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As we continue to navigate through the many challenges we have faced in the last year, we must also continue to have hard conversations about how to make our industry safer and more equitable. I’ve spent a great amount of time taking a backseat to dancing, teaching, and creating in the ways that used to feel automatic and necessary. My perspective is unique in that my personal unfolding and deconstruction as a dance artist is parallel with the dance community’s effort to carve out more space for healing and growth for many of us who have felt unseen, left behind, abused, or harmed. My current primary engagement with dance has been participating in and witnessing discussions that seek to move our industry forward, while also contemplating where my place is in cultivating more sustainable and inclusive containers within my immediate dance community. I saw this forced collective pause as a gift to allow space for the work of creating something new by dismantling old ideas that are not serving us, while also doing what we as artists do best: adapting and expanding. I’ve had a lot of time to sit and reassess the duality of wanting to create something awesome that we as a community can be proud of, while also recognizing that the accountability that is necessary to make this happen doesn’t just extend to those who harmed us. We must also examine within ourselves the ways we may have directly or indirectly harmed others. We are all entangled in this messy web of dismantling the things that personally or systemically impact us and our communities.

Abra Myles squats against a wall in a printed dress and black jacket.

As a person on the margins who has passionately called out  “everything wrong about our industry” on a macro, hypothetical level, I realize how often I’ve failed to address these aggressions, inequities, and problematic ideologies on a micro level, in real time. I have endured much harm by members of my dance community over the years, and most of the time I said nothing to establish that what was being done to me was not okay. I have also witnessed other people being harmed by members of my dance community, and many times I said nothing or did nothing to stop it or hold people accountable. I have experienced and witnessed countless instances of violation of people’s consent within the rehearsal and performance space. I’ve also experienced and witnessed financial abuse, microaggressions, racism, transphobia, homophobia, fatphobia, xenophobia, ableism, mental health stigma, and the capitalization and appropriation of people’s culture and trauma. There were instances when I attempted to speak up, but I allowed gaslighting, shame, and fear of losing status and belonging to silence me. My conditioning of being a tokenized person—on account of the intersection of my race, gender, body size, and orientation—hindered me from showing up for myself and others to facilitate healing, accountability, and solidarity. My silence was also a result of  cognitive dissonance, of clinging to all of the wonderful parts of these people and places that helped shape me as the artist I am today. I had conditioned myself to believe that standing up and speaking out would be a betrayal to this reality. I have had to learn that multiple things can be true at the same time. People have the capacity to create something really special that provides opportunities and a sense of belonging that you otherwise might not have had without that relationship or experience. People also have the capacity to do great harm. Whether or not that harm was their intention, it still seeps into every crevice of the body and soul. If gone unchecked, it will continue a harmful cycle.

Our silence harms ourselves. Our silence harms others. My silence has contributed to the continuation of these harmful practices and ideologies in our community. That also extends to the dance community nationally and globally. We are all connected, and we should all be concerned about harm being done, regardless of whether it is personally affecting us. I recognize a duality within myself: I am someone who knows the world I want to live in as a dance artist and as a person, and I am also someone who has been complacent and dormant when being brave actually mattered. I recognize that while this duality is innately within all of us, it does not absolve us of our responsibility to do better.

 

I’ve asked myself, what does it look like for me to right these wrongs? What does it look like to maintain a practice of accountability? What does it look like to actually create spaces that align with the values of equity that I so firmly believe in? In many ways, for me, it looks like continuing to have those hard conversations with individuals that harmed me and those I have harmed in the past. Hopefully healing and retribution can be the final result.  It looks like setting boundaries and honoring the boundaries of others. It looks like stepping to the side in my privilege and centering the experiences of the most vulnerable. It looks like redefining for me what it means to be a dancer. It looks like being okay with not being tied to institutions and finding independence in just being. That may include creating space from this profession/industry all together.  Perhaps the expectations and goals I was conditioned to set are not the best way for me to live out the values I believe in. Perhaps it is time to make space for more nuance in the profession and the labels I have clung to: dancer, choreographer, dance educator, artist. It most definitely looks like leaving spaces that are not committed to reducing harm in every possible way.

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Abra Myles leads a class in a black painted room with black marley floor. The students are laying on their backs as she talks to them.

So, I’m asking you, my fellow dance community members: what does it look like for you to right the wrongs you have experienced? How are you going to show up for yourself and others? How are you going to reconcile this duality of being a part of an industry that has created beautiful work and contributed to the expansion of our society and culture, while simultaneously creating toxic and harmful containers, institutions, and spaces? It is going to look different for most of us, but I’m hopeful the sentiment is the same, in that we are striving not to just create safer spaces, but spaces in which it is possible to do what is necessary to dismantle these harms. I believe that, until we radically and enthusiastically take this step, we will remain in this loop of harm and violence. I don’t want to just keep talking about it—I want to be about it. I love my craft and this community, in all of its complexities, dualities, and nuances. I love it so much that I’m willing to lose parts of it as I do what I can to forge a path that provides equity, respect, and love for every single being in this community. If you’re showing up, you’re a part of this, which means you have equal claim and responsibility to this container that is forever growing, expanding, and reaching for something better. I’m curious to discover alongside you what this hard work can produce and sustain. Let me know! I’m here to listen. I’m here to apologize. I’m here to forgive. I’m here to collaborate and partner with anyone who is willing to make something—something that we can continue to build upon that cultivates the best of our humanity.