How Dance Artists are Addressing the U.S. Prison System in Their Work, Both Onstage and on the Inside

For 22 years, dance artist Brianna Mims and her family have believed that her uncle Ronald Coleman Jr. was wrongfully convicted of involvement in a murder. Coleman has been serving two life sentences plus 65 years and is currently in Calhoun State Prison in Morgan, Georgia. During this time the family has worked tirelessly on his behalf, soliciting lawyers and criminal-justice–reform nonprofits to take his case. So far, though, they have struggled to get the help they need to challenge Coleman’s conviction.

But Mims refused to give up. Drawing on her years of experience creating work at the intersection of art, abolition and social justice, she decided to advocate for her uncle in a new way: through dance.

As part of a 2022 multidisciplinary installation called Uncle Ronnie’s Room, Mims mined her family history to transform an old cell in Los Angeles’ Chuco’s Justice Center—a former juvenile detention center turned community space—into a re-creation of her uncle’s childhood bedroom, with the space between the cells becoming the site-specific stage for the dance portion of the work. Her goal was to inspire audiences to get involved by showing them who Coleman is as a person, the impact incarceration has had on his family and—had he not been imprisoned for the last two decades—the alternate possibilities for his life.

Mims, a 2019 graduate of the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and a Dance Magazine 2022 “25 to Watch” pick, joins a growing array of artists using dance to shed light on issues surrounding incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and the justice system as a whole. Some are teaching dance and choreography directly to inmates. Others are using their personal experience as the foundation for concert works addressing these complex, and sometimes controversial, themes. And others still are channeling their frustration towards the justice system into something more hopeful: a dance-based imagining of a different, more just future.

a group of dancers on stage wearing grey costumes reaching to the right with both arms
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America: Second Movement. Paul Kolnik, Courtesy AAADT.

Movement as Liberation

“When you think about imprisonment or the justice system, you think about the ways our bodies are under attack,” says Ana Maria Alvarez, founder and artistic director of CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater in Los Angeles. “Our access to liberation and our access to power is through our bodies.”

Alvarez’s work joyUS justUS takes on the justice system’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and, instead of dwelling on hardship and deficit, focuses on the joy emanating from these communities as the root of freedom. The dancers don’t move only to music, but they also dance to the cadences of spoken text that incorporates elements of the U.S. justice system, like poetry derived from the Miranda rights and courtroom discourse.

For Alvarez, combining strong, full-bodied movements with these emotionally and politically charged words underscores why embodied performance is such an apt medium for this kind of work. “Dance is such a powerful tool because it’s rooted in our bodies, in our movement, in our connection with one another and in the ancestral wisdom of continuing to move in the face of incredible struggle and violence,” she says.

Choreographer and prison abolition activist Suchi Branfman, who works with incarcerated men in the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC), a medium-security facility in Norco, California, explains that the same idea applies to her work. Plus, she says, dance is just a whole lot of fun. “To witness and be with people who are dancing while living in a cage is a direct antithesis to confinement,” she explains. “We laugh a lot. There’s deep joy and community-building in dance, which is amplified when you’re dancing with folks inside prison.”

a group of male dancers arms over head
Native Hawaiian Religious Spiritual Group in San Quentin State Prison. Courtesy San Quentin State Prison.

Going Beyond the Personal

Choreographer Kyle Abraham’s 2016 work for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Untitled America, dives into the ripple effect imprisonment has on the families of the incarcerated. Abraham has an uncle who served time in prison, and the family’s lived experience informed the work. But he looked beyond those connections during the creative process. “I wanted to focus primarily on the humanity of the situation,” says Abraham, whose interviews with previously incarcerated individuals played a large role in the development of the work and the stories that were told onstage.

Mims, too, drew from her own experiences, family memories and the stories of her ancestors when creating Uncle Ronnie’s Room. At the beginning of her choreographic process, she looked to her great-grandparents’ legacy as organizers in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. For the score, Mims asked her grandmother for suggestions from her great-grandparents’ music library. “I just sat with the songs for a long time and really let them get into my body and my spirit,” she says. “After doing that for a bit, I went into the studio and started moving to them.”

a woman lighting a candle
Brianna Mims in Uncle Ronnie’s Room, a site-specific work in Chuco’s Justice Center that advocates for her uncle, Ronald Coleman Jr. Photo by Mykaila Williams and Tiana Alexandria Williams, Courtesy Mims.

Community Behind Walls

While some dance artists are using the stage as a platform for change, others are going inside to create it. Patrick Makuakāne, an innovative hula artist and the director of Nā Lei Hulu i ka Wēkiu in San Francisco, has been the spiritual advisor at San Quentin State Prison since 2016. In this position, Makuakāne now leads the Native Hawaiian Religious Spiritual Group, which, before the pandemic, was a gathering of San Quentin men from Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures—as well as several Vietnamese, Filipino and white members—that met once a week to learn about Hawaiian culture and dance.

“ ‘Spiritual advisor’ is the term that prison officials use, but I think of myself as a community builder,” Makuakāne says. “And that’s what the men really responded to. They learned that hula is more than a dance, it’s about taking care of one another in community.”

Branfman made a similar discovery through her choreography project at CRC, which, prior to the pandemic, had been meeting weekly since late 2016. “When you make a big circle in a gym in a prison and turn on good music, everybody dances,” she says. “The root of the work that we do is understanding that dance is a way of being together in community and thriving and sustaining ourselves.”

After COVID-19 restrictions made in-person gathering impossible, Branfman pivoted in an effort to maintain the community she and the CRC prisoners had created. Using written packets, she invited the dancers to continue choreographing. What they wrote and sent out became Undanced Dances Through Prison Walls During a Pandemic, a series of works directed by Branfman which continues to be performed in person, virtually and via other forms of media by dance artists on the outside.

a group of dancers moving in a park
Los Angeles–based CONTRA-TIEMPO Activist Dance Theater. Photo by Steve Wylie, Courtesy CONTRA-TIEMPO.

Reclaiming the Ripple Effect

Branfman’s and Makuakāne’s work reverberates beyond prison walls too. Makuakāne says that it’s not uncommon for members of his group to reach out to him after they’ve been released to thank him for the skills they learned through hula. Branfman’s work presents a great deal of food for thought for audiences, as they witness stories told from the inside.

