This year has brought unprecedented change to the world, from the coronavirus pandemic to the sudden revisitation of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now in what is almost the end of the year, a time where many ballet companies would be preparing for shows and other dance companies prepping for their tours, we have been forced to stop our normal ways of creating and performing. Many companies have quickly adapted to the closure of live performances, creating work digitally and showing work virtually for much larger audiences than ever before. Yet, with all of this new ability to adapt and change, particularly for ballet companies, where are we with racial equity work?
Only five months ago, protests erupted all over the world due to the unjust murder of George Floyd and the countless other black individuals before and after him. Thousands of people took to the streets protesting the unjust conditions and treatment of people of color from police brutality and healthcare to basic human rights.This momentum quickly made its way into analyzing the dance world and the many biases and prejudices that it holds to this day. I, being the only black woman in the company at Pacific Northwest Ballet, definitely spoke my truth these past few months. Being from Washington State myself, I protested, spoke to news stations, and even created my own work centered around these issues.
However, the question I keep asking myself, especially after momentum has died down due to the new lack of media coverage of the protests is: What do we do now? Many arts organizations were late to come out with statements and quick to utilize their dancers of color as resources. Companies highlighted their dancers of color and their stories, highlighted the choreographers of color that had made work for their companies, some even highlighted other communities within the city, but is that it? Do we just do that one time, post a black square, a simple statement, and think the work is done? It is certainly not done.
There is still so much work to be done, from the bottom all the way up. It is wonderful to hire more dancers of color, but there is so much more involved in transforming dance from an industry that upholds “whiteness” in its culture. We need dance teachers of color, board members of color, artistic and executive directors of color and choreographers of color. Each role influences how a student can feel encouraged, a dancer supported in their career, and an arts manager able to get that new position in an organization. Seeing representation is crucial when achieving your dreams. It was particularly hard for me to not see a black woman in the company at PNB, and to know that there hadn’t been one for decades.
So what are the next steps as we gear towards the end of 2020? We adapt, yes, but we also must create something entirely new and unlike ever before. Growing up at Pacific Northwest Ballet since I was 14, I’ve seen the organization change immensely. Some of these changes were due to actions started by myself. At PNB I was able to start a mentorship program with fellow dancer Cecilia Iliesiu, and now I’m about to have my first piece for PNB premiere in November. I never thought that so early in my career I’d be able to ignite so much change and create new programs that had never been attempted before. Only being 24, I’m still in the beginning stages of my career. A time where you tend to worry about what role you’ll dance rather than what roles you will create. Whether it is about race, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else; anyone and everyone has the capacity to stand up for what is right, support others and help the dance world evolve. As the election is fast approaching and so much polarity fills the air, it is more important than ever that artists create. Even though the arts sector is being hit the hardest out of any field, it is the arts that has always inspired, held, and comforted humanity at its hardest moments. I believe we’ll be able to do so again in the months to come.