Winter 2023 In Dance

Western dance ideals have had a strong influence on our training: how we receive and process information, prioritize individuality over community, experience feel- ings of belonging and representation, and regard teach- ers’ and other students’ boundaries. As our ideas of art- istry evolve, we endeavor to develop more awareness of the conditioned understandings and inherent biases that the white supremacy culture of the dance world upholds. Rather than respecting the physical, emotional, and cultural boundaries of others, we often see those in posi- tions of power fail to accept accountability for violating the boundaries of those with less power. These hierarchi- cal power imbalances promote a culture of perfectionism and emphasize individual thoughts over collective needs, instilling shame and fear in mistake-making rather than appreciation for the natural processes of learning. On the contrary, non-Western cultures often use com- munity as a structure and value inclusivity and diver- sity, giving everybody a place in dance regardless of who holds the most power, experience, and knowledge in the room. Differences are embraced, with the recognition of power with each other rather than power over each other. OLIVIA: “You have good legs and feet for a Black girl.” “Wow, you can actually get over your [pointe-shoe] box!” “You look too athletic for ballet.” “I thought you did hip-hop.” These and similar comments have been directed towards me and other dancers of color, by white people, and are rooted in the historic, racist belief that ballet is solely for white dancing bodies.

It’s a well-known fact that Black and Brown artists have struggled and continue to struggle with recognition and acceptance in society, and it is glaringly obvious in the bal- let world. The subtle and sometimes outright blatant rac- ism in this elitist artform makes pursuing a Western dance career a challenging and often discouraging experience for dancers of color, which is why there is still a struggle for many of us to feel like we belong. Ballet is stubborn in its attempt to remain in the 16th cen- tury by upholding Eurocentric ideas and traditions. But with the growing racial tension and divide in the United States due in part to police brutality and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, it is increasingly important that companies give voice and representation to all different people, and reflect the diversity of society. Fortunately, there are organizations like Nashville Ballet that are doing the work to, “abolish racial inequalities in ballet,” and individ- uals such as Lauren Anderson, Katlyn Addison, and Misty Copeland who have broken barriers. But as a biracial Black woman, somewhere deep inside, is always a fear that there is not a place for me in this Eurocentric art form. I was adopted by white parents and grew up in a pre- dominantly white neighborhood, so I have always existed between two worlds. I have often felt the challenge of being pulled in two directions while also being pushed away and never completely fit- ting in: not white enough for some, not Black enough for others. The ballet studio was a place where it seemed like my Blackness stood out the loudest. I didn’t have any peers who looked like me and even at summer intensives, I was usually one of only a handful of dancers of color in the program. I sometimes found myself wondering if I was there because of my talent or to fulfill a diversity quota.

“Ballet is woman,” but in Chloe Angyal’s book, Turning Pointe, she expresses that isn’t the whole truth: “Ballet is white woman, or, perhaps more precisely, white wom- anhood . Ballet is a stronghold of white womanhood, a place where whiteness is the default and white femininity reigns supreme.” The first time I was surrounded by dancers who looked like me I was sixteen years old. I was attending the LINES Ballet Summer Program and it was the first time I had a Black ballet teacher, the first time I was encouraged to

as a dancer is a constantly evolving journey into my heri- tage and how that impacts my work as an artist. In a world where full-time company positions are fleet- ing, with only a small percentage of dancers making it into the “protection zone” these positions offer, I’m starting to think more broadly and creatively about other ways I can build a career as an artist. I was recently given the opportunity and space to explore my own choreography, which gave me firsthand experience as to how dance can be a vehicle into other expressions of art-

embrace my ethnicity, be comfortable in my skin, and to use it to inspire my artis- tic self. Prior to that summer I had given in to self-doubt and the entrenched, exhausting racism of ballet, and had taken a break from dance. I remember feeling for the first time that I was a part of a bigger community. And with that came a renewed confidence that I belonged in that creative space. As a dancer, one of my goals is to determine what I have to say as a cre- ator and a human being. In order for me to do this, I have to understand and embrace what my history is and who I am. I have to explore the complexi- ties of a biracial identity, pair that with the complexity of being an artist in a racist world, an artist pursuing ballet,

istry, and how I can connect modalities of other dance styles into my own prac- tice. It is so easy as an artist to do what I already know, but there is so much outside of this small bubble I train in that can feed and inform my work. When I have exhausted my own cre- ative devices and habits, I can look to a different form of dance to help me expand and play with the expressivity of the language I already know. For example, I can gain inspiration from cultural dances such as the Tinikling, the bird-like national dance of the Philippines that carries deep historical meaning, characterized by rhythmic sequences of hops between two bam- boo poles. I can then research how I can reignite my own creative instincts




and bring my unequivocal uniqueness to my creative pro- cess. I am just beginning to understand what it means to be a Black woman in society and in the dance world, and the privilege and responsibility that I have to continue the work of those who have come before me. I am also learn- ing that people have the power to make their own tables – to transform their history, their culture, and their otherness into beautiful and intriguing stories. In order to build my table I need to do the work to create my own community and provide a safe and inclusive space for everyone to con- tribute. While this may be daunting at times, I know how much representation has meant to me, so I owe it to those who come after me to continue in this work. MADISON: As a second-generation Filipino-American, I am con- stantly reconstructing my own cross-cultural identity and navigating the spaces I fit into. Ethnic identity is at the core of how many third culture individuals define their experiences and think about their future ambitions and desires. “Third culture” refers to the dual identity an individual experiences when they are influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they were raised. Embracing the liminal space between overlapping American and Filipino cultures and exploring my identity

with this dance that has a distinct cultural context, with its own original properties, by reframing the steps I’ve learned and considering them differently through the lens of my own movement practice, while honoring the Tinikling’s ori- gins. Paying tribute to long-standing traditions of my past by giving them a place in my current work allows me the opportunity to express a unique identity while also honor- ing my family who has supported my dancing dreams. T hroughout history, Philippine folk dances have been performed to show reverence to ances- tors, celebrate significant life moments, and build relationships within and across commu- nities. Today, folk dance is used to rediscover and preserve the rich history of indigenous cultures in the Philippines. It is a way of physically encrypting the stor- age of information, generating awareness, remembering the past, and making the body a repository of both knowl- edge and memory. What interests me most about com- munity-engaged practices like folk dance is the potential to address social issues and spark dialogue by amplify- ing many culturally and ethnically diverse voices through movement and collaboration. As I continue to develop my artistic voice, I aspire to detach myself from the self-serving aspects of dance and

As I explored my future in dance, I feared there would not be a seat for me at the table. The table. What is the table? I’ve always thought of the table as a symbol of a place where people are given equal opportunities to be respectfully heard and have their opinions valued – a catalyst for change. But who is given a seat? Who is being represented? After years of being the only Black person in the room, I came to believe the table was only occupied by a myriad of whiteness, a place where I would never be welcomed. A place in ballet where success- ful and perfect dancers, according to Eurocentric beauty standards, get to sit. Balanchine once said,


in dance WINTER 2023 14

WINTER 2023 in dance 15

In Dance | May 2014 |

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