Abraham, too, kept the lessons Untitled America could teach his audiences in mind, specifically those viewers who haven’t directly experienced the impacts of incarceration. “Something that I was really drawing on in a lot of ways was my mother being in the hospital and knowing that she wasn’t able to leave,” he explains. “People who may not have someone in prison can connect with being in a space they don’t want to be in or thinking about how hard it might be when they can’t see a loved one.”

And, in addition to using the visceral nature of dance to convey the difficult emotions surrounding incarceration, artists like Alvarez are using movement to put a new future on the table, showing by example what a reimagined justice system could look like. “How do we use joy, community, dance, music and power to build a system that is thinking about our health and well-being?” she asks. “It’s going to take rethinking the entire model of how the justice system works. JoyUS justUS is a proposal on how we can imagine a future that’s full of more love and more justice.”

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Jennifer Archibald’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” Premieres at Richmond Ballet

Recent ballets by choreographer Jennifer Archibald explore how dancing creates a distinct kind of remembrance, homage and hopefulness. This week, her unique combination of choreography and documentary brings together political history, a cinematic classic and Richmond Ballet. Entitled Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, her new ballet was inspired by the 1967 film of the same title that starred Sidney Poitier. The film plot features a white woman bringing Poitier, her fiancé, home to meet her supposedly liberal white parents.

It wasn’t until June 12, 1967, six months before the film was released, that interracial marriage was legalized. That court case, Loving v. Virginia, took place in the state where Archibald was commissioned to make a ballet.

“It started with Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” says Archibald. “I wanted to pay homage to this historic film through a ballet, as a step toward changing the narratives seen on stages. The spine of the story is about love, and the music for the ballet binds together themes of compassion, love and civil rights history. Singers’ voices inspire dancers to respond physically and to explore vulnerability as part of loving relationships. The ballet’s duets reflect the highs and lows that are part of unconventional relationships, historically and today.”

The score includes music by Sam Cooke, a central figure in the civil rights movement, who imbues the ballet with a soulful and poignant acoustic landscape.

A male dancer lifts a female dancer in a red dress, holding her at the waist and on one knee. Her other leg extends in front of her and she reclines into him her arms to the side and back.
Eri Nishihara and Zacchaeus Page in Jennifer Archibald’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Photo by Sarah Ferguson, courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Archibald has distinguished herself as a courageous choreographer who can uncover difficult histories and make strides towards greater understanding and connections among people. In 2021, her commission for Tulsa Ballet, called Breakin’ Bricks, examined the city’s past and future, acknowledging the horrific massacre of 1921 while making space for a city that can “build together, and create a community that can listen to and support one another,” says Archibald in a video about the process of making Breakin’ Bricks that is subtitled “Finding Spirit Through Ashes.”

The ballet was selected as one of the best events of 2021, with Tulsa World critic James D. Watts Jr. writing, “Jennifer Archibald’s Breakin’ Bricks … is a work that left the audience with an unspoken but inescapable question: Now that you’ve seen how racism both subtle and gross has permeated our past and present, what will you do to remove it from our collective future?”

In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865, and, in 2020, home to protests about Confederate monuments, Archibald was inspired by the dancers. “Richmond Ballet is made up of a group of artists who are diverse, thoughtful, and reflective,” she says. “While making this ballet, we had many conversations about the city’s history, and its future. I talked about my own parents and what life was like for them as an interracial couple who got married in 1969 in Canada. I am hopeful that it’s the current generation of dancers and choreographers who are making ballet a place to share stories that are relevant to everyone.”

A group of about 10 dancers cluster onstage in different standing positions, arms raised and fists clasped.
Richmond Ballet dancers in Jennifer Archibald’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Photo by Sarah Ferguson., courtesy Richmond Ballet.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner premieres on November 1 and will be performed in Richmond until November 6, as part of the company’s Studio 2 program. The ballet will also be included in Richmond Ballet’s January 27 performance at the Virginia Wesleyan University Susan S. Goode Fine and Performing Arts Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

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A Q&A with Tina Bararian, Who Is Connecting the Dancers of Iran

Tina Bararian, an Iranian dancer and choreographer living in New York City, founded Dancers of Iran in April 2021. The organization has a website, Instagram page, and YouTube channel that feature Iranian artists and also provide information about classes, workshops, and auditions, all of which is scarce for dancers who live in a country where dance is forbidden. Dance Magazine caught up with Bararian to find out why she created the site, what she’s hoping to achieve with it and how she’s supporting Iranian artists.

DM: Could you talk about your beginnings as a dancer?

Bararian: I was born in Iran, in a small city called Babol, in the north. I was born after the 1979 revolution, which completely changed everything in the country. The Iranian National Ballet was closed down; all the dance schools were closed down. Dance, for the government, is seen as a cheap art, as seductive. Growing up, people from my generation did not have the chance to have a dance class.

My dance journey started when we first immigrated to Australia, when I was 11. I was given a free platform for the first time, and at the end of our year at the school, we were told we could perform whatever we wanted. At that time, I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. I mean, the resources we had [in Iran] were so limited, but we did have an international cable TV. Now, if the government knew that we had these international TV sets, they would come into your house, imprison you, take away the TV, you might have gotten lashes, I don’t know. When I was three, they walked into our house and my dad had to go on the roof: He fell off and broke his leg trying to dismantle the cable.

In Australia, my dad was working on his degree in physiotherapy, my mom was working all the time, so I was alone a lot of the day. One of the things that got me through the day was dancing, and I liked dancing to Michael Jackson. I decided to perform it for the school show and I got so much great positive feedback and I was like, ‘I never knew that this was something I could do!’ When I was 14, we immigrated to Canada and my mom said, ‘why don’t you take ballet classes?’ I really owe my dance journey to my parents, because they were my main supporters, and they were the ones who pushed me to continue and to not give up.

Iranian choreographer Tina Bararian leans against a window wearing a white v-neck shirt and jeans.
Tina Bararian. Photo by Rojin Shafiei, Courtesy Bararian.

Why did you start Dancers of Iran?

I used to travel to Iran, and I really wanted to do something for the dance world. Now, compared to when I was growing up, there are classes, there are dance schools, they do have performances. It’s just that it could get canceled at any time, if the government officials want to come and cancel it. It is not a free platform. While I was travelling, I wanted to do something for the dancers there, but a lot of them were scared, which I understand, because if they publicly show a dance video of themselves, they might get imprisoned.

