Editor’s note: This article in From the Green Room, Dance/USA's eJournal, continues a conversation on diversity in all its forms. To find others in this series, select “Diversity” at the panel to the right. To join the conversation, please comment below, or to contribute an article on the topic, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Danielle Yolanda Currica
In 2010, I attended my first Dance/USA Conference held in Washington, D.C. Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Maria Bauman of Brooklyn’s Urban Bush Women led a breakout session on outreach and audience engagement. They discussed a then-recent residency to New Orleans, very soon after Hurricane Katrina. To create work based on the unbreakable spirits of the citizens of New Orleans and those affected by Hurricane Katrina, they went into the communities, met the people, and listened to their stories. It was important to them to note that when creating art based on a living people or wanting to engage with a targeted audience, it is vital to see, but, more importantly, it is necessary to listen — to the whole of the persons and the many narratives offered. One of the listening tools was a metaphoric coat covered in patches. Every person wears a coat, and every coat is adorned with patches that represents the many different parts of who we are. With every story and interaction, the Urban Bush Women dancers approached each person with the individual coats in mind. This tool helped them to meet people where they were at. Understanding that every person is many parts equaling a diverse whole.
Here are some of the patches on my coat: I was born in Guyana, South America, to parents of interracial families, and raised in Memphis, Tenn. I am 25, and identify as a black female. All parts to the whole that is “me” equal a diverse person.
Trying to identify who I am, then, is a mathematical equation steeped in 25 years of self-consciousness: the loss and regaining of identity, confusion, fear, pride, and many unanswered questions. If you look into my dance heritage, I am student of many forms, studying ballet, modern, West African, jazz, hip hop, and even burlesque. If you ask me tomorrow, the pieces may change, but the sum remains the same: an ever-evolving me.
I’d suspect that everyone identifies as such. We all have many intricate parts that make up who we are. We are not simply our race, gender, or preferred dance idiom. We are a sum total of many facets. When having a discussion about diversity, it is imperative that we see, hear, and understand what complex beings we are. We must also be specific about what aspect of diversity we are discussing. To have a discussion about diversity is diverse in itself. Which part of the “diversity canon” are we discussing and with what approach? And most importantly, as pointed out by keynote speaker Simon Sinek at the 2012 Dance/USA Conference, find the why? Why discuss diversity in the dance community?To have a discussion about diversity is diverse in itself. Which part of the “diversity canon” are we discussing and with what approach? And most importantly, as pointed out by keynote speaker Simon Sinek at the 2012 Dance/USA Conference, find the why? Why discuss diversity in the dance community?
As a freelance dancer I have the pleasure of dancing for multiple choreographers in Philadelphia. One of those dance companies is Dance Theatre X, a formerly Philadelphia-based dance company that is a “creative hub for realizing multi-disciplinary and inter-cultural dance-theater and humanities projects that address issues of identity, selfhood, and belonging in an effort to interrogate received and mediated notions of who we are.” This summer we reconvened to work on restaging TAR, a piece based on the many tar baby stories through history. The work incorporated folklore and dealt with issues of race and gender as some of the cornerstones of the piece’s narrative. In that short and creatively intense two weeks, we as a family unit of dance collaborators, working in a safe space, knowing one another, hit walls of confusion, anger, frustration, and even fear.
DTX’s artistic director and choreographer, Charles O. Anderson, keenly aware of our hesitancy in dealing with the subject matter, very pointedly asked, “Are we done talking about race?” In my frustration and fear stemming from past wounds with race, I emotionally answered, “Yes!” As the word angrily slipped from my lips, I realized why he asked. Discussions about diversity — dealing with race, gender, identification, politics, in or outside of dance — are discussions we will never stop having, whether we choose to participate or not. But to shy away from them, because they are uncomfortable or they shatter our safe reality, only provides more unanswered questions and more space for marginalization and the muting of underrepresented people, artistic practices, and the continued segregation of any ‘other’ not socially recognized. As an already close company, our family unit became stronger through many conversations about race, fear, assumptions, and tropes when discussing race. I personally realized one of my deepest fears: facing racism head on. Throughout my time in the residency I would ask myself: “Am I strong enough, bold enough, eloquent enough?” I am still determining those answers, but I would never have asked those tough questions had it not been for those two weeks.
As we move forward, awaiting the next Dance/USA Conference, immersed in our dance practices, running our organizations, and fighting for the overall funding of the arts, let us not stray away from these pointed discussions about diversity. Whether it concerns race, politics, gender, performance practice, idiom, aesthetics, funding, all discussions are valid and necessary, with needed repetition. Who better to define what we do and why we do it then the practitioners and the advocates? Let us be specific, unafraid, open, and, most of all, actively listening. Let us see each other in all that we are, and with our many perspectives and realities. Dance, like the bodies that express it, is a diverse and multi-faceted figure, a beast, a creature. Let us protect and cultivate this art form by doing the work to help evolve it. Let’s talk, let’s listen, let’s grow.
Danielle Currica graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a BFA in dance and choreography in 2009. After relocating to Philadelphia as a freelance dance artist, Danielle has been working with Charles O. Anderson of Dance Theatre X, Jumatatu Poe of idiosynCrazy Productions, Antoinette Coward-Gilmore of Danse4Nia Repertory Ensemble, Lela Aisha Jones of Flyground and the Requisite Movers, and she is “Sophie Sucre” of Philadelphia’s neo-burlesque troupe The Peek-A-Boo Revue. She also currently works as a program associate for Dance/USA Philadelphia under director Lois Welk.
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