Tag: Dance Education

Guide to Dance Education in America

Last week while at the National Dance Education Organization Conference, I realized we attendees were just a sliver of dance education and were not talking about the field and its actual scope. Many tracks were not present. In addition, we never addressed the issue that students cross and combine tracks; I talked to some of the students of the public school programs, and found out that roughly 50% of them were also taking classes at private studios, interested in commercial as well as concert dance, and wanted to choreograph works that expressed their complex identities and experiences.

What I am about to present may seem a dangerous exercise in stereotyping, but the intent is actually the opposite. As generalizing as this may be, I hope to bring an awareness of entry points and barriers in the field, and I encourage you to clarify what you see as the value & weaknesses of all pathways in dance education. I hope my inaccuracies provoke good dialogue.

As dance educators, we will encounter students on all different tracks and curved roads. We cannot and should not dismiss an arm of our sector just because we disagree with it, or don’t understand it. Millions of children in this country are dancing; they and their teachers all have merit.

 

TRACK ONE: #smalltownbigdreams

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Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Photo by Flickr users, Jim Mullhaupt and Andrew Dallos

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics twice a week for tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, tumbling.

Age 7, at Star Systems in the nearest big city, your first competition, you receive Platinum scores and win your category, placing 3rd overall solo for your age bracket. Two weeks later…at Headliners, you are 1st place Overall!!! And the Petite Miss Headliner Regional Title Winner!!!

Age 12, go undefeated in all regional competitions as well as nationals, add on special teachers and physical therapy.

Age 14, while your parents budget for the entry fees, costumes, makeup, shoes, private lessons and travel costs, you learn new styles and combinations on YouTube (SYTYCD, DM).

Age 16, start working on audition skills, headshots, etc.

Age 18, audition and work for cruiselines, music videos, Las Vegas shows, amusement parks, professional sports teams, Rockettes, and more.

Age 22, major in chemistry and donate the trophies and costumes to charity.

Age 26, work locally and, as a secondary job, return to Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics as a teacher.

Age 29, join Headliners organization as a judge, touring the country.

 

TRACK TWO: #gottalovethestandards

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Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Photos by Flickr users, alyssa.becker and The Arts at USF

Pre-school, dance routine for the school holiday show, where dad says you were the best.

2nd Grade, creative movement in school, exploring non-locomotor/axial movements, locomotor movements and pathways to create a sequence with a beginning, middle, and an end based on weather patterns. View a dance film and relate it to literature.

5th grade, dance integrated into your math class and now, with it in your body, math makes more sense.

Age 13, audition into the public high school dance company, where you dance nearly every school day and learn about use of weight in transitions, dance history, composition, anatomy, world dances, good health habits in dance, constructive criticism, and more. Start classes at a private studio as well.

Age 16, consider a dance career.

Age 17, attend Monroe Community College and transfer to the state university.

Age 20, dance with a local company while pursuing a nursing career and teaching Zumba classes.

Age 24, start to offer dance workshops for seniors and ongoing classes for children.

 

TRACK THREE A: #respectthebun

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Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Photos by Flickr users, Kymberly Janisch and Kent G Becker

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, change to the Academy of Ballet in the next town over in order to have more focus on ballet.

Age 14, attend pricey summer intensives for advanced pointe and partnering (on scholarship but still ponying up for related costs), meet Misty Copeland in person.

Age 17, train, train, train, audition for apprenticeships.

Age 20, become ensemble member of a regional ballet company, living out your dream.

Age 28, retire from professional dance and get your degree in engineering.

 

TRACK THREE B: #respecttheform

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Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Photos by Flickr users, Aesthir and fsiddi

Age 11, excel in track & field.

Age 13, you have to take a dance class in school and realize you love it, work hard and take classes wherever you can.

Age 18, major in dance in college, studying Cunningham, Graham, Horton, somatic practices, dance history, kinesiology, composition, dance teaching, and more. Wonder why there are labels such as traditional, folkloric, and ethnic.