When the pandemic hit, [at first] I didn’t feel like I was capable of doing anything. This site was so they could feel like they can be seen. So that’s how it started. Dance performances have been illegal in Iran for the past 40 years, but people are still dancing—you can’t suppress it.

What do you hope to accomplish with Dancers of Iran?

In Iran, we really don’t have a dance community. I wanted to create a community. I want this platform to say, ‘you’re all being supported; you all have talent.’ I think that’s what kept it going, and dancers feel more comfortable now to share their videos. Basically, it’s like a free marketing platform. I also have a YouTube channel for Dancers of Iran where I started to offer more information about what I know about the dance world. I use my own portfolio—my resume, my reference letters—as examples. I have done workshops [via Zoom] for them as well.

How do you feel with Iran and Iranian women being at the forefront of global news? What role do you feel dancers play in this struggle?

What happened to Mahsa Amini, every person, especially every woman, could relate to. She was an ordinary woman, walking down the street, who got killed for nothing.

We are dancing for, hopefully, the next revolution. I feel very proud of Iranians and Iranian women right now. I’m trying to support them in any way I can. I can use my platform to be a voice, so now the page is more focused on what’s going on right now and responding to that. When I started Dancers of Iran, I really tried not to be political because I was mindful of the dancers who are inside Iran. I wanted the dancers to feel safe. But now, it’s not a time for that. Now you have to pick a side, and we’re going to pick the right side.  

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Beyond the Super Bowl: Dance Artist-Athlete Taja Riley Is Demanding Better Treatment for Dancers

Eight mandatory rehearsals. One nondisclosure agreement. Zero pay. These were a few of the specifications laid out in a casting call for dancers to be a part of the 2022 Super Bowl halftime show. After news got out that some dancers would be working as volunteers, and receiving no real benefits besides the exposure opportunity of a lifetime, Taja Riley was one of many who decided to speak up about how off-putting and disrespectful this offer felt, as well as how accepting jobs like this keeps dancers underpaid and underappreciated.

Just in time for the most-watched sporting event in the country, Riley successfully spearheaded a movement (on behalf of as many as 400 performers) to ensure that all dancers for the halftime show got fully compensated for their time and energy. For dancers in the community and supporters of the movement who helped spread the issue far and wide, this news felt like a game-winning touchdown—the type that calls for a celebratory dance! But the work doesn’t end there. It’s just one part of a continuous conversation.

Speaking up about the mistreatment of professional dancers is nothing new for Riley, a self-proclaimed dancer artist-athlete who, since the early quarantine days, has sparked some important conversations about the realities of the industry on social media. “We need to start educating people on the state of our community, in addition to being clearer with dance jobs about how our time, energy and influence should be valued,” says Riley, who uses she/he/they pronouns.

Along the way, Riley shared their own experiences in a way that pretty much every dancer can relate to. Now they’re building an entertainment company, TKO Quarantainment Inc., and developing a multitude of creative projects. Riley has put their own career dancing with some of the world’s top music artists to the side to “leap into the unknown” in pursuit of a better future, where dancers are valued and the dance community as a whole is elevated.

Riley recently spoke to Dance Magazine about some of the inequities that dancers have faced on set, from unreasonably low wages to questionable contracts and the absence of credit. “Yes, some of these production companies may be trying to undermine us, but I’m starting to discover that most of them just don’t know, or are following previous patterns,” they say.

The message is now en route to millions of people worldwide as Riley continues to use their voice and platform to heal, inspire and empower the dance community to see the worth of its members, so that the rest of the world can too.

What Sparked the Action:

Having worked with a long list of prominent names like Janet Jackson, SZA, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, Riley has experience to pull from when addressing industry issues. Despite the great experiences that they’ve had throughout their career, it was the few bad experiences—and the normalized fear of speaking up about them—that inspired the action Riley is taking today.

Feeling the need to walk out on a dream job in 2011, due to their moral standards being tested, helped Riley to understand the deeper implications of how dancers were viewed in the industry and led them to focus on redefining those standards. “I expressed my concerns with some of the other dancers on set, and there were multiple that felt the same way,” they say. “I was in a state of shock,” but eventually Riley pulled the choreographer aside to express appreciation, and kindly let him know that they weren’t willing to compromise who they were. “In this moment, when I was asked to do choreography that I felt went against my faith, the way that I viewed the dance industry completely shifted, and it actually latched onto my love for dance,” they add.

As a second-generation entertainer, Riley had always viewed themself as a business, and that’s part of the reason they’re fighting so hard for dancers to understand the importance of honoring the craft while honoring personal boundaries.

On Dancers Viewing Themselves as a Business:

“Do you have a mission statement? When you’re working, do you have a vision or a purpose for why you’re there? As a dance professional, that’s what you stand on. That’s your foundation. Who you are can then be broken down into concepts and statements, which can help you organize your value and the definition of your product, which is your likeness.”

These are crucial factors to take into consideration so that dance artists can stand firmly on what they believe in while on the job, and easily discern what they’re willing to stand for, fall for or sacrifice when it comes to certain dance jobs.

Tuning In to “TAJTV”

Taja Riley. Photo by Lee Gumbs, Courtesy Riley. Design by The Circle & The Square

Riley plans for TKO Quarantainment’s debut television program series, “TAJTV,” to serve as a resource to help uplift the dance community. It’s a unique talk show that’ll feature a number of special segments featuring an elite cast of mainstream entertainers, and tap into topics of concern within the industry, while discussing how to build solutions. “I want to be able to show the great parts of the dance industry, as well as touch on some of the things that need more awareness.”

“We’ve already shot some of the pilot, and I’m so thankful to all of the donors to the GoFundMe! We would love to finish it so that we can pitch it for up-fronts.” You can find updates on Riley’s GoFundMe page as they inch toward the $15,000 goal to get the show off the ground and onto television screens. 

The Day-to-Day of a Dance Activist:

As someone who’s working to improve the reality of dance artists, daily life is “unpredictable,” Riley says. “Some days are very empowering, productive and triumphant, and other days feel very sad and draining.”

“There’s also the physical work and outreach, like contacting media, and a long to-do list for projects in progress: The continual development, executive producing, going out to get people on board, contracting, developing, templating, creating, reading, amending and delegating to the team. Then, of course, there’s leaving space for my emotional work, which I find in my dance training, and even horse training! Awakening myself dance-wise has been crucial for grounding myself during this process. ”

Riley feels the busy schedule is worth it because they’ve focused on the bigger picture: impacting the dance community—and beyond. Inspired by the openness of Oprah Winfrey, Riley is hoping that this movement can have the same impact for dance as major media figures and publications of that level have had on other fields.

