If you’ve been lucky enough to score tickets to Beyoncé’s Renaissance World Tour, you know Queen B is on stage dancing with Larry and Laurent Bourgeois — better known as Les Twins. 

The 35-year-old identical twin brothers are known for their distinctive hairstyles (afros, braids, or twists) as well as their ability to pop, lock, and effortlessly groove in a variety of dance styles. But while the two Frenchman shine on stage, their life growing up in the projects just north of Paris wasn’t always so glamourous.

“I would share my meal with nine kids. When you’re used to that, you’re not looking for more food —you’re just looking for everybody to have their own meal,” Laurent tells Word in Black. “So, ask me, where I was feeling free? I felt pretty free when I was dancing because it took me away from everything.”

That’s why since the end of May, Les Twins have brought their ability to use dance to improve well-being to the Rise for Mental Health tour. The tour is the result of a partnership with the Kids Write Network, an organization that works to boost student literacy.

“They have changed lives, they have saved lives, they have shifted the way children feel,” Helen Georgaklis, the founder of KWN, says about the impact of Les Twins.

Literacy is crucial, Georgaklis says, but so is the well-being of youth. The recent increase in mental health challenges and teen suicide rates made KWN and Les Twins want to do something to help.

Indeed, the effort is called the Rise Mental Health tour because “we want people to figuratively and literally rise to the occasion of doing something when it comes to speaking about mental health,” Georgaklis says. 

I felt pretty free when I was dancing because it took me away from everything.

Laurent Bourgeois

“To be able to destigmatize the whole thing with mental health and to be able to really connect in a way with the youth and with adults like that — we’re rising and standing up for something that we believe in very strongly,” she explains.

The need for the tour is certainly there. In the United States, the suicide rate among Black youth has skyrocketed. Data shows that suicide is the leading cause of death for Black girls aged 12-14.

Given the rise of teen mental health challenges — both during and post-pandemic —educators, parents, and community organizers are all looking for solutions.

To foster emotional resilience and boost student confidence, KWN’s six-step program combines positive psychology with neuroscience. The program empowers students with communication skills and helps them navigate adverse situations. 

“Some people, when they’re mad, when they’re not appreciated, not content, or anything, they overstimulate,” Laurent says. “If they don’t know what to do with their emotions, they might beat up someone else, scream in the pillow, or actually cry.” 

Once a school registers to participate, teachers are trained to help students regulate their emotions, develop coping skills, and build a positive mindset. Teachers also prepare students for participating in a workshop with Les Twins. 

During the workshop, Les Twins show students how to use movement and dance to express themselves through words they may not be able to say, write, or draw. They also talk to them about self-love and acceptance.

“We’ve had teachers come up to us and say [Les Twins] have done in two hours, what teachers have not been able to do in the entire year of school,” Georgaklis says. She says a teacher recently told them that a week before participating in Les Twins’ workshop, a student was contemplating suicide — “and today he wants to live.”

Ultimately, the goal of the tour is to shift the narrative around mental health and create a safe space for youth to express their emotions through art.  

“It can be designing, it can be dancing, it can be sports, it can be running, it can be anything — but at least this is the right thing to actually express themselves,” Laurent says.

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