Winter 2022 In Dance

was Japanese and she taught me Graham Technique at The Juilliard School. Martha Graham was a white woman and one could say that her movement practice, the Graham Technique, embodies a uniquely white-Amer- ican aesthetic, which has become a quint- essential U.S. modern dance form. I never thought about it while learning the technique from Kaz, but there may have been some other internalized tensions imbued in how she delivered her teaching since her approach was vastly different from the other Graham teachers I had including Ethel Winter, Jeanne Ruddy, and Christine Dakin. Kaz’s style was fast, brainy, and ferocious. She challenged me like no other teacher. When we danced poorly, she would tell jokes. I heard her once say, “If you dance like that, I have a com- pany for you – the telephone company.” Since she also taught at SUNY Purchase as well as at Juilliard, she would instigate a rivalry between the schools. When our con- tractions were sloppy she would say, “this looks like Juilliard junkyard!” There was a tradition of “no pain, no gain” in these well-worn techniques, and that, unfortunately, included emotional suffer- ing. Shame was often used as a motivating tool used to lure us out of our comfort zones and competition became fuel for technical improvement. Each of us fought for a spot in one of the annual concerts, which often fea- tured a Martha Graham piece or something from Paul Taylor or some other quasi-neo- classical ballet choreographer. I am sure there was another way to instill discipline without having to break a student’s sense of self, value, and confidence. This was the late 80s and this was the norm. In my creative research as well as my social practice through Dancing Around Race, I have been asking people to name their teachers, their race, and the form they were taught. In a simple way, this exercise hon- ors and exhumes the knowledge learned from their teachers but also some potentially painful emotional memories associated with their learning process. The goal of this prac- tice is not to re-traumatize people (should

they have terrible training histories) but to acknowledge the trauma-informed past and to move beyond it by arresting the transmis- sion of suffering by not replicating pedagog- ical methods used by their past teachers. The hope is to transmute the passing forward of trauma into one of care and empowerment — rather than shame and fear, we draw out joy and resilience. In essence, by breaking these harmful pedagogies, we challenge our default mode of teaching, learning, and being in our bodies while seeing and meeting our students as they are and giving support so that they can be where they need to be. GERALD CASEL (he/they/siya) is a Bay Area-based dance artist, equity activator, and antiracist educator. As director of GERALDCASELDANCE, his choreographic work compli- cates and provokes questions surrounding colonialism, collective cultural amnesia, whiteness and privilege, and the tensions between the invisible/perceived/obvious struc- tures of power. Casel is an Associate Professor of Dance and is the Provost of Porter College at UC Santa Cruz. A graduate of The Juilliard School with an MFA from UW Milwaukee, they received a Bessie award for sustained achievement. Casel founded Dancing Around Race, an ongoing communi- ty engaged-participatory process that interrogates systemic racial inequity in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. WHEN HOUSEGUESTS BECOME SONGBIRDS BY RAISSA SIMPSON “ W hy you want to fly Blackbird you ain’t ever gonna fly, No place big enough for holding all the tears you’re gonna cry.” Calling on all culture bearers who pass down traditions, rituals and heritage through

dance. The type of dance maker I’m refer- ring to are choreographers of color whose works set out to preserve the transmission of culture through our movement lineage of historical, socio-political, and economic struggles. This art form of socially relevant dance transcends dance genres from folk- lorico to the stage and commercial forms while at the same time blending Western concert dance formalities of what is deemed professional. I usher in this article with the spirit of ancestral struggles while simulta- neously carving a future pathway in what is a shifting paradigm for San Francisco Bay Area dance. Dance writing is just as difficult as cho- reographing a new piece. From the onset of writing, you need something of an out- line—or in my case an existential crisis— whereas in the studio you can start creating right away based on a feeling. I’m impartial to the plight of the choreographer of color who just creates a dance piece intention- ally—but more often than not unintention- ally—highlighting racism and the harm done by systemic racism in the dance field. I posit how dance writing, in particular dance crit- icism, is a gatekeeper to accessing opportu- nities like funding, presenting and touring. That said, I’m an unlikely antagonist of the journalist community. I’m interested in eth- nographic patterns of Power and following those phenomena which I feel have shaped daily life. In this article, I will be referring to Black, Indigenous, People of Color as we, us, and our in an effort to combat refer- ential terms such as they, them or other. BIPOC is an imperfect acronym, however it does aim to encompass us into a group or identify ways in which we hold little to no proximity to whiteness. Throughout, I may use the monikers houseguests and songbirds to also describe choreographers of color. These monikers aim to demon- strate how we play by a different set and lesser rules when subjected to whiteness and the white gaze from white dance writ- ers. This article isn’t an indemnification on

dance criticism, but encapsulates the very fraught relation quite a few of us choreog- raphers of color have with hegemonic white dance criticism.


By the third question from students in the Dance Criticisms and Aesthetics class at the University of Nevada’s Department of Theatre and Dance this past February, it became clear that no one could dispute the current dynamic link between dance criticism and racial representation. The talk was a joint guest lecturer event between a local Bay Area Choreographer Sarah Bush; and myself. What I find significant is how academia plays a crucial role in the examination of dance writing’s racist legacy and ways in which its biases permeate criticism today. Even more evident is the fact that white dance critics (and the dance media) have a para– doxical relationship to choreographers of color when they see racial dynamics on stage they know little about. Whether real or perceived, we are naively invited into white-led spaces as houseguests. In the presence of an overlooked history, how does the houseguest remain invisible and silent? Dance criticism has an obvious role in connecting readers to choreographers, but at the same time, contributes to miscon- ceptions, erasure and ostracization of these same artists. In favor of avoiding retaliation, we houseguests remain silent out of a basic human need for survival in the dance world. Considering some houseguests want to create “dances just for the sake of dancing” or postmodernism, we find our work is still superimposed against power and authority from white hegemonic notions of the white gaze. On the contrary, the unspoken rules of silence patterned the hallmarks of houseguest etiquette of not being fully citizen, human and autonomous. What type of authority of power is inescap- able for the houseguest?

Kaz’s style was fast, brainy, and ferocious.

Some of us are following in the footsteps of Indigenous artist Yolanda Bonnell by “asking white critics to not write” about our work.


in dance WINTER 2022 32

WINTER 2022 in dance 33




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In Dance | May 2014 |

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