Winter 2021 In Dance


stories by audience members, as many approached Kerry in the lobby after the performance to share their personal reflections and sent heartfelt emails in the fol- lowing days. An audience member who was adopted from Columbia thanked the company for giving voice to an aspect of the adoptee experience that is rarely discussed. Another mentioned that hearing Kerry speak of wishing she had blonde hair and blue eyes as a child deeply res- onated with her and gave her a sense of healing. As an immigrant from Argentina who could not speak English, she had felt small and inferior just as Kerry had depicted in the mini dance drama. A white male said that he could not relate as he had never felt inferior, but that the perfor- mance made him think. Many of the dancers expressed their appreciation for the opportunity to share their sto- ries with over 1,000 audiences – including with friends and families whom they had never found a way to express these sentiments. The stories surprised some parents of other dancers who thanked the company for helping them to understand what their children may be going through. BRIDGE TO HIGHER EDUCATION C ulturally specific dance is not just an artistic tool – it also serves as a bridge to higher education for young people facing economic and educational barriers. Through his work with Los Danzantes, Dr. Torres has empowered Chicano/Mexican youth to pursue higher education by creating programs targeting high school folkloristas (practitioners of Mexican dance) that enhance their professionalism in folklorico and achieve academic excellence. Fresno State’s Los Danzantes de Aztlán is located in the Central Valley, which is home to half the cities ranked as the poorest in the state of California and consists primarily of Hispanic students – many of whom attend rural schools, speak Spanish in the home, and are first genera- tion college students. Dr. Torres’s high school programs act as a feeder for the Los Danzantes dance program, inspir- ing young Chicanos to simultaneously pursue their passion for folklorico while earning a college degree. Dr. Torres runs the largest Chicano/Mexican com- mencement ceremony in the United States, with over 14,000 attendees in 2019. It was watching Danzantes performing at the commencement ceremony many years prior that convinced Dr. Torres to take over the dance pro- gram from Professor Ernesto Martinez, who had been try- ing unsuccessfully to recruit him. He was blown away by the caliber of the commencement as well as Danzantes’ performance, which made him feel at home. Danzantes still performs at the commencement ceremony every year – a testament to the power of folklorico in transforming the lives and education of these youth.

turned to the person beside her to ask, “But where are her parents from?” as if Kerry had misunderstood her ques- tion. At a senior home, an older white man called them “slanty eyes.” Kerry feels a sense of purpose even when performing for the smallest of audiences in the smallest of venues, as she views these opportunities as vehicles to spread positive energy and cultural awareness to people who she would otherwise never have the opportunity to meet. As the emotions expressed through the dances – joy, love, sorrow, etc. – are universally relatable, culturally spe- cific dance provides a window into the soul and an oppor- tunity to connect heart-to-heart. She finds that audiences who appear skeptical at the outset are often all smiles by the end, coming up to the performers afterwards to express their appreciation. SHARING RARELY TOLD STORIES ABOUT “HYPHENATED” AMERICANS C ulturally specific dance is a platform to share rarely told stories about “hyphenated” Ameri- cans, such as the taboo subject of incarcerated Pilipino Americans and Chinese Americans in the South grappling with identity, belonging, and self-acceptance. Starting in 2009, Alleluia Panis started an ini- tiative to create works about subjects that are considered taboo in her community. She said that one of the most shameful things for a family was to have someone incar- cerated, which she addresses in her piece Incarcerated 6x9 . There is a large population of young Pinoys and Asian Americans who have been incarcerated. The piece was based on one person, and she men- tioned that it was so tough to take on this subject that she had to find ways to remove it from their realities. She asked him what kept him sane, and he said it was his family – a family that was deeply rooted in the culture. The tragic story is not only about the incar- cerated people, but the families who are impacted by it. This is a topic that very few people know about, and Alleluia has brought visi- bility to it through her work. In 2019 Kerry and the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company presented an original production Ribbon Dance of Empowerment: Chinese Dance through the Eyes of an American , inspired by an article Kerry had written about Chinese dance and creative placemaking for Alternate ROOTS’ Creating Place multimedia collection. Not only did she share her own story growing up American born Chinese in the South – she also collected stories from her fellow dancers and families, including Chinese adoptees, immigrants, and biracial dancers. The production prompted an outpouring of even more

