Winter 2022 In Dance

The innocuous questions raised here are evidence of why songbirds need to sing, and sing often.

THE OLD PLAYBOOK The most recent display of white fragil- ity comes from an article that was lauded on social media by quite a few of my white peers. A high profile journalist (whose name I’ll refrain from using) discusses receiving a “transparent press policy” which in their mind makes demands on critics to “treat the art and artists with respect.” Referring to the routine and practices of dance writers using old racial tropes and linguistics to describe our work, the press release calls into ques- tions the writer’s biases based on race and sexuality; and calls for acknowledging the basic human existence of transgender people. Interestingly, the study of dance history across various cultures becomes the argu- ment for why an antiracist message isn’t needed for this journalist at the receiving end of the press release. Despite the reprieve against such a stipulation, the message is much needed. Additionally, the initial defi- ance against the news release stems from it being an ask to acknowledge racial bias in reviews. The unwillingness to do some self-reflection and a little antiracist work feels emblematic of dominant white soci- ety. Because the Writer becomes a Narrator, we often read the depiction of our dances through the lens of privilege and whiteness, making our lived experiences unrecognizable to us. What did dance critics think racial reck- oning would look like? Surely, they didn’t think the hollow words and actionless solidarity letters after the George Floyd Uprising would come without accountabil- ity. If changes to dance criticism like anti- racist work were part of news outlets’ pol- icies but never implemented, then a small request such as treating artists with respect through a press release would certainly be necessary. Perhaps this particular critic is right in that dance reviews aren’t always spread en masse to large audiences, how- ever they are studied in academia for their consistent patterns of racist depictions of us from primitivism to orientalism. The main reason why this journalist can’t abide

by such a request, in their own words, is because they’re working under scarcity due to budget cuts. I’m sorry, what? This example reminds me that like a houseguest, we play by a different set of rules in white spaces. The rules set forth before us ask houseguests to turn a blind eye to racial indignation in the white spaces and dance media. It is required of us to navigate these spaces with white hegemonic notions of civility and fairness swarming around us despite regular microaggressions and some- times blatant racism we face. Then, when we begin to sing our truths like an unrelent- ing songbird filled with color and without inhibition or despair, the retaliation is swift. At the heart of the matter is the complicit impulse for those with proximity to white- ness to confuse antiracism work as an eco- nomic class issue. I’m all for the opposition to fascist authoritarianism, but can you not throw us under the bus? WHY DO WE WANT TO SING? Like a canary in a minefield, our voices are heard amongst the dynamite around us. When houseguests become songbirds, we sing our truth, speak out against racism, and start addressing the harm done by white dance critics’ inability to acknowledge our very humanity in their writing. The transla- tion of our art hinges on the ability of white hegemonic dance criticism to concede its authoritative perspective on our lived experiences. Adding to the complexity of this relationship is how our identity is inter- twined into what type of reception of the dance given. We welcome dutiful criticism without the artifice of truth concurrent in racial linguistics. It’s no wonder when it comes time for us to sing, whiteness conveniently excludes the greater racial and social meanings in our art or our presence all together. Some of us are following in the footsteps of Indigenous art- ist Yolanda Bonnell by “asking white crit- ics to not write” about our work. Bonnell’s strategy is an earnest way to signal the elo- quence around minding your business if you

for more, but the urgency around getting reviewed is a step in the right direction. This might be an oversimplification to what is a long history of artist-observer relations. From this perspective, I imagine the conten- tion between critics and this newfound song- bird status is the perfect harmony for a song. RAISSA SIMPSON (she/her) is a performance studies scholar and artistic director of the San Francisco-based PUSH Dance Company. Her interdisciplinary dances are at the intersection of racial and cultural identities and centers around discourse on the complex experiences of racialized bodies. Through her research she investigates how Race is performed in theatrical settings, the mass media, activism, and in daily life. Her interest lies in the body as a site for racial discourse alongside new media and technology. She is author of Writings On Dance: Artistic Reframing for Celestial Black Bodies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), which offers considerations on how Afrofuturism is staged in con- temporary theater. (DANCE) FIELD OF DREAMS BY DAVID HERRERA I live my life in a liminal space. This “in-betweenness” is more accurately depicted by the hyphen of Mex- ican-American rather than being American or my Mexican heritage; even as I recognize my privileges as a first generation U.S. citizen. I am Latinx, Latino, Mexican-American, and Chicano depending on cultural context. I am multilingual. I grew up in a low-income immigrant household in a vibrant multicultural community in Holly- wood, CA. I am gay. I was the first to grad- uate college on both sides of my family. Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla (neither from here nor there). Like most Latinx peoples in the U.S. my identity is an amalgamation of my cur- rent life and the history of my parents and ancestors with a mix of geographies, citizen- ship, languages, and cultures.

don’t understand how the power dynamics between races in America work. It allows critics to witness the work versus acting as the authority on the songbird’s lyricism. Allow us to tell our own stories in the same manner we have studied yours. As you create movement in our bodies, our lived experiences recall colonial humiliation felt by Indigenous people on their own land, undeniable effects of slavery by African-de- scended people, and identity formed by occupation and war across the globe. Here we arrive at the truth that whiteness is filled with fixed bias through impartiality for fear of coming off as unintellectual. The innoc- uous questions raised here are evidence of why songbirds need to sing, and sing often. Racist caricatures are filtered through lan- guage and then deployed through reviews. Shouldn’t there be a counter-narrative? Well, I imagine there’s little fairness to our relationship from the time we start our dance training. Our bodies are asked to be neu- tral and clean. Despite notions of postmod- ernism or humanism, we can only go so far as artists until we find our tackling race and the marked body. We dance and make work under struggle and under the pressures com- ing from the needs of our communities. Many of us are positioned in the dance field as tokens of diversity with the omnipresent fate of if we don’t succeed there won’t be another us to replace us. What we’ve realized during the pandemic is how we’ve been politely wait- ing for immediate action, but your fragility is preventing you from acting on anything. The dance writing industry is in serious need of some diversity, inclusion, and equity but I don’t trust anything that could poten- tially spell out D.I.E., so let’s add access and learning. With IDEAL, we get what song- birds have been singing about for ages, access to opportunity and the ability for white writers to learn about our experiences. If dance writers are willing to learn more about race (not just culture) and how they’re positioned in the discussion, then songbirds will have access to equitable inclusion. I acknowledge that songbirds will be singing

What did dance critics think racial reckoning would look like?


in dance WINTER 2022 34

WINTER 2022 in dance 35




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In Dance | May 2014 |

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