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Moving beyond abuse: ‘Expressive Journeys’

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Trigger warning: the following content touches on topics of sexual assault and abuse.

Aspen Dance Connection is partnering with nonprofit the Empowered Voice to present “Expressive Journeys” at the Glenwood Vaudeville Revue on April 24 at 7 p.m. This artistic event is intended to amplify the voices of survivors of sexual abuse through multiple creative mediums including dance, locally-produced films, and spoken word.

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An excerpt from a production called “Walls,” by dance choreographer Alya Howe, will be shown at Sunday’s event. Howe will invite the audience to create their own meaning and message behind her work.

Voices Heard is an e-magazine created by editor-in-chief Claire O’Leary — also the founder of the Empowered Voice — to highlight the stories of survivors of sexual violence, ranging from abuse to rape and even human trafficking. 

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“They’re typically stories of ‘here is where I was, this is where I am today and this is how I got there,’” explained O’Leary. “So you get a lot of hope from that, as a recent survivor or as someone who is thinking about sharing your story — not publicly by any means, the way that I am and have done, but with someone trusted to begin healing as early as possible.” 

O’Leary and Fran Page, artistic director of Aspen Dance Connection, are the event’s organizers. They decided to hold the event in April in observance of sexual assault awareness month. The two have worked together in the past, and the idea for the event came from a collaboration in December.

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“The part that we are emphasizing is the resilience of these women that have gone through this pain, taking their lives back and going to the next level,” stated Page. “The emphasis is on overcoming, and using any and all creative expressions.” 

Speaking with The Sopris Sun, both women touched on being survivors of assault and abuse themselves and shared sentiments of hoping that persons in attendance will leave with more empathy and understanding, and will also feel inspired by the presenters’ strength.

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On telling these difficult stories through art, O’Leary said, “Art bypasses the brain and just allows one into that unconscious part. That then allows you to put things on paper that won’t come in words. It really has a huge impact on one’s healing because it helps you release so much of the stuff that you have been holding inside.” 

This event is also a celebration for the first printed edition of Voices Heard Magazine and will feature a live auction of “survivor art” — paintings, drawings, posters and books that all focus on the journey from survival to healing. All the proceeds will be used to help the Empowered Voice, which will continue its mission of providing a platform for survivors of sexual abuse in any form.

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Asked about the challenges of putting together the event, O’Leary and Page shared the sentiment that, while it is important to bring awareness to how common abuse is, the main purpose is to showcase that survivors are able to heal from what they have been through.  

The average age that a woman first speaks about being abused, The Sopris Sun was told, is 58 years old. The secret is kept for so long due to stigma, shame and other factors of trauma. 

“I have seen abuse started as early as six months old, which is deplorable and mind-boggling,” said O’Leary. “I want to make sure the public is informed so we can stop it, and for those who are survivors they know that you can heal, become resilient and [that] you can become strong and independent.”   

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), every 68 seconds in the United States, someone is victimized by sexual violence. One out of every six women is sexually assaulted before they turn 18 years old, with one out of every 10 men being victimized in their lifetime before turning 18.

For tickets to the event, visit the Vaudville Review’s website at

For more information about upcoming events from Aspen Dance Connection, visit

Tags: #Alya Howe #Aspen Dance Connection #Claire O’Leary #Fran Page #the Empowered Voice #Voices Heard
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