Age 22, build a network of friends in professional modern dance, Butoh, and performance art in the region.

Age 26, become a company member of a midsize dance company, living out your dream but paying back your student loans.

Age 28, start to choreograph and produce your own work questioning what is classic, what is colonial.

Age 30, MFA

Age 33, get hired for a teaching position at Benefits University and start talking about that family you want.

Age 37, get Laban and CMA certified, pursue a tenured position.

 

TRACK FOUR: #broadwaybaby

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Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Photo by Flickr users, Aundrea Arias and Felippe Paiva

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics three times per week for tap, ballet, jazz/musical theatre and tumbling.

Age 10, get serious about acting and voice lessons.

Age 16, star in your high school’s production of 42nd Street.

Age 18, take workshops on auditioning tips, consider getting an agent.

Age 20, star in your university’s production of Brigadoon.

Age 22, circles of showcases, auditions, agents, moving apartments.

Age 26, land a role in Thoroughly Modern Millie on Broadway, join the union.

Age 29, land a role in the touring production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. but your family is not sure what to make of it.

 

TRACK FIVE: #borntodance

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Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Photos by Flickr users, T 13 and Contemporary Dance Theater

Age 3, show off your moves at the family picnic and mom puts you on YouTube.

Age 6, start taking classes from Benny at the community center in animation, locking, b-boying, house, and more.

Age 12, your crew competes at VIBE XX.

Age 17, participate in your first real cypher.

Age 20, get a job at a local performance venue, teach on the side, start a family.

Age 25, land a few huge but short gigs around the US including dancing on the Grammies and an Off-Broadway fundraiser.

Age 27, dance with Rennie Harris RHAW and tour the country and 3 countries.

Age 30, take one year to tour judging dance competitions / teaching at conventions as the “hip hop” representative.

Age 31, return to teach at the community center.

Age 36, build your own organization.

 

TRACK FIVE: #danceislife

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Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Photos by Flickr users, mara and Maurice Pirotte

Age 3, Miss Molly’s Dance Dynamics once a week for a year of tap and pre-ballet.

Age 6, undergo a dose of trauma (disease, war, jail, loss of a parent, abuse, disempowerment, poverty, violence, homelessness…)

Age 12, meet a teaching artist who “gets you” as you struggle with your identity as a Latino-Arab person coming of age in contemporary America.

Age 18, consider getting your minor in dance but decide to go for the B.A. program. Create your own pieces for the student choreography concerts.

Age 20, choreograph for local and regional festivals.

Age 28, be selected for individual artist awards, small grants, and residencies.

Age 33, consider filing for 501c3 status and offer workshops for young people in the area.

 

TRACK SIX: #danceasheritage

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Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Photos by Flickr users, David Yu and Victoria Pickering

Age 6, auntie gets you a spot in the Chinese American Community Center Folk Dance Troupe.

Age 12, want to quit but  friend convinces you to keep going,

Age 19, you win the Miss Chinatown USA Pageant while double majoring in philosophy/economics.

Age 25, tour the world as the member of an “ethnic dance” company.

Age 28, teach at the Chinese American Community Center when you have time in your busy schedule.

 

There are several other important tracks not explored here, including the domains of recreational and park district programs, dance for athletes, praise and liturgical dancers, ballroom dancers, tappers, pow-wow dancers, steppers, vogue dancers, burlesque and go-go performers, carnival/samba dancers, improvisers, swing dancers, bellydancers, flamenco artists, Mexican folkloric dancers, Bharatanatyam dancers, cloggers, Irish step dancers, non-dance choreographies, and so many more.

Dance is everywhere. Dancers in some of these tracks swim in a pool of popularity and dollars. Others swim in waters of relevance and reciprocity. Some value competition, others collaboration. At the end of the day, we are dancing circles around one another and have to find a way to move together towards change and progress.

 

A Parent/Teacher’s Guide to Dance Compeitions

So you think your kids can dance? Yes! Every child should be dancing. And there are so many options. This is just one of them…

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Photo credit: Nexstar National Dance Competition

 

I worked (with quoted contributions from several friends) to create this quick guide for you. Actually, this is for myself if I decided to ever teach in a competition studio again, or if I have a child.