On Memes and Bringing Humor Into the Mix:

Many of the memes on Riley’s Instagram page use humor to shine a light on some seriously shady issues that dancers face. “I think that the best way to heal is to laugh and cry,” they say. “Being a part of meme culture is being able to captivate the subconscious of the alter egos inside of you in a way that feels relatable.”

How Others Can Get Involved:

“We must unify! We have so much power, and we’re so much stronger together,” Riley says. “When you read this article, go talk to someone about it. Bring it to your parents, your dance teacher, your dance peers, and have a discussion about it.”

Making Dance History:

The bottom line is that despite the popularity that dance artists have helped make possible for so many brands and music artists over the years, they are often still grossly underappreciated. Riley believes that professional dancers should be treated and paid equally to professional athletes and musicians. For a lot of folks, such drastic change just isn’t fathomable, but Riley continues to push the vision forward and unapologetically highlight the mistreatment of dancers, so that positive change can be applied within the industry little by little.

Riley is inspiring dancers to move past unethical traditions just because “that’s the way things have always been.” Questioning is the new cool. Respect is a must. Dancers are artists and athletes, and should be treated as such. And Riley reminds us of the need to continue the fight for progress: “This whole movement is just beginning.”

Grow Your Knowledge:

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Is Dance “Enough” to Meaningfully Address Something Like Black Lives Matter?

2016: I was asked to create a duet for RAWdance (Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein) in San Francisco at a time when my heart was caught in a perpetual state of reeling from the constant murders of African Americans by law enforcement, most recently the murder of Walter Scott, who was shot in the back in South Carolina after being stopped for a nonfunctioning brake light. I knew I had to address the killings, but I didn’t know how. I felt incompetent, my work felt inadequate. So after a career dedicated to the intersection of choreography and social activism, I created Enough?, a piece that asks whether dance can meaningfully address social movements like Black Lives Matter.

1991: I was finishing Urban Scenes/Creole Dreams, my first commission for the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a work juxtaposing the early 1900s stories of my sharecropper Creole­ grandmother in the swamps of Louisiana with my own stories as a gay African American in New York City’s East Village at the apex of the AIDS pandemic. The work called out the sexism, racism and homophobia that extended from my grandmother’s era into my own. One night after rehearsal I participated in ACT UP’s (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) takeover of Grand Central Terminal at rush hour in order to bring that evening’s commute to its knees and force attention to America’s anemic response to the AIDS pandemic.

And take over we did. Being part of hundreds of screaming protesters taking up space in Grand Central turned an act of desperation into an act of empowerment. AIDS received the attention we demanded. What AIDS did not receive was empathy. We were hated by the understandably livid commuters; they spat at protesters, shouted AIDS-phobic slurs, and the event was one step from erupting into violence. Our protest was necessary and I was honored to be there. But I wondered what the impact might be if the commuters could deeply feel the enormity of the grief that propelled us into this takeover?

Creating this empathy was not the purpose of our takeover. But it became the purpose of my art-making. Without losing the political urgency of my work, I now wanted to create those bridges of empathy that would better transcend the boundaries of difference and allow the disenfranchised to shout tales of their personal and political histories while also allowing viewers to see themselves in the lives of these very disenfranchised. As a politics major at Princeton, I understood that a necessary first step in oppression of any kind is to dehumanize the oppressed. At that protest, my mission consciously became to “re-humanize.” Urban Scenes remained an urgent calling out of racism, sexism and homophobia, but the piece became less about those “isms” and more about the eternality of devastating loss due to those “isms.”

David Roussève performing in Stardust. Yi-Chun Yu, Courtesy Roussève.

1991–2016: I created a body of work with this new mission at its expressive core. These works often contained text that told the nonlinear narratives of marginalized BIPOC and LGBTQ people. But it was dance’s ability to speak deeply through an abstract metaphoric language that gave these works their emotional wallop and potential to jump the boundaries between us. I knew how to speak most accessibly through text, but I knew how to speak most deeply through dance. If the goal was to create bridges, then abstract kinetic languages were the stepping-stones to those bridges. And making work in this way was enough.

Until it was not.

2022: With the advantage of time, I look back at the creation of Enough?. I had entered the studio filled with both the despair of watching the slaughter of Black bodies and the hope of watching the response by millions that became BLM, as if life were a roller coaster plummeting between heaven and hell. That roller coaster became the core of Enough?.

The piece begins with the first in a series of projected tweet-like text passages: “I have been thinking a lot about what a dance can ‘do’.” We see the performers, Ryan and Wendy, in stillness as Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “A Change Is Gonna Come” begins, a recording that is lushly beautiful even as it calls for deep change. The dancers begin one long single phrase of sumptuous movement that matches the lushness of the music. As Aretha hits a gospel-inflected high note and bends it as only Aretha can, the text passages read “YUUUUUUMMM!!” “Did your heart jump like your toes were skipping ’cross the clouds?” The intersection of words, music and dance feels sublime. The dancers repeat the same exact phrase over and over, all the while dancing faster and faster; the swirling curves of lushness slowly transform into a jagged thrashing frenzy. At the apex of this superhuman speed the intersection of words, music and dance feels like a whirlwind of despair. Media coverage of Walter Scott being shot by law enforcement is projected into the work as the core of Enough? is revealed to be a searing indictment of the murder of African Americans. The text reads “A dance can show you how my heart feels when I see that video.” “Because that video makes my heart feel like Ryan and Wendy are dancing.” “Right now.” “A dance can tell you how quickly life moves from toes touching clouds to hearts mired in hell.” Aretha’s voice ends. The only sound is the dancer’s gasping breath as Ryan and Wendy fall to the ground exhausted. The final passages of text read, “Yep, dance can do all that.” “But when I see that video, I am left to wonder…is it enough?”

Enough? altered again my choreographic tactics towards­ creating socially engaged choreography. The text asks whether­ we can act while its deeper undercurrents—the movement—insists that we must act. The “narrator” (assumedly­ the choreographer) is less someone to identify with than a neutral voice to propel the conversation forward. Questioning the adequacy of my own response invites you to question the adequacy of your response; our viewing the news footage “together” asks whether your heart also feels like Ryan and Wendy are dancing when you view an assault on Black bodies. Enough? does not seek empathy towards a character. It seeks empathy towards a political movement; it seeks to spur you into action not because you care about the narrator, but because you care about Walter Scott, because you care about humanity.