DANCE AS DIPLOMACY: BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER AND COMBATING RACIAL STEREOTYPES I n a country that is increasingly polarized, culturally specific dance is a cultural diplomacy tool that can bring disparate communities together to love and understand one another. World Arts West’s signature event, the San Fran- cisco Ethnic Dance Festival, celebrates and fosters appreciation for diverse cultural communities through an annual performance season of dance styles that have included traditional classical dance, sacred dance genres, vernacular dance forms, social dance, and folk dance pre- sentations. Since 1978, the Festival’s performances have presented over 450 companies and soloists to tens of thou- sands of audience members. The Festival has taken sig- nificant leadership in broadening the public awareness of world dance and music forms and in encouraging many artists to maintain their distinct traditions. The Festival artist jam featuring all participants at the end of the per- formance is an exemplary example of how artists of differ- ent cultures can come together as one – moving through space together, yet uniquely – to celebrate our shared humanity through dance. Another example of dance as diplomacy is the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company’s outreach performances in schools/universities, libraries, museums, senior centers, military bases, corporate events, international days, arts festivals, private parties and more throughout metro Atlanta and surrounding areas. China is not part of the

ulturally specific dance has been a powerful tool to transform lives for many generations. For communities facing threats to their cultural heritage, practicing these art forms has empowered them to reclaim traditions, embrace cultural identities, and connect to their roots. Performances and classes have

brought people together to understand and celebrate one another – not only across generations within a spe- cific cultural community but also across communities of different cultures. New choreographic works have ampli- fied rarely told stories about “hyphenated” Americans. Partnerships with educational institutions have built bridges to higher education for students facing economic and educational barriers. Despite the deep social justice impact of cultural artists in diverse communities and the dance sector at-large, they have not received adequate support – both by audiences and philanthropic institutions. It takes an entire village to support cultural artists – culturally competent arts execu- tives, fundraising professionals, arts administrators, archi- vists, production professionals, and more. The first step in cultivating that village is to garner the financial resources needed to identify and train these individuals. Anne has addressed this issue in a previous In Dance article Resource Equity: Connecting Culturally Specific Dance Communities with Grants Funding . Learn more here. Building the entire ecosystem of culturally specific dance communities is the key to help cultural artists sustain and expand their impact for future generations. DR. ANNE HUANG is the Executive Director of World Arts West . Anne has worked extensively with cultural artists and arts organizations such as Char- ya Burt, Kyoungil Ong, Naomi Diouf, Alleluia Panis, Chinese Culture Center, Dimension Dance Theater, CubaCaribe, LIKHA, Bisemi, Halau ‘o Keikiali’i, Cunamacue, and many others. Anne has served in leadership roles for National Dance Project’s Regional Dance Development Initiative, New York Foundation for the Arts’ Immigrant Artist Program, and the City of Oakland’s Mayoral Arts Task Force. She is the Board Chair-Elect for the Dance/USA Board of Trustees. KERRY LEE is the Co-Artistic Director of the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company. After graduating from Stanford University with a degree in engi- neering and working for a top ranked economic consulting firm, she followed her heart into the professional dance world in New York City. Kerry per- formed throughout the US and the British Virgin Islands with the Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company, H.T. Chen & Dancers, Dance China NY, and gloATL before returning home to co-lead the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company with her mother Hwee-Eng Y. Lee. For many years, she worked at the intersection of the arts and activism at Alternate ROOTS. She is also an avid writer, pouring her heart out in a blog entitled Memoirs of a Chinese Dancer .


elementary school curriculum in Georgia, and oftentimes the company performs for audiences that are overwhelm- ingly non-Asian. Watching the Atlanta Chinese Dance Company may be one of few times they ever have a mean- ingful interaction with the Chinese American community – not to mention the first and only time they may ever see Chinese dance. In the black/white racial binary of the South, performing Chinese dance serves as a reminder that the Chinese American community exists and helps to debunk racist stereotypes. On more than one occasion, Kerry has encountered racial microaggressions just before performing. When a white school teacher asked where she was from and she said Atlanta, the teacher confusedly


in dance WINTER 2021 28

WINTER 2021 in dance 29




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In Dance | May 2014 |

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