 

FIRST, KNOW YOUR CHILD’S DANCE CHOICES

  • Classical Ballet Schools and Modern Dance Training and Apprenticeship Programs – routes to professional careers in concert dance (Cecchetti or Vaganova method with examinations, Graham, Horton, etc. and often attached to professional companies such as Joffrey, Bolshoi, American Ballet Theatre, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey, or Dance Theatre of Harlem)
  • International Ballet Competition Circuit
  • International Ballroom/Salsa Competition Circuit
  • High schools for the performing arts
  • Gymnastics or Ice SkatingTraining – competitive and incorporating dance training
  • Recreational or Outreach/Community Dance Programs and Studios – often develops skills as collaborators, composition or social awareness, often less rigorous in nature or expectation for developing skills as professional dancers or college dance majors
  • Dance in schools (dance integration with other academic subjects, gaining choreographic skills, robust cognitive abilities and artistic voice)
  • Training in Folkloric or Rhythm Traditions – some of which offer their own competition circuits (Mexican, Afro-Caribbean, Arab/Bellydance, Khattak, Bollywood, Flamenco, Irish, African, Swing, Circus arts, Vogue, Step, Stomp, B-boyying and other urban dances)
  • Dance for fitness, health, spiritual or physical wellbeing (Liturgical or Praise dance, Zumba, Pilates, Yoga, Creative Movement, Sufi dancing, Dance Therapy)
  • Musical Theatre World – vocal lessons, acting classes, dance training, sometimes modeling, constant auditions for local and touring productions
  • Pageant World
  • Cheer/Pom/Dance Teams
  • Dancing socially and at home through free online instruction and games
  • Conventions/Competition Dance Circuit (well-rounded curriculum consisting of commercialized and often whitewashed versions of jazz, contemporary, tap, acro/contortion, ballet, hip-hop … often training that prepares them primarily for commercial dance careers)

“I wish I would have had such an opportunity as a child.  I love to dance, but I’m also competitive and loved to play sports.  [Dance competitions] are the perfect combination for a person such as myself.  Why can’t art be competitive?  Why does it just have to be art?  With a competition, a child is able to perform multiple times a year instead of just at the end of the year or a Christmastime for the Nutcracker.  In all honestly, I compare her experience in competitive dance to another child’s experience doing club travel soccer.  It’s pretty much the same thing (though as my daughter gets more into this, the hours and money will likely escalate considerably).”

“When my daughter started dance at the age of 3, I never had intentions of it getting “serious.”  I took dance as a child, and felt it was important for my children to do the same.  I didn’t necessarily plan on her starting to dance at age 3.  However, I felt dance class was a great way for our developmentally and physically delayed cancer survivor to get a little social interaction and physical therapy at the same time.  Never did I ever envision her getting into competitive dance.  I didn’t even realize this type of thing existed!! Comparably, my daughter is probably a late bloomer in the competition world.  She started the company this year, in third grade.  She’s competing in three dances – all group dances, no solos or duets.  I talked to a father today whose daughter had her first competitive solo at the age of 4 (?!!???)”

“My daughter has never competed.  She trains in advanced classes at a preprofessional ballet school where her director feels competition is not the best use of students time and it is not encouraged. When “Dance Moms” came on TV, she was attracted to the performances and begged to join a competition studio. I kept her from it for a couple of reasons, mainly cost, but also because I felt the training was too varied (multiple genres) when her main/only interest was ballet, and I really didn’t like the emphasis on tricks and overstretching that I was seeing.”

“Financially dance is affordable because we take advantage of our local recreation program. All of her teachers are college dance majors and work with local ballet company’s throughout the year. Cost for classes and costumes is very low compared to other studios. We just make sure we save what is needed so that every fall we can place her in classes. I believe dance in important for [my daughter] because it gets her moving during the winter months. It gives her at least 4 hours of good physical exercise a week rather than being pinned in the house. She also truly enjoys the stage and being the center of attention. She loves her teachers and the other girls that are in her classes. I believe is it also allows her to express herself through dance.”