I went to protests. I made donations. But when I was truly lost I did the one thing I could rely on: I made a dance. Was that Enough? That is for the viewer to decide. But tapping into the immense power of performance to provoke, to prod, to move, to have heartfelt conversations in a seemingly heartless time—that felt like the most important thing I could do.

Choreographer/writer/director/filmmaker David Roussève has created 14 full evening works for his company David Roussève/REALITY.

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25 Prompts to Liberate Your Choreographic Practice

I’m a white choreographer based on the ancestral lands of the Ramaytush Ohlone people, otherwise known as San Francisco. My recent book, Shifting Cultural Power: Questions and Case Studies in Performance, imagines equity-based models in dance that decenter whiteness.

Writing about anti-racism work is a fraught endeavor because, as a white person, I’ll always have blind spots. For example, the book includes a list of “25 Practices for Decolonizing Dance (and finding your Poetic Nerve).” In retrospect, I should have used different language.

“Decolonize” has become a ubiquitous term because colonialism is everywhere. Colonial legacies exist not only outside of us, in sociopolitical power dynamics, but also in our bodies. Colonial legacies pervade dominant cultural notions of time, value, space and language.

But Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article “Decolonization is not a metaphor” criticizes use of the term in contexts other than the repatriation of Indigenous land, saying that decolonization “is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies.” Holding Tuck and Yang’s article in mind, I want to be more specific with my language when I talk about reorganizing the field to resist complicity with legacies of oppression. We can ask many questions that interrogate power and privilege in the field: How can we compose bodies in space and time without asserting power over those bodies? How can we resist monolithic meaning in dance? How do we disentangle authority from authorship? How can dancemaking be liberatory for everyone involved? How can we anchor dancemaking in authentic community and in trust? How can we dismantle white supremacy in the field? These questions are related to the important economic and political work of decolonization, but not synonymous with it.

“There’s value in putting ourselves in a destabilized space and listening for what comes next.”

Hope Mohr

Courtesy Mohr.

I want to talk about aligning choreographic practice with commitments to mutual liberation. This is necessarily both structural and personal work. We must reorganize the underpinnings of art practice: our organizations, agreements with collaborators and relationships in the studio. We must democratize arts leadership, demand equitable contracting, train arts workers in cultural competency, add Indigenous representation to boards and staff, center BIPOC artists in programming, honor Indigenous protocol by acknowledging Native land, and advocate for reparations for the displacement of Indigenous peoples.

And politics don’t stop at the studio door. How can we integrate political commitments into our dances, our bodies?

With this context in mind, I offer this revised list of prompts from Shifting Cultural Power: “25 Practices for Aligning Choreographic Practice with a Commitment to Mutual Liberation.”

  1. The space should not be white-dominated. Indigenous people and people of color should be fully integrated, engaged, empowered, acknowledged and respected in the cast, crew and artistic staff.
  2. Practice sustained listening.
  3. Encourage imperfection and doubt (yours and others).
  4. Slow down. Value pause. Waste time. Wander.
  5. Value pleasure.
  6. Invite excess, kitsch, camp, sentimentality and overmuchness.
  7. Orient the dance and its systems outward. Make in relationship. Make dance in the mess of the world.
  8. Allow the dancing to be invisible, ambiguous and illegible.
  9. There is no original, truest version of movement. Movement material is collectively owned and authored.
  10. Allow edges to be a part of the landscape of the dance. Refuse a fixed front.
  11. Be transparent about your needs and your fallibility as an artist. Be clear about the terms of the work with yourself and your collaborators. Name collaborative periods of work. Name when you need to author or edit.
  12. Acknowledge and credit sources of movement, both in the studio (“This is a phrase that Jane made.” “I pulled this idea off of YouTube.”) and in promotional materials (“This dance was co-created by…”).
  13. Allow for multiplicity: multiple voices, multiple variables, multiple vocabularies. Develop a vocabulary of inclusion sourced from multiple bodies. What does it mean to express authorship amidst multiplicity?
  14. Acknowledge and pay attention to how everyone in the room works at different processing speeds. Orient the process to different people’s sense of time.
  15. Explore what it might mean for the dance to be porous. What can you let into the space of the dance?
  16. Practice making without a show in mind. Hold the creative process lightly while still staying engaged,
    accountable and supportive of others in the space.
  17. Allow improvisation to take over the process. Maintain a state of radical uncertainty about what the dance might become.
  18. Allow for sustained movement research outside of the task of making. Find creative modes beyond composition and mimicry.
  19. Collaborate with people and places that destabilize and challenge authorship.
  20. Question your choices. Question instinctual preferences. Work with a palette you despise. Stay with an idea much longer than you think is appropriate.
  21. Invite other people’s emotional lives into the work.
  22. Invite other people to hijack the process.
  23. Practice financial transparency about artist pay, project budget and funding sources.
  24. Show up with no agenda. Work with what and who is in the room.
  25. Be vulnerable.

If I were to implement all of the above prompts, I might not end up making a dance at all. But there’s value in putting ourselves in a destabilized space and listening for what comes next. These are prompts for locating your political and poetic nerve. Poetic nerve does not necessarily mean surrendering authorship. It means going beyond yourself, and then back within again, and then again out past yourself, and so on, in a constant conversation between the dance and the world.

Doing the Work

These ideas are not mine. Throughout the vast and violent span of colonial history, dance artists, especially Native artists and artists of color, have been doing and continue to do this work. There’s Sydnie L. Mosley, advocating for liberation of dance pedagogy through practices such as acknowledging that “all dance forms are specific cultural practice and should be acknowledged and specifically named as such”; Mar Parrilla’s cultural exchange projects with Puerto Rico–based artists and members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe to explore colonial legacies; Emily Johnson, whose decolonization rider calls on presenter partners to commit to the “living process” of decolonization, including compliance with Indigenous Protocol, acknowledgment­ of host Nations in all press, and engagement with the Indigenous community. There are countless other examples.

Why am I, as a white person, even trying to talk about decolonization? Because for too long, Indigenous people and people of color have shouldered this work. In the words of feminist writer Judit Moschkovich, “it is not the duty of the oppressed to educate the oppressor.” White people must do this work too.

Q&A: What tools or tactics are you using in the studio to liberate your choreographic practice?

Randy Basso, Courtesy Herrera.

