News & Politics

Spotlight: Dancing to a Different Beat

Lisa Geter-Norman knows what’s it like to grow up amid fear and violence. Dance was her salvation—and now she’s using it to help kids.

Lisa Geter-Norman’s piercing stare and ponytail pop up every time Ludacris’s “Southern Hospitality” video plays on TV.

That appearance as a dancer catapulted Geter-Norman into other music videos, including Whitney Houston’s “One of Those Days.” She also played a small part in an HBO movie, Boycott, with Terrence Howard.

In 2005, about to go on tour with the rapper Mase, she decided to slow down. The competitive pressure of the dance world and an uncle’s involvement in a murder/suicide prompted her to move to Washington, where her husband, a government technology specialist, grew up.

“It was a breaking point where I was like, ‘Okay, I gotta get away,’ ” she says.

Now the 34-year-old dancer runs Future Shock, a nonprofit program that teaches kids to dance, providing not only a creative outlet but a lesson in self-respect.

Geter-Norman choreographs routines to hip-hop because the kids respond to it—but the music presents challenges. “I have to pay attention to the lyrics,” says Geter-Norman, a mother of two who also owns an event-planning company. “It’s just ‘Look at my bling’ and ‘I’ve got a gun.’ ”

Geter-Norman is all too familiar with that world. When she was a child in Atlanta, family medical bills led her stepfather into using drugs. He began abusing her mother. “I remember sneaking out of the window because I was so afraid and walking barefoot to my grandmother’s house a mile and a half away,” she says.

She not only watches the kids’ dance moves but watches out for them, patrolling their MySpace pages for embarrassing pictures and language. This past summer, the kids performed “dansical” skits to educate teens on domestic violence and other issues.

“My life in DC has much more substance,” says Geter-Norman. “What’s healing me is being able to stop the violence before it happens.”

This article first appeared in the December 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.