Winter 2021 In Dance

All year we’ve been surrounded by darkness and light. Some of the light is too bright. Some things that seem to have come out of the shad- ows and into the light have always been standing there in plain sight. We need to keep shining a light on white supremacy but it doesn’t deserve the warmth that light

video looped over and over again, straining to hear each other through our masks and over the sound of Sat- urday evening traffic. We talked about the themes of the exhibit: history, memory, ritual, and tradition. Chris told me about her training in the Talawa Technique with Thomas Talawa Prestø, founder and

and have in-person holiday parties. The concept of freedom has been reframed in the most ridiculous ways. Antiblack racism—the foundational ideology of our nation—rages on. No justice for Breonna. In the midst of all this, how did dance fare? Studio closures, staff layoffs, classes canceled, performances can- celed. Dance communities retrauma- tized by another government failure to address a lethal virus. Dancers’ Group has tried to keep the dance community abreast of resources to ensure personal and institutional survival but the bungled federal response to the virus has meant real, permanent loss on an unprece- dented scale. And yet, I’ve never felt more sur- rounded by dance. It seems like the practice of dancing has only grown during COVID. Dance classes and performances got online and out- side in what felt like mere hours into lockdown. Dancers have doubled down on their commitment to move- ment, disseminating dance content on YouTube, Vimeo, TikTok, Zoom, Twitch, Twitter, Facebook—name a digital platform and you will find dance there, recorded or streamed

miss dance class in large groups with- out masks. Though I love dancing out- side, as a modern dancer I miss the barefoot part. It’s hard to roll through your tootsies when they’re ensconced in dance sneakers. And I miss the time when I felt okay missing shows because I could only be in one place at a time. Now I feel like if I miss some- thing, I have no excuse. It’s all right there online—no Bay Bridge traffic or BART delay to blame. And is it my imagination, or has there been more dance coverage in The New York Times than ever before? If we were lucky enough to have our health and our wits during this time, the pandemic has been and contin- ues to be an opportunity to reflect on the past as we lay the groundwork for a better future, in dance and beyond. My hope for post-pandemic dance is that we continue to question every- thing so when we go back to stuff, we go back to the stuff we really need. For example: The Bessies decided to forego giving awards to individuals this year and are honoring (and giving cash to) all nominees instead. Heather Robles, managing director and producer of the Bessies said, “It did not seem appro- priate to continue with business as usual.” 1 If we learn nothing else from this year, it should be crystal clear that so much of the usual business was bad business. Let’s continue to question the value of dance awards. At the beginning of the pandemic, I kept a social distancing diary. I had planned to write something every day until the pandemic was over. I stopped at day 100 due to burnout. My first entry (March 14) reveals a mother unable to imagine being stuck at home with kids for a month. Post number two—first positive COVID case at UC Berkeley. Reading through the hundred posts, I see how much I had gained from early quarantine—the space to write freely, the impulse to cook cre- atively, the time to spend happily with family, the clarity to face my racism. And I see how quickly I have lost

those gains—I’m back to academia-in- duced imposter syndrome, boxed mac-n-cheese, wanting to smack my kids, and painful reckoning with the white supremacy lodged in my tissue. Though I continue to work toward an antiracist future through groups like ODC’s Equity Working Group and my own self-study, all the new reci- pes and online Gaga classes and art projects just lost their shine over time. Now, looking back on the past nine months with promising vaccines on the horizon, I fear forgetting—the fires because the air is currently clear, the children in cages because they’re no longer making front page news, the dozens of Black men and women murdered by the police because we’ve said their names. At this very moment it is December 12, night three of Chanukah, the fes- tival of lights. I don’t like to pit light against darkness. There is beauty and richness in darkness. So, to call this past year a dark time and leave it at that feels irresponsible and inaccurate. On this cold, dark evening, after lighting the menorah, I stood with Chris Evans, Ernest Jolly, Yvette Aldama, and a few neighborhood passersby in front of the Idora Park Project Space Gallery on the corner of Shattuck and 56th Street in Oak- land to take in Gathering at a Dis- tance: Ritual and Memory . The exhibit, curated by Jolly, featured mag- nificent costumes from the New Orle- ans African American Carnival and Mardi Gras Masking Indian masking traditions by Cherice Harrison-Nelson and Fahamu Pecou, as well as a design by Dana Kawano. Three dynamic examples hung in the display win- dows, flanking a video collage of foot- age from House/Full of Black Women, Carnival events in Cuba and New Orleans, and the New Orleans-based Roots of Music youth marching band projected on the wall inside the space. Chris and I hadn’t seen each other since just before lockdown so we talked and talked as the 15-minute

