Title image that reads "Sustainable Change in the Digital Space by Abra Myles" overlaid over mint green rectangles.

Social media has become a great tool for dance artists to expand our reach in terms of expressing our artistry, sharing information, and finding innovative modalities of forming connections and networks. Especially as we navigated a global pandemic, the internet became one of our greatest assets to keep our art form alive. In addition to the joy of continuing to create in the digital space, I have noticed a new trend of social media being a way to engage in important dialogue about the issues surrounding our industry. Live streaming features on platforms, particularly Instagram, have become a container for a variety of topics to be discussed, including our navigation away from cancel culture and into accountability. It shouldn’t be a surprise that our industry has an increased interest in pointing out the ways in which it has failed us. As our society evolves into a heightened awareness of the injustices of the world, the dance industry is beginning to process how these injustices impact our communities. Our communities have been reeling from recent discoveries of great harm being done, including but not limited to sexual abuse, financial abuse, racism, transphobia, and violations of consent. While I believe these conversations need to be had, I have curiosities of how impactful they are when one is considering tangible solutions.

 

I have noticed lately within myself that when I only zone in on the problem, it can cause me to spiral into irrational thinking and fixate on things I cannot change. I used to think that if I didn’t focus on the issues, it meant I was denying or ignoring them. I have learned recently that being solution-oriented is not the same thing as denying the problem is there, but rather shifting the focus on things that I can control that will steward change. Whenever harm is revealed, especially within the framework of calling out notable people, I think there tends to be extreme reactions, as social media features allow for constant re-posting and sharing of content. I think it’s normal to want people to know what we stand for and stand against. We want people to be aware of who is and isn’t safe. We want to express our feelings and opinions, because we need to feel heard. These are all valid responses when someone has been harmed or when we come to realize more examples of injustice occurring. While I acknowledge the validity that the sharing of information and our thoughts behind them are coming from a place of pain and a passion to raise awareness, I wonder if this is producing sustainable change.

Dancers of Afro Afriqué warm up on a pier by a river. The photo is in black and white, all dancers have a hand in front of their face and wear black outfits with black bucket hats.

A few weeks ago, my local dance community was hit hard with some alarming revelations of harmful and unethical practices occurring in dance studios, particularly when it comes to the safety of children and enabling abusers. As expected, many of us took to social media to express our concerns, call out those who were causing or enabling harm, and challenge others to speak out. As I scrolled through post after post, I began to feel exhausted and troubled. The nature of the conversation concerning abuse can be triggering for many, so I wondered if the constant re-posting may be causing further harm to survivors. I also noticed that there was a lot of centering of the perpetrators, but little conversation on how we could provide aid to those who had been harmed. I wondered how long we could continue to make this a “cancel” moment for those we are angry with versus a teachable moment to figure out how we can not only repair harm, but prevent it in the future for those we care about.

Many of us cling to buzz words that reflect what we claim we value as artists, but oftentimes we lack the knowledge and tools to actualize our ideas. Many of the things we are discussing online hold a great amount of trauma. I think it is unwise for us to continue without intentionality and seeking resources that can help foster these conversations in a healthy and productive way. It is also important to note that canceling people is not the same as holding them accountable. Social media blurs these lines, as it creates an echo chamber that allows for ideas to be tossed around among those that probably already agree with us. It creates dissonance among those who don’t agree, often making it difficult to keep the door open for resolution. How can we as a community continue to expand the important conversations with more intentionality towards creating tangible solutions that seek to repair harm and harmful systems, rather than pushing people into a corner of punishment? How can we prioritize the needs of those who have been harmed, rather than centering how we feel about the perpetrators?

 

People have the capacity to do great harm, and those who have should be held accountable. What that accountability looks like will be reflective of the specific harm that was done. I am not advocating for us to do away with addressing various forms of harm and abuse, but I am inviting a curiosity to think about how we can shift from the mob mentality and into a place of healing and growth. None of us are above reproach. If we do an honest assessment, at some point some might say we deserve cancellation and harsh critique from our peers. It is encouraging to see the trend of many of us assessing where we are and forging a new path that implements inclusivity, equity, and safety in our dance spaces. Social media can be the access point for us to encounter new ideas, but reducing our advocacy and accountability to only utilizing our platforms to amplify problems might not be best for actual change. After the hype on social media is over, what do we plan to do with the information that has been shared? I want to see the trend of increased conversation and awareness move forward into a continual practice of strategizing as a community. Community moves beyond the digital space, and as we are emerging back into the world, I wonder how we can steward our passion into sustainable action together in real time.