“My girls aren’t in dance, but they do dance around the house. It’s the excitement, motivation, and thrill they enjoy. Wish I could do more. If I had the extra money to enroll them I definitely would. I know they would really enjoy and love to be in dance, it’s not cheap.”

 

If you decide competition is the right choice…

 

TALK TO KIDS ABOUT WHAT IS GOOD DANCING

In a land where everyone is a winner…

“I truly think the way they “place” these children are ridiculous.  Let’s see if I get this right: The very best is an “Elite Top 1st.” Then the step down from that is a “Top First.” After that a “First.” Then downward to “Second” etc, etc, etc, I’m just wondering whatever happened to 1st, second, and third. Or Gold, silver, Bronze? I clearly get that they are trying to make these children sound like they are all “first place” winners but to me, there’s really only one first place.  The best routine.”
After the results, on the drive home or during the next class, take time to reflect on which dancers the judges chose as winners and why they might have made those choices. Try to talk through assumptions and feelings/evidence of injustice. Talk honestly about what techniques and tricks were applauded and which were awarded. Talk about what the criteria and scoring system would be if redesigned. Learn together the language of dance and talk about what you seen in synchronization, precision, formations, full expression, line, extension, transitions, tension and release, control and risk, uniqueness and trendiness, 2D versus 3D, use of weight, lift, traveling and command of the stage, dynamics, working in and out of the floor,…
Ask your child what routines he/she enjoyed and why. Would you have picked different winners than the judges picked? What did you notice? What surprised you? What did you see that was uncomfortable? Who was missing?
Talk about what one thing your child is most proud of during the competition weekend; celebrate that thing your child has articulated (rather than the trophy) with a milkshake or a social media post.

 

LOOK OUT FOR SIGNS OF WHEN DANCE IS BECOMING DANGEROUS

Dancers grow up in front of mirror, with their bodies constantly open to self and external critique. Sometimes this leads to confidence and comfortability through puberty and their development into young adulthood and sexuality, but sometimes it backfires into eating disorders, self-abuse, depression, or unsafe sexual encounters. Stay aware. Are “successful” dancers being defined and promoted as being of a certain body type, with plus-size dancers having lower expectations and placed in the back rows or not given solos? Are dancers encouraged to dance through injury? Are shaming or threats being used as teaching strategies? Do the teachers use derogatory language or biased/bigoted remarks? Are the dance floors or tricks unsafe for dancing bodies? Are dancers learning to embrace their growing breasts and hips: what to wear as proper undergarments?
Know when this is happening to growing dancers. Talk openly with all teachers, children, and other dance parents. Make sure that the tricks and styles they are learning will not be detrimental to them if they chose to pursue a professional career in concert dance. What competition style will they need to unlearn in college?
Also know that even great dance educators can be distracted by competition and start to look past dangerous bad habits your child may be developing, such as ankle pronation (or supination) and tibial torsion. Know ways to prevent common dance injuries.
normal-300x241 tibial-torsion
Competition dance teachers were often competition or commercial dancers themselves and do not have CPR /First Aid training, anatomy, dance history, pedagogy,… Encourage teachers to sign up for classes such as those offered by the National Dance Education Organization.

 

LET PEOPLE KNOW WHEN THEY DO GOOD FOR KIDS

Many times, competition directors and dance teachers make fantastic decisions. Give them a shout out. Encourage them to keep raising the bar for their colleagues. Thank them discreetly and earnestly.

“This weekend, we attended our first competition.  My daughter was in three performances.  After this weekend, I feel complete and utter admiration for her teachers.  The love and support they have for their kids is amazing. “

“At times I wonder if my daughter [as a dancer of color] will encounter discrimination and how will she handle it. Thus far she has been treated fairly. She was Clara in the Nutcracker! I thought that was a courageous decision her teacher made. I’m not sure too many other dance studios would make that decision. That role gave her courage and confidence.”

