In a room lined with the flags of the world at Monte del Sol Charter School on the Southside, dance instructor and Pomegranate Studios founder Myra Krien and a handful of young women form a circle. It's early evening and the light is changing at the end of a long day to a pleasing golden color. It's calm and cool and pleasant, and everyone quietly takes turns telling the circle what they're grateful for, what they believe they're good at doing. There's no judgment or sarcasm here, only the unspoken permission to be oneself.
The program is called Pomegranate SEEDs, and Krien has been conducting it since 2001 during the regular school-year in Santa Fe—nine months broken into three-month units focused on a well-rounded curriculum of mental and physical well-being, self-esteem, media literacy, self-care, financial health and much more. Basically, if there's an area from which the participants would like to learn, they'll get a chance; Krien says the program is always evolving.
"I was out on my own at 15 and completely unequipped to do all these things," Krien says of the impetus behind the program.
She also invites local professionals from the community to speak about their careers and answer any questions the group might have with the ultimate goal to prepare participants for what to expect in their lives after high school, whether that's applying for an apartment or job, buying a car, navigating credit or even just exercises for dealing with anxiety; some guests just talk about how their work is cool.
"And of course," Krien adds, "we dance."
Most often that's bellydance, an art form for which Krien is imminently well-known and one the participants tell me has worked in tandem with the other lessons to provide boosts in confidence and self-esteem. SEEDs even won a 2018 Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for the impact on the community.
"I can liken it to people who feel like their lives were changed by team sports, but for me, this is an art form," Krien explains. "The dance part is transformative; it's like, she went in this way and came out that way—that's the dance, it really is."
The move to Monte del Sol is a relatively new one. For the last few years, Krien has taught the workshops out of her dance studio on Paseo de Peralta, but growing interest meant a bigger space, and the school is happy to provide. SEEDs is also completely free and open to young women from anywhere in town aged 13 to 18. This means lots of fundraising for Krien, but it's worth it. Monte del Sol chips in a little, too.
On the day I visit, the dancing has already been danced and the group is winding down. I speak about writing for a living, offering up a few juicy nuggets of local cultural information and also sort of bragging that I'm paid to watch movies. I jest, but I'm trying to align myself with a core tenet of the program, namely, that one needn't fit into a neat and tidy category to make a life for oneself—you can be an arts dork and not starve.
This information seems to work particularly for Krien's student Yeva Chisolm. At 19, she's a little older than the others in the group, but the Oregon native is actually here as part of her self-written curriculum from Prescott College in Arizona. She's been working with Krien for just about a year.
"I wasn't a dancer before, I wasn't comfortable in my body and I definitely have issues with self-esteem," Chisolm says. "But I thought, this is going to be the fastest way to get over myself and do some cool shit in the world."
When all is said and done, Chisolm will have earned a degree in the arts and Krien will have passed along her SEEDs lessons to her. Chisolm says she plans to take the program out into the world and pass it on after she completes her bachelor's, and that she can't properly quantify how it's improved her life.
"I only have a vague vision of where I want to go with it," she tells SFR, "but I definitely want to teach it. I just want to make art."
For 14-year-old Ulani Joiner, a student of Monte del Sol, SEEDs started with a fascination with bellydance, but then morphed into something more.
"I just thought it was a really beautiful dance … it was scary at first and my self-esteem wasn't the greatest," she says, "but it's getting better."
Therein lies the value, or at least one of the more richly interesting elements of the SEEDs program—it's OK to be a work in progress; that's honest, that's all of us.
"You'd be amazed at how many deep and philosophical tenets are uncovered, though, "Krien says. "It's pretty powerful."
Indeed, because there is no competition, and there is no particular agenda outside of helping.
"It's pulling yourself away from your parents and trying to see yourself reflected back in the community around you," Krien adds.
For more information and to get involved, visit pomegranatestudio.org.