another week, we started practices.”
Since late June, the girls have met at Columbus Park every Tuesday and Thursday for a 30-minute-to-an-hour dance session. But when there’s an upcoming performance, they practice Tuesday to Friday, Brown said.
The girls never skipped a session, she said: “We’ll get out there and practice. So we could make it happen.”
The training may sound tough, but the girls are encouraged to believe in themselves and support each other, Brown said.
“We do ice breakers when a girl has a challenge with the dance, so they can have a little fun before the practice,” she said. “And we’ll tell them, ‘Don’t give up, never give up on yourself.’”
While learning the moves, they are also spending valuable time with their peers and mentors, which “gives them an outlet” and teaches them how to deal with different people and situations, she added.
The Good Neighbor Girls will perform 15 shows this month, including tonight’s talent showcase.
“This is an incredible opportunity for the youth in Austin to showcase their talents,” said Danielle Dixon, project coordinator at Westside Health Authority. “It gives them a positive platform to display their gifts in a safe and organized way.”
The show highlights that Austin is a “community of love, people and family, not all violence,” Dixon said.
Bell agreed, saying it helps bring the community together and shows good things happen in Austin.
“A lot of times when you hear about Austin, most of them are reactions of violence,” she said. “We want to put some shine on the positive things that are happening in Austin.”
The Good Neighbor Girls will present their original choreography – an eight-minute dance that Brown created based on a well-known graduation speech, The ABC’s of Life .
“We’ve had young people, old people, food and music – a good time in the park,” Bell said, adding there will be an open call for residents to come up on the stage.
“The kids need to know that they are important,” she said. “And we are building some real power with people on the ground doing good things.”
There will also be an open mic session at the end of the show, Dixon added, “because we want everybody to be heard and seen.”