David Herrera, artistic director and choreographer for David Herrera Performance Company:

“I channel movement through emotional recall and muscle memory to return to a time when studio teachings did not dictate how I performed or danced. I swayed, gyrated, stomped, shook my hips, pranced and spun before I ever stepped into a modern dance class. Through this approach, I am actively shedding the heavily calloused, conditioned layers of white modern dance technique. It’s a slow and arduous process; a relearning of feeling, instinct and physicality. I aim to liberate myself from the burden of aesthetics that were not inherent to my cultural upbringing or my brown body.”

Deeksha Prakash, Courtesy Kambara.

Yayoi Kambara, dancer, choreographer, teacher and director of KAMBARA+:
“I dismantle systems of oppression, colonization and power by creating space to liberate our imaginations. I build artistic teams that value curiosity and mistakes. I confront my intentions behind each movement. Ballet is associated with whiteness, but it’s part of my training. When I’m making movement that twists, curves, quirks and springs, something from ballet often appears. I love a good à la seconde. But à la seconde has no inherent value. When à la seconde shows up in my choreography, it can be anything: honest, strong, vulnerable. No two bodies do it identically. Often I pause inside a ballet position and then fall out of it. Just as I consider the values behind my movement, my dances invite audiences to consider their own values.” —As told to Hope Mohr

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Austin Goodwin Uses Humor to Tell It Like It Is

You caught us. We’re undeniably hooked on Austin Goodwin’s flair for hilarious honesty about the dance industry. In one of his wittiest Instagram videos, he asks his landlord if he can pay rent with “exposure,” since that’s the form of payment he often accepts from freelance jobs. “How many times have we heard ‘Look, there’s no money in this, but it’s going to be great exposure,’” he told Dance Magazine in a recent interview. “I mean, come on, no one’s going to watch this muffin commercial and want to book me for a Broadway show or a European tour. I need to pay my bills.”

We’ve all had those same hushed thoughts before, but this past year, Goodwin has brought them out into the open. Through short videos on his Instagram account—usually a close-up of him acting out two sides of an awkward conversation—he riffs on real-life dance situations and uses humor to offer relatable takes on auditions, creative processes and more. With a career spanning from Sleep No More to Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof and Netflix’s Tick, Tick… Boom!, the Juilliard-trained dancer certainly knows the ins and outs of the industry. And thousands of likes, shares and comments later, the laughs he provides have sparked important conversations and united the community in a much deeper purpose.

What was your personal inspiration to make these videos?

I think we’re in such a strange, wonderful and sometimes kind of awful industry that people don’t really understand. And I thought a way to help people understand, and also to help other dancers connect about the personal things we hold on to, was to make everyone laugh at it.

But there’s a larger conversation happening too, and I think the pandemic has allowed dancers to sit back and really look at their experiences and see the way we’re often treated. A lot of us have had our jobs literally ripped away from us, and if we’re freelancers, we’re left with no protection. I don’t always want to be hypercritical of the dance industry because I’m obviously a part of that community and it’s a community I love and have great respect for. But I think we’ve had an opportunity to look at the systems that are not working. And to look at our experiences with choreographers, with schools, with bodies…to see the way we fit ourselves into this mold that really is not healthy in some ways. It can be a relief to feel like “Oh, my god. I’ve done that. I’ve been there. That’s happened to me or that’s happened to someone that I know.”

In your ideal world, what changes do you hope these videos could bring about?

I hope people can start asking for things that would allow someone who pursues dance as a career to really have a livelihood without holding multiple jobs at the same time. We want to be able to start families and buy homes and pay off our student loans. I hope to have more support from the government, from each other. I want dancers to not be afraid to ask for what they deserve. What they really deserve. I think we so often dismiss it all because we really want the job. But you can want the job and also ask for the things you deserve as a human being.

For example, I hope to have a dialogue about dancers generating material and recognizing the creative contributions that they’re not given credit for. How can companies look at that process and pay their dancers accordingly? And if those pieces are then remounted elsewhere, how can royalties be implemented? Even if it’s just a small royalty. It’s still the act of doing it that shows care and respect.

Whenever I watch your videos, I can’t help but wonder what else is going on in the room around you at that moment.

It’s usually just my partner, Paul, sitting in the kitchen, watching me go off on a tangent.

But sometimes he’s the cameraman, and we often have to start over because he’ll just laugh hysterically to the point where we both end up in fits, unable to move on.

But that must be so therapeutic for you!

Oh, that’s a huge part of why I do it. Some of the videos are based on things I’ve really been through, and being able to find humor in them has been fun but also incredibly healing.

So how can humor help us stay grounded during difficult times?

Right now it’s scary. It’s emotional. Everyone is carrying around a lot of anxiety. There’s political turmoil, environmental distress. And everyone is having their own personal awakening, whether they’re talking about it or not. In this pandemic, we’ve been forced to look at ourselves straight on, and I think humor allows us to do that and to unite with other people in the process. Everything is funny in some way. It helps. It keeps us in check. Humor brings empathy. And at the end of the day, if you can find a way to laugh at it, you can get through it.

Check out a few of Austin’s greatest hits:

Dance process

Dance Auditions

Dance Auditions pt.2

When a dancer sees a doctor for a cold

Dancer interviews for a tech job

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Jennifer Archibald Responds to the Tulsa Race Massacre With a Multimedia Premiere for Tulsa Ballet

Jennifer Archibald’s professional roles almost mirror the breadth of the dance field itself. A Canadian now based in New York City, she runs her own dance company and its ArchCore40 Dance Intensives; is a guest artist at several universities and teaches at the David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University; has commercial clients like Nike and MAC Cosmetics; and is resident choreographer at Cincinnati Ballet.

This month, Tulsa Ballet premieres her multimedia Breakin’ Bricks after a yearlong creative process. Made for the company plus eight Black dancers hired for the project, Breakin’ Bricks reflects upon—and responds to—the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which terrorized the city’s prosperous Black community of Greenwood. The piece is, Archibald says, “one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever done.”

You’ve called Breakin’ Bricks a “documentary-format ballet.” What does that mean?

I went into the field with a videographer, Guy de Lancey, to interview people about what life in Tulsa is like today from a racial perspective. I put myself in a journalist’s shoes, in a way. What was challenging was getting people to talk transparently. It was hard to peel back the layers and get answers to “What’s the difference between North and South Tulsa? Do you cross the tracks? Will Greenwood be prosperous again?”