ephemerality nor its liveness. It has reminded me that dance doesn’t have a problem. In fact, dance writ large has never been under threat. Dance will survive. Which is not to say individual dancers and dance organizations will. Just as it has exposed deep inequities across the social order, COVID has further amplified the precarity of any life in dance; even in the best of circumstances, we lose dancers to pregnancy, motherhood, impossibly high costs of living, injury, illness, and death. The Bay Area continues to reel and keen over the death of the legendary Kath- leen Hermesdorf as Portland mourns the loss of Mary Oslund. And then there are the dancers we never got a chance to know because of deeply entrenched ableism: the fact that some of the studios many of us long to return to remain inaccessible to wheelchair users speaks to the contin- ued threat of that particular virus. The collective hand-wringing over the future of dance has been mainly about those brands of dance that rely on particular structures and spaces like the studio, the theater, the com- pany. Dance that depends on gathering in groups indoors to train, rehearse,


brings. Thankfully, warmth is not exclusive to light. Caves are cold and dark, but wombs are dark and warm. When my babies came out of the darkness into the light they made it clear they weren’t happy and that they needed time to adjust. It seems we are all still adjusting. I used to love the heat of the sum- mer sun on my skin when I was a teenager but we had some ozone layer then. Winter, our so-called dark time, brings the best form of light—not too hot, not too bright, just right. The sun warms our faces as the wind chills our bones. Dark and light, warm and cold. Our theaters have been dark. When they open into the light again, I hope we remember the dark and all it helped us see. 1 Peter Libbey, “Bessies to Forgo Individual Awards This Year,” The New York Times , November 19, 2020. bessies-to-forgo-individual-awards-this-year.html SIMA BELMAR, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the Department of Theater, Dance, & Performance Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the ODC Writer in Residence. To keep up with Sima’s writing please subscribe to tinylet- .

artistic director of Tabanka African & Caribbean Peoples Dance Ensem- ble in Oslo, Norway. She talked about the technique as a decolonizing prac- tice as she undulated her torso and marched softly in place. Chris got me wondering about decolonizing as a practice of inviting our tissue to remember those ideas and experiences the colonizer wants us to forget. It seems to me that fundamental to white supremacy is a persistent pressure to forget. Perhaps the first step to purging white supremacy is remembering it’s there in the first place, always in first place. The white supremacist concept of memory is linear, which means it leaves what it remembers behind—we remember to forget. Though the concept of muscle mem- ory seems to have reached beyond the dance universe, the idea of mem- ory in bone, fascia, and breath remains on the fringe. I’m terrified of forgetting so I prac- tice remembering, usually in writ- ing, sometimes in dancing. I repeat- edly write down what I already know because I’m afraid to forget how to remember. And I don’t want to remember only to forget.


live. And dancers have taken to the streets—in parades and protests, in playground classes and shoreline per- formances. And terrible dance movies continue to be made and consumed on all the streaming services. Dance is everywhere. The pandemic has reminded me that dance’s “problem” is neither its

and perform. Studio dance. Theater dance. Dance companies, theaters, and schools are in trouble. As dancers we know dance is essential. As believers in science we know that had we locked down for real in March we could have been dancing together today. As a (semi-retired?) concert dancer, I miss some things and not others. I



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In Dance | May 2014 |

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