We Are Queens: Turning hustle into empowerment and inspiration

A group of young girls, wearing shirts saying “I’m a Queen” pose, smile, and laugh.
We are Queens having a ball!

There’s a certain kind of special young person out there — one who experiences a problem, directly or indirectly, and acts to make it better. Rather than complain or sulk, they use the skills, social support, and other resources available to them to make the difference they can — their own unique kind of difference. Tal Kamin, Founder and Director of We Are Queens, is one such person. The organization’s mission is to empower and uplift college-aged dancers, instilling the resources to handle the social, emotional, academic, and physical challenges that college-aged dancers experience. Considering the uncertainty of the industry upon graduation for these artists, that support is more vital than ever.

Kamin grew up as a competitive dancer, from there developing a passion for dance. It also brought nutritional and social pressures — those laid the foundation for her to think about mental health and creating a healthier atmosphere in the dance world, she shares. These matters bubbled up for her again as faced mental health challenges, such as burnout, in college. She started learning coping tools to achieve her ambitions in a healthy way. Kamin notes that a social support system was also helpful for her in that challenging time.

For example, she has a positive, supportive family. That also illustrated for her that “supporting someone else doesn’t take anything away from yourself,” she says. Kamin gives the metaphor when one candle lights another, that candle doesn’t have any less light. In fact, there’s another candle lit and the whole room ends up brighter. This ethos in her, she created We Are Queens in August of 2019 — an organization at first with the simple goal of creating positivity and bringing people together through the art of dance.

A tall young woman with long brunette hair sits on a bench and smiles at the camera, light brown sweater and black pants
Tal Kamin

The work of Queens

The organization’s first project was a 30-day digital challenge called “Bridging the G.A.P” — calling participants to share one thing they’re grateful for, one thing they’re proud of, and an affirmation, each day for a month. “It got a huge response,” says Kamin, “we got fifty DMs in one day, and 200 in the first week, thanking us or noting the impact of the challenge for them.” She notes that it was mostly women who participated, which “makes sense because of the social pressures and conditioning we experience.”

Participants were mostly ages 18–24, a majority of them dancers. Similar to with women, Kamin saw this high response from dancers as a sign of dancers’ mental health needs from social, artistic, and appearance pressures (among others). Empowerment became a bigger goal over the following year — through benefit concerts, music videos, and mental health events. “Dance was always the vehicle,” Kamin affirms.

This mission of empowerment took a leap forward with Kamin getting connected (through a dance industry contact) with She’s the First, a non-profit organization committed to advancing the education of girls and women in the developing world. “I felt such alignment with what they’re doing,” Kamin shares. She worked closely with the organization’s Fundraising Manager, and in one benefit event We Are Queens was able to raise enough money to send one girl in a developing nation to college for a year.

Through monthly music video releases, We Are Queens has raised $400-$500 each month for this cause. “It’s been a really special opportunity to partner with She’s the First because it sheds light on those who are less privileged than us,” Kamin says. Going forward, she wants to create more communication between those who donate and otherwise support and the women and girls who receive that support — whether through a mentorship program or artistic collaboration.

A group of young women together on Zoom holding up signs saying things like “fun”, “rewarding”, fulfilling”, “collaborative”.
We Are Queens working together virtually

As COVID hit, “I realized that we were trying to do everything under the sun,” Kamin says, and she took time to hone We Are Queens’ mission. That started with the fact that the organization’s main demographic is college-aged dancers — who face immense pressures, including personal and artistic identity formation. Further, “COVD really shed light on the needs in the dance community,” Kamin underscores: financial, in terms of justice or lack thereof, and in terms of mental health, among other challenges.

With the organization’s target demographic pinpointed, it then pivoted to the question of “what are college-aged dancers’ needs?”. The answer, for them, were the needs to create art, connection and community as well as boosting mental health. Towards the latter, We Are Queens is dedicated to inspiring positivity and openness, as well as working against mental health stigma and gender inequality, Kamin shares. Tools for working towards those aims are increased professional development to prepare dancers for post-graduation professional life as well as outreach towards the less privileged through She’s the First.

Towards all of those goals, throughout COVID the organization has been producing monthly music videos — with one choreographer, one creative visionary, and any dance artist who wants to join. Virtual releases of these music videos serve as both safe, socially-distanced bonding events and fundraisers for girls in developing nations wanting to go to college.

Leaping Forward

Kamin is hoping to grow We Are Queens into a “one-stop-shop” for all college dancers’ creative and personal needs — including professional development (which Kamin believes is significantly needed for young dancers hoping to succeed in our industry especially after COVID), mental health and empowerment, and networking (which she sees as an intersection between the former two areas). “We need to change the narrative in the dance community,” Kamin asserts. It’s currently competitive, overwhelming, and hard to navigate, she believes. Kamin thinks that it can and should be much more collaborative and streamlined.

One woman with a recording devicec stands behind a light, another young woman being filmed.
Even through uncertainty, We Are Queens is moving forward with clarity and vision.

For example, auditions can be an easier process for dancers by connecting casting directors and artists. Kamin cites as a model for making those sorts of connections. Practical tools for such connections include coffee chats with students and industry professionals, events at dance hubs across the US, and hopefully a future partnership with LinkedIn for a dance-specific database. “This programming is exciting for college dancers because there’s never been anything quite like it before,” Kamin says.

The organization hopes to have a chapter at every major college in the US, with dance communities at each college producing their own music videos and events with support from the larger organization. Toward that end, the organization has recently launched an ambassador program called “The Empire”, including a college-aged dancer from every state to run social media, spread the word in that community, and curate music videos. Ambassadors gain professional and personal development from industry professionals and experienced students (as a monthly coaching program) throughout the process.

Kamin explains that the structure she’s envisioning is similar to that of a sorority, with a national organization that has state branches as well as a supportive community of alumnae who’ve graduated and are out working in the industry. “When you’re a Queen, you’re a Queen for Life”, Kamin says joyfully. From college-aged dancers to women in the developing world facing obstacles to education — through the vehicles of dance, other art forms, and creating community — We Are Queens is leading women to be the queens they truly are. It all began with Kamin’s personal journey, which she’s turned personal challenges into fuel to uplift other women.

A group of dancers lunge deep, with one arm reaching up and the other reaching out, spread out in space.
Queens dance on!

Originally published at https://kb1moves.wixsite.com on November 13, 2020.

I'm a writer and movement educator based in Newport, RI. I'm a certified Kids Yoga Instructor and R-DMT (Registered Dance/Movement Therapist). Progressive.