In dance, we run drills. We have to “find it”: coordinate left with right, up with down, back corner with front corner, torso with feet, neck with hips, shoulder with elbow. Wrist wasn’t flexed? Let’s do it again. Mudras inaccurate? Is it a crown or thunder? Start over. What happened with the lift? Fell out of the pocket? Take it from the top.
As dancers, we work on our vocabulary because we are dedicated to the form. As artists, we work on our craft because we are committed to the perspective(s) of the stories we are telling. As humans, we work on our perceptions and built-in biases because we are devoted to being good resources for our network, peers, colleagues, families and friends. Clearly, we have the skills to problem-solve.
So, what can we do when a multitude of pandemics, new and old, work their way into our daily lives for what feels like ages? Damn, we just want to dance! How do we even begin these important conversations when we don’t know if we’ll be able to make rent this month, or if we’ll be equipped to keep our relatives, children, colleagues and neighbors safe?
Welcome, this is your all-year pass to the ongoing dilemma and experience of marginalized folks everywhere!
“You want ME to solve systemic racism?”
“Shit, well, my best friend is Black.”
“Wait, I have to read ‘White Fragility’?”
“But I donate to the Lenape Nation once a year for Giving Tuesday!”
“I need to pay for a yearly anti-racism staff training at my for-profit institution?”
“But we pride ourselves on our diverse roster!”
I affirm that if I see one more person set up a well-produced fireside chat on their Instagram defending their asinine position on anti-Blackness, or one more white choreographer unable to apologize for saying the N-word, or one more capitalist dance video oozing with cultural appropriation without funneling the dividends back to the origin community, or one more Jazz teacher not acknowledging the historical context of how the form was built, or best yet, one more dance convention hosting hundreds of kids in non-socially-distanced formations in the middle of a viral pandemic but also refusing to take accountability for hiring a multitude of child predators — I will continue to be tragically fearful for the future of this industry.
TODAY IS THE DAY TO BEGIN AGAIN.
A few offerings:
Diversity and inclusion are not the same as equity and justice.
A pedophile should not own a dance convention, studio, or company. Their humanity is valid, but not at the expense of our children.
Your POC friends don’t appreciate you tokenizing them. They’ve been tokenized their entire lives.
White supremacy is at the helm of oppression, and we’ve all suffered because of it. We can’t conflate the bad luck this year has brought to our workforce with our individual decisions to not engage in dismantling daily systemic oppression seriously. What we are facing as an industry right now is devastating, but to me, what makes it more painful is watching everybody strive to get back to “normal” when “normal” wasn’t working for everyone in the first place. Perhaps the reason behind our desire for a one-way ticket to “normal” is that sitting in our own guilt and collusion towards systemic racism, intrinsic ableism, severe casteism, heteronormative standards and cisgendered oppression is too big a burden to bear.
We have to take it from the top, just like we do in rehearsal or class. We are equipped to do this. No other profession incorporates multi-tasking, physical vigor and adaptability, relentless stamina, cerebral fortitude, organizational prowess, on-demand creativity and endless compassion for humankind than our line of work does. That being said, we can’t hide behind our Instagram and dance reels when someone brings up conflict, or be silent in the face of institutional injustice because we “don’t usually get involved with politics”, or “not engage” at the expense of Black and Indigenous lives.
Empathy is at the very core of what we do. I see the relentlessness we are trained for in relation to the unabashed divine feminine energy that birthed us. We are able to hold up many fundamental responsibilities as well as execute the visions generously given to us by our elders. We have to develop these activism muscles — with basic civic engagement at the beginning of the journey, and comprehensive organizing facility after that — all while maintaining a strong practice of radical self-love as we grow into our full potential.
This will require growing pains, what feels like deep humiliation and perhaps a strong sense of guilt for our old ways of being. That’s okay, and that’s called privilege. It’s not a bad word — it’s just a fact. Nevertheless, the purpose is and has always been to corroborate our passion with our training, and to heal people with our he(art)s, right?
TODAY IS THE DAY TO BEGIN AGAIN.
Let's run the piece agaain.
My advice would be to prioritize your journey to personal liberation while holding yourself accountable to the harm you may have been complicit in. I invite you to ask yourself these questions:
As a teacher, am I teaching adequate dance history in my classroom?
As a choreographer, am I amplifying the work of those who came before me and inspired me? Am I creating content that is pertinent to my cause and experience, or simply commenting on another community’s experience without deep study? Am I leveraging my privilege?
As a dancer, am I setting boundaries as a daily practice? Am I prioritizing self-promotion over content and process? Does my talent in this space give me permission to lead classrooms and choreographic works? Am I naming my gurus, mentors and elders?
As a facilitator, is my ego dictating the energy in the space I offer to others?
As an artist, am I actively integrating decolonizing practices into my work? Is my work harming others?
We start building our own #ArtMeetsActivism platforms by lifting the voices of organizers and activists in the field who are doing this real and important work. Today, I name @Dance.NYC, a dance service organization rooted in the principles of justice, equity and inclusion, and a guiding light for many NYC-based artists during this difficult time. Our job as dance makers is literally centered on moving people to action. To artists everywhere - this is my call to action. Let’s expand our collective advocacy efforts, our accountability practices, and our appreciation for one another in the form of tangible resource-sharing and responsibility. Because loving something means wanting to be the best version of yourself when you show up to it.