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Steps Toward Healing : Onetime Abuse Victim Helps Ease Pain of Troubled Girls Through Dance : HEARTS OF THE CITY / Exploring attitudes and issues behind the news

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As an abused child who spent five years being shuffled from one foster home to the next, Robin Deane dealt with her pain and anger with silence. She decided that she would not talk or communicate her emotions verbally. Instead, she dedicated herself to another form of expression: dance.

Now, 12 years after she was “emancipated” from the foster care system at the age of 18, Deane is sharing her form of expression with teen-age girls who are experiencing the same kind of pain.

Every Monday she teaches a dance class, through an organization called Free Arts for Abused Children, with girls who live at the Aviva Center, a nonprofit service agency and residence for neglected and abused girls in Hollywood.

Deane’s choice in music ranges from high-energy modern dance to traditional African music. She uses the class to inspire the girls and offer them one hour in which they can release tension in a creative and productive way.

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“Everything happens for a reason,” said Deane, reflecting on her own troubled childhood. “I realize if I didn’t have my experience, I may not be a writer, I may not be a dancer.”

Although her contact with the Aviva residents is limited--she cannot discuss with her students the reasons they are at the center--Deane still connects with the girls. Bouncing her way onto the makeshift dance floor, Deane brings a positive energy to the class that many of the girls seem to appreciate. She also tries to broaden their world by introducing them to an eclectic mix of international music.

“I never knew anything about African dance,” said one student who is fond of African dance and lists “Sarafina” as her favorite movie. “It is something I’ve always wanted to learn. It’s a way out.”

At first, however, the girl was not open to new music, opting instead to dance to rapper Snoop Doggy Dog. Deane allowed the rap music in her dance class but eventually introduced the teen-agers to ballet and international music.

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Today, her students can’t wait to dance to the salsa, rumba and African music. At a recent class, Deane, clad in a bright pink leotard and an African sarong wrapped around her waist, hollered to the girls, “Time to go to Africa!”

The teen-agers showed overwhelming enthusiasm, as they clapped their hands and wiped their brows of the beads of sweat that had gathered after the warm-up.

“My first day here, they laughed at the music I played,” remembered Deane. “There’s more to life than rap and Snoop Doggy Dog. There is more to life than what they see every day on MTV. I want to let them know that this world is much bigger than the world they have seen here. I had to learn that.”

Deane learned that lesson on her own. At the age of 12, she was placed in foster care in Atlanta. Eventually, she made it through the system to attend Fort Valley State College, where she immersed herself in studies and cheerleading, and relied on the guidance and support of counselors as a substitute for family.

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“I find her to be quite remarkable,” said Kathleen Vallee Stein, volunteer director at the Aviva Center. “After what she went through going from home to home . . . she went on to college and has made a life for herself. She hasn’t just walked away from [helping others in foster care].”

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But it has taken Deane many years to come to terms with the abuse she suffered and with the emotional roller coaster she experienced as a foster child.

“You go to a foster home and you get attached,” said Deane. “You think, ‘Wow, these people really love me!’ But people just come in and out of your life. It takes a lifetime of healing. I’ve learned how to handle things and how to deal with it.”

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Some of Deane’s dance students are going through the same experiences.

“I like the staff, but they leave too much,” said one 15-year-old resident of the center, referring to the turnover rate. “Robin is too nice to be true.”

Deane also knows not to make any promises to the teen-agers.

“It is really hard (for the girls) because you do get attached,” said Deane, who moved from Atlanta to Los Angeles four years ago. “One thing that we try to do is to teach them to be independent and to love themselves, because everything in life changes.”

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The Beat

Today’s centerpiece focuses on a woman who teaches dance to abused or neglected teen-agers. To get involved in the program, contact:Aviva Center

c/o Kathleen Vallee- Stein

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1701 Camino Palmero

Hollywood, CA 90046

(213) 876- 0550

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Free Arts Abused Children

11605 W. Pico Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA. 90064

(310)479- 1212

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