Dance is one of the only international languages in the world, Megan Preston tells Nicola Slawson, so why not use it to inspire positive change?
Each fortnight, the Good Business column catches up with people who are leading social change. It’s created in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington, a co-working and business incubation space in London for socially minded entrepreneurs
Nicola: Hi Megan, tell us about your business
Megan Preston: Awareness Through Dance is a not-for-profit that I founded two-and-a-half years ago. It takes performers to developing countries and uses dance as an engagement tool collaborating and working with different causes.
Can you tell us about your background as a dancer?
I went to ballet school at 16 and then went over to New York and trained in all different styles. Since I moved to London, I’ve been working freelance as a commercial and contemporary dancer. I teach at big dance studios such as Pineapple Dance Studios and am involved in various creative projects. I am very lucky to have found my passion at such a young age.
What made you want to set up a social enterprise?
I’ve been lucky to have travelled the world and have been exposed to poverty and communities different to the one I grew up in. These experiences have added to my overall sense of self-awareness. Professional dancers can get very focused on success and sometimes can lose the sense of who they are in the world, forgetting that there is more to life than getting the next audition. I wanted to try to provide eye-opening, meaningful experiences that have a positive impact on the communities that we work with.
You did a project in Nairobi last year, how did it work?
We partnered with ANDREF (African Neurological Diseases Research Foundation) and Movement For Hope. They knew it was important to educate youth about epilepsy, but they weren’t sure how to make it engaging. In Nairobi, and all over Africa, there is a belief that epilepsy is contagious or that you are possessed by the devil. There are lots of myths around neurological conditions in general.
We created a video and a dance workshop where we could show epilepsy through a different medium, which made it more inviting for kids to watch. The idea was to create a sustainable programme so that they can continue to take it to schools after we’ve left.
Next year we’re going to Ghana to create an innovative programme that empowers young women. We are connecting with dancers on the ground who are passionate about making a difference to women’s lives. That way we can provide a life experience for our dancers and a lasting impact on the communities we work with, by giving them the tools to continue our work when we have left.
Why does dance work for social engagement?
Dance is one of the only international languages in the world and is an amazing way to communicate, connect and inspire. You also have football, art and music. They all provoke emotions in people that you can’t get doing other things. To grow the company we have to apply for funding and sponsorship and I’m constantly asked for metrics and value of the impact. How do you value the emotions that dance provokes? Surely someone saying that you’ve changed their life is enough?
What have you learned about being a social entrepreneur since you set it up?
I’ve learned that if you have ideas, you just have to go and make them happen. I had many people telling me it won’t work or my dreams are too big and I should start smaller. I meet too many people that say they are going to wait until the time is right to pursue their dream – the time is now! If you’re really passionate about something then you can make it happen – it’s your life, only you can make it a life of purpose.