“I am at a dance competition this weekend.  It is the third my child has done this year.  KAR is the name of it.  It is very very organized. And the locations have been very nice as well.  So the logistics and the producing of this particular competition I would give an A+. “

MAKE RESPONSIBLE FINANCIAL DECISIONS AS A FAMILY AND AS A STUDIO
The dance competition circuit is a money machine.  Not even looking at the costs of costumes, classes, private lessons, doctors’ visits, recital tickets, dancewear and shoes, therabands and props, bun wraps and makeup, photo sessions, travel and hotels, lost time from work and school… the competition registration fees alone are incredible.
“Also, the amount of money that is required to register compared to the amount of prizes, whether it be cash or trophies is also a little absurd to me.  So …..my daughter’s production team (one dance) has 25 kids.  It cost each child $35-40 to register.  So roughly $800-$1000 to do the routine for the local competition.  They received Elite Top First and overall top production (the best that dance could get) and got $100 for the studio. (And one tall plastic trophy)  Not each, but $100 divided by 25 kids!  It’s nuts!”

Come to consensus with the other parents and teachers on how many competitions your child’s class will do: how many regional and how many national and how many routines. What is the worth you are looking for? What type of conventions/competitions do your prefer and why? Are there better ways to co-invest in dance education and training such as skipping one competition and using the funds to create a studio scholarship or to send the teachers to kinesiology class? Or to save up for a career-focused summer intensive?

 

BE CLEAR ON WHAT YOUR CHILD IS IN IT FOR… AND FOLLOW THAT LEAD AS IT CHANGES

The career. The sport. The discipline. The passion. The personal development. The college scholarship.

“My child is learning discipline, that she’s not always first or most important, team work, respect for her teachers, and love of her fellow dance team. The kids at her dance company are seriously all professional, polite, etc. I have not seen any airs about the dancers who are top notch dancers at her company. I know this is not the same at all studios. We got lucky.”

“[From a parent whose child is at a non-competitive studio] The cost of dance classes is still not cheap and I have struggled financially as a single parent. I have decided the struggle is worth it. To see the pleasure it brings her & the determination she has for dance is something I never had within me. To see your child know what she wants to do with her future I feel I have to support it. Many people wonder all their life what is their purpose and never find it. [My daughter] has known since she was 2 1/2 her passion and love for dance. We decided to audition for her 1st pre-professional summer intensive and she was accepted! I feel  as though she is about to take that next step up to “committing” to dance. I know I would like her to attend a performing arts high school and she wishes to attend Juilliard or Alvin Ailey after that so, saying that we are in for the long haul of whatever the dance world has for her or whatever she may have to give to the dance world!”

“My daughter aims for a professional ballet career and we feel summer programs are more important to be competitive.  She has thought the YAGP competition could be useful to earn scholarships but again, the costs of preparation, costumes, travel, and entry fees are prohibitive.”

“Times are changing [for dancers of color] and the struggle is real. I encourage her to go for what she wants if there is a will there is a way is my motto. That’s how she is getting to New York, by pure will!” 

 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CALL OUT THE SEXUALIZATION 

Demand better of the teachers, costume designers, choreographers, and judges. Write letters. Organize and make a noise.

“I am so glad that [my daughter] randomly ended up at the studio where she is.  Her teachers are supportive and respectful of their age.  Although they do have costumes that show the midriff, they are relatively well covered meaning that the bottoms go up or over their belly buttons and the tops aren’t too skimpy.  The dance moves taught are age-appropriate with no gyration, butt shakes, pelvic thrusts, etc.  The music is usually either obscure or classic pop remixes and also age appropriate. Some of the other companies?  WOW.  Six year olds in skimpy bikinis shaking their butts at the audience.  One 12-14 number was so racy that my husband felt uncomfortable sitting and watching.  Some of the songs had to do with sex or sleeping with someone.  Were they songs that my kids hear on the radio?  Yes – Do they need to do a performance to said songs?  Oh HELL NO.  The unfortunate thing was that these were the dances that were winning.  Yes, the kids were talented, but why are they not penalized in points for inappropriateness?  Anyone could have showed up to these performances.  There was no fee and no one watching the door.  This was like free porn for pedophiles at times.”

