BUSHWICK — When rising rent shuttered the martial arts studio where Christina Nunez went after school two years ago, the high-energy teen could find no other affordable classes in the neighborhood.
And as she lost her recreational haven, she also started losing her friends, whose families were being forced to relocate for cheaper housing, she said.
"It feels more uncomfortable now," Nunez, 14, of the gentrification affecting her family and friends in Bushwick. "Our rent is going up so my mother has less money to spend...And more of our friends are moving away."
Nunez's struggle with Bushwick's changes mirrors that of many teens, who say they've lost their hangouts to trendy bars and restaurants. So one impassioned mother has launched a dance team and arts program bringing Nunez and other high schoolers a new creative refuge.
Yazmin Colon, the owner of Jazzabelss Boutique, runs daily classes from her shop and in friends' spaces to give kids an affordable option for enrichment in the neighborhood.
"Now that I dance here I always have something to think about," Nunez said, praising the program.
'I just came here three weeks ago and I'm glad I did because I've already made new friends and I get to express myself," said another student Emily Sanchez, as she prepared to learn lyrical dance choreography one recent afternoon.
Claudia Serneno, whose 9-year-old daughter also participates in Colon's programs, said her child had also taken martial arts classes at a studio that recently closed.
"Our youth have nowhere to go but the parks and the streets. It’s a little upsetting," said Serneno of the lack of programs in Bushwick. "I thank Yazmin so much."
The dance group, called Educated Little Monsters (or ELM), is also instructed by a local teen, 18-year-old Shadae Hyde, who recently graduated from a performing arts school but said the ELM students caught on even more quickly than students at her high school.
"It just shows that if you're open to it, you can do it," Hyde said of dance and other arts skills. "I feel like I'm passing the torch."
And Colon, who selected Hyde as the dance choreographer and teacher, said each class and creative project was meant to empower the teens in their daily lives.
"We always want to have a message," she said.