When Marcello [Angelini, Tulsa Ballet’s artistic director] approached me, the only ways I could see this being authentic and successful were, one, if we hired Black dancers and, two, if we brought local voices into the story. I didn’t think I would be able to honor the spirits and authentically commemorate Black people if I didn’t have film and audio sharing space with the movement onstage. That’s why documentation has been so attractive to me, because I feel like, when we watch ballets, they can be so abstract. We don’t usually know who these people in front of us are.

There was an audition in June to hire Black dancers for Breakin’ Bricks. What were you looking for?

Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted ballet versus contemporary movers, so I said, “Let’s keep it general and see who’s interested.” What was great about that process were the dancers who reached out to say, “Listen, I’m really interested in this, but I’m concerned about” this or that. It was eye-opening in terms of my responsibility to make sure the Black dancers I chose felt supported.

All while ballet itself is reassessing and metabolizing its relationship to white supremacy culture. How will you bring this history and this art form into meaningful dialogue?

I do not have a black-and-white answer, but it is something that has kept me awake numerous nights. It’s important that we all know that, in this process, we can make mistakes and make amends and learn from it. I’ve tried to be as transparent as I can be with all of the dancers, who sometimes email me questions about this process in the middle of the night. It’s a learning curve that extends to how we’re going to market the show, and how we’re going to do outreach during the residency for these Black artists, because they’re interested in teaching workshops and reaching the community that never shows up to the ballet. I really, really want to make sure the audience is diverse and that we’re not just presenting to a predominantly white audience, which is what I do all the time.

Ideally, it’s a productive process.

That’s the thing: The company has to realize this is not like any other commission, and all of the departments need to realize they are included in that transformation. These dancers can’t come in, as guests, and feel isolated. The residency for the Black dancers we’ve hired is just five weeks. That in itself is a testament to why ballet companies need to be more diverse, so these stories can live for more than just three or four nights.

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Why Some Dancers Are Finding an Outlet in Burlesque

If you hear that someone’s a burlesque performer, you might call to mind Gypsy Rose Lee’s journey from vaudeville youngster to snobby stripper in Gypsy, or even the painted ladies of Moulin Rouge! Burlesque, however, is neither. And for the growing number of women who have found their way to nightlife performance from a concert-dance background, burlesque can feel pretty close to a feminist utopia—one where women’s bodies and choreographic voices are celebrated.

Yes, stereotypes and tokenism remain an issue. But burlesque performers often find an outlet they never imagined in formal dance studios. “It really fills my cup,” says Marcy Richardson, who marries aerial dance, opera and pole dancing in her nightlife act, and also performs with the burlesque troupe Company XIV. “I get to be my most authentic self and let go of any expectations that people have.”

Burlesque’s history in the U.S. has deeper roots than modern dance or even ballet. It grew out of Victorian music hall, Victorian burlesque and minstrel shows in the second half of the 19th century. Today’s version of burlesque best resembles that of the early 1900s, when vaudeville reigned supreme. The form flourished during prohibition, and, pushed partially underground, the striptease took center stage. A wave of censorship shut down shows in the late ’30s, but burlesque came roaring back in the ’40s and ’50s, thanks to female trailblazers like Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm.

An entrepreneurial spirit remains firmly embedded in 21st-century burlesque. Like concert-dance choreographers, burlesquers often wear many hats: dancemaker, costume designer, self-promoter, makeup artist. “Generally, we’re independent artists,” says Jeez Loueez, a New Orleans–based burlesque performer who started out in musical theater. “It’s up to you to seek out the jobs—and get your own rehearsal space, edit your own music and design your own costumes.”

One of the most rewarding differences from a formal dance career is how often you get to perform, says burlesquer Dirty Martini. Burlesque acts translate well to myriad venues with the capacity to pull together a show quickly. “When you’re rehearsing for a contemporary-dance work, it takes, what, six months to get a concert together, and maybe you can perform for one weekend,” says Martini. “In nightlife, there are shows four or five times a week. You can take an idea you have, and in a week it’s onstage.”

The need to constantly market yourself in order to generate an audience and a loyal following feels similarly exhausting to the hustle demanded of independent contemporary choreographers, however. For most of Loueez’s burlesque career, she’s had to get enough butts in seats to turn a profit for herself. “Say there’s a bar that wants to have a burlesque show,” she says. “You might reach out to a producer, who’ll say, ‘Great. It’ll cost me $2,000 to produce this event.’ Now you have to sell tickets and match that cost before getting a cut of the door.” Loueez likes to joke that if she worked at Walgreens, she wouldn’t need to constantly post on social media that everyone should come visit her at a certain time. “I wish I could just go to work without having to shout about it every day on social media.”

Despite burlesque’s hustle culture, the transition into nightlife for most dancers-turned-burlesque-performers feels like taking a big gulp of fresh air. “Before burlesque, I would go to auditions, and I could see that I was a better dancer, but I wasn’t getting the job because I looked a certain way or I wasn’t the right height,” says Michelle L’amour, known colloquially as The Most Naked Woman. While she was dancing for an industrial glam-rock band, the front man, whom she was dating, asked her if she’d like to create a burlesque show as an opening act. L’amour said yes (“even though I had no idea what that was,” she says with a laugh). When she did her first striptease, she knew this was going to be her life. (And that front man is now her husband.)

For Zelia Rose, a burlesque performer who is also a swing in Australia’s production of Hamilton, the absence of needing to look or perform better than someone else is a big draw. “Sure, there’s always going to be competition,” she says, “but there’s never a sense of ‘Oh, I’m comparing myself to this person, the way my body looks.’ There’s more of a celebration of coming together.”

Burlesque offers a particular performance haven for plus-size women, who are weary of concert-dance companies that seem to uniformly hire a highly specific body type: thin. When she graduated from Purchase College—a program she says she entered on weight probation—Martini knew the odds of finding a contemporary-dance gig were small. “I auditioned for everyone, and I knew no one was going to hire me, because I was a size 14 or 16,” she says.

A woman staring intensely at the camera, with moody red lighting. She is wearing a decorative bikini style outfit, with a draped cloth running from her hip.
Zelia Rose; Richard Marz, Courtesy Rose

Carving a space for herself and helping to shape the nascent burlesque scene in New York City in the 1990s was thrilling. “It’s exciting for me to present a body that people get excited about,” says Martini, a past winner of burlesque’s version of the Olympics, the Miss Exotic World pageant. “It’s not just men being excited because it’s titillating—the majority are women who are so excited to see a body that’s not reflected in magazines or in television or the movies. They’re like, ‘Oh, thank God! Somebody’s representing the majority of women in the U.S. who are over a size 12.’ “

Of course, stereotyping still exists. “When you look at the ways shows are cast, it might be five thin white girls and a brown girl and a fat girl,” says Jezebel Express, a burlesque dancer who recently began performing out of a specially outfitted school bus. “You still see some idea that people are welcome, but only if they’re achieving at a super-high level.” It’s common for plus-size performers to feel relegated to comedic routines, Express says: “They expect to have to deflect their sexuality.”

Burlesque, like nearly every performance field, still has work to do when it comes to moving beyond tokenism and successfully integrating performers of color. “I get pigeonholed into always being the representation card,” says Rose. “I’ll often be the only POC visible in shows.”

It’s an audience-diversity issue, too, says Loueez. “Producers will ask me, ‘How do I get my audience to be more diverse?’ ” she says. “Well, you booked 10 skinny white ladies! If you’re not seeing yourself reflected onstage, you’re not going to go to those shows.”

Loueez, who 10 years ago founded Jeezy’s Juke Joint, a Black Burly Q Revue, as a way to shine a light on Black burlesque performers, uses her teaching career as a tool for change. “I started teaching because I was tired of seeing appropriation,” she says. “A lot of people were using it for comedic effect: ‘How hilarious is it that I’m white and I’m trying to twerk!’ But if a Black burlesque performer did the same act, it would be too stripper-y or raunchy. I have to remind myself that burlesque is not a sparkly bubble where racism and ableism and classicism don’t exist.”

It is a space, performers argue, that offers a wider range of self-expression than its concert-dance counterpart—and seems more ready to tackle the problematic issues that need fixing. “We live in a culture that created a hierarchy of bodies that serve the patriarchy,” says Express. “But people are slowly hopping off the train, one at a time. And I get to help them off the train—with burlesque.”

The post Why Some Dancers Are Finding an Outlet in Burlesque appeared first on Dance Magazine.

Why Dancers Belong on the Ballot

In the winter of 2014 I was literally running through the streets of New York City to my first-ever meeting with Gale Brewer, the borough president of Manhattan. I was freaking out. I had never met with a politician before; I was running late, and I never run late; and I was lost. I came flying into the restaurant nervous, sweating and on the verge of tears, thinking I had blown this incredible opportunity to talk about a new arts-centered initiative.

But that meeting changed my life. Gale listened to my concerns about stepping up as artistic director of Elisa Monte Dance (now EMERGE125). She was kind, patient and knowledgeable, and then gave me the advice that changed everything: “Well, Tiffany,” she said, “you can’t run a New York City dance company from New Jersey and be taken seriously. You need to move.” So I did!

A little about me: I live in Harlem and come from a politically active family. I strongly believe that we as dancers need to train our voices like any other muscle in our bodies, so that when the time comes to stand up for ourselves in the classroom, the community or the boardroom, we are ready. I’ve been invited to speak at universities, artists panels, conferences and political events, and I’m regularly asked: “How did you get so comfortable with speaking your truth?” My answer is always the same: practice. And I’ve had lots of it. But we all need to start somewhere, and 2020 gave us an opportunity like no other.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown, I felt powerless and frustrated. To fight that feeling, I sought out people in government to form partnerships with because policy is power. We created movie and trivia nights, Instagram challenges, and virtual town halls with politicians on the federal, state and local levels. Dancers from all over the country got to voice their concerns about issues ranging from Planned Parenthood to the environment, student loans to racial injustice. Participants worked together towards actual solutions. Many were able to meet in person at the 2020 Juneteenth demonstration I helped organize at City Hall in Manhattan.

From my new connections, I learned who is in control of the levers of power. But I had much to offer my friends in politics too. My talents contributed to the “wow” factor at their events, by adding live dance performances, musical interludes and fun visuals, as well as providing a direct connection to a broad and diverse demographic they needed to know more about.

Last summer, I was asked to head up social media and special events for a council member and formed an all-women team of artists to aid me. As other candidates saw what we could do, they wanted our vision and capabilities. Now I am involved in three campaigns and have placed dancers in each one. I have organized demonstrations, written articles, and recruited dancers to volunteer and participate in phone banks.

Every time I sit down with a new politician, I speak to them about living wages for artists, arts education, possible public art projects, and opportunities for collaborations in their districts. I have reached out to publications and dance service organizations around the country to help me spread the word for artists to get involved directly in their communities. I want to see more of us on the frontlines leading the charge.

So it seemed natural to take matters into my own hands and run for office. And I would like you all to join me.

I am currently running for a seat on the county committee in New York City, which is the most hyper-local elected office. County committees (which exist throughout the country with variations in names and responsibilities) set the state’s party platform, which drives policy and budget priorities that directly affect our communities and our cultural and arts initiatives. As a county-committee member, you choose local judicial candidates and party nominations in special elections, and help create policy for your party’s platform.

In New York City, each election district is made up of a small number of city blocks, each of which has two to four seats. Thousands of seats are available throughout the city, and many are left vacant, simply because people don’t know they exist and nobody runs. My goal is to fill these open seats with artists, because, quite frankly, the world needs our perspective. All it takes to run is joining a local political club, collecting signatures and voting for yourself (you can often win by just one vote!).

As this goes to print, we don’t know the result of my race, but if for some reason I didn’t make it onto the ballot, or something else went wrong, I will run again and again and again.

“I know politics can be intimidating, but I would argue that so many of our skills as dancers are transferable into this realm.” We have thick skin, aren’t afraid of the word “no” and have perseverance; we know how to work as a team, are adaptable, poised, self-reliant, detail-oriented, and probably have some practice at fundraising; we know how to communicate with people from different walks of life. Most importantly, we provide hope through our craft and create space for people to dream.

As we contemplate the similarities and differences from last summer to this one and our own personal growth during this time, I encourage you to also think about your civic duty: What is your part to play in making your neck of the woods a better place, and what does that mean to you? You can post on social media platforms, channel your activism into your creative work and show up to the ballot box. All of this is wonderful and necessary, but none of that should dissuade you from getting directly involved, as well.

Your opinions deserve to be heard. Our future needs your voice in it, so don’t rob us of that opportunity or your brilliance. Continue shining bright, Dance Fam!

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