DON’T BE AFRAID TO CALL OUT RACIAL-ETHNIC STEREOTYPING 
If you see something, say something. If you see that your child is being asked to dress as a Native American, Aboriginal, Arab, Indian, African, Asian, Latino, Black “Urban/Hip-Hop” stereotype with little relation to the authentic dances or collaboration with said cultures, and your child is not of that race or cultural background, just say no. No to feather headdresses and afro wigs. Demand that all costumes, choreography, and classes be as authentic and diverse as possible.

This is where I give Dance Moms some credit for making a bit of progress:

African piece choreographed by Debbie Allen

Bollywood piece choreographed by Nakul

LEAN INTO THE JOY WHERE YOU FEEL IT
“But I will tell ya, I absolutely enjoy watching the dancers perform.  It brings joy to me and love to watch my daughter,  so I bite my tongue and pay the fees and continue on in my life.”
“I liked it because, well, because it was fun. It was working toward something – perfection maybe. There was always something to work on, get better at . . . I like that. Something to focus an energy on. We were working to achieve something and that feels good. It was fun to win, and crappy to lose, but there was a good emotional lesson there. It was team-playing with girls I really cared about. It was fun to dress up in costumes and get on that stage and work to do your best ever each time. It felt good to be passionate about something. Performing for cheering fans (even if they were only our moms ) felt good. Even being nervous before getting on that stage was a weird-good feeling. It was great fun being with my friends after the fact, just hanging out.”

 

BE PROACTIVE IN WELCOMING OTHERS TO THE STUDIO
If you notice that the students or teaching staff are homogenous, start to figure out solutions to increase diversity for the good of all of our children.
“This is an upper middle class “sport” – primarily white.  Primarily suburban.”

We should not be okay with this, and must work together to change it. How can we make our studios accessible and welcoming? What inclusion strategies we can implement for religious or cultural conservations, dancers with disabilities, dancers coming from different socio-economic backgrounds?

CHANGE THE CHANNEL ON DANCE ROLE MODELS
Yes, you can watch Dance Moms, So You Think You Can Dance, Bring It!, Dancing With the Stars, Hit the Floor, but you could also dive into Jacob’s Pillow Dance Interactive and the White House’s Celebration of African American Women & Dance. Supplement dance training with elements of strong dance education and appreciation efforts. Make sure they are getting the fundamental technique of transition and alignment. Talk about commercial dance (videos, television, cruise ships, amusement parks, hotel shows, Vegas, events, professional sports entertainment) but only in equal proportion to concert dance and musical theater opportunities. Attend VIBE or ADF or ciphers and concert dance performances. Talk about choreographers, designers, managers, researchers, composers, educators in dance, just as much as performers.
EXPLORE CREATIVE ALTERNATIVES
What about instead of trophies, the money collected by the organization went to a collective cause? What if the performance promoted social awareness or philanthropy? Are there ways to gain technical proficiency outside of competition?  Non-competitive ways to learn technique? Can we make a community-based performance be just as high stakes and motivating as a pricey competition?
Competition life can be great, full of drive and camaraderie. But there are simple ways to make it healthier, less financially wasteful, and more connected to the needs of our shared society. What do you think?

 

 

 

What We Can Do to Help Syria

I was in college during the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia. As a theatre major/dance minor at a liberal arts school who was admittedly immersed in herself, in Millikin-world,  in a strong education and new ways of thinking, I barely remember the news. Class assignments and rehearsals and flirting and friendships all took priority of my consciousness. The closest I got to thinking deeply about others and about being a global citizen was when I took Ethics with Dr. Money. I loved the class discussions about abortion, corporal punishment and more…  we did not, however, talk about wars and the U.S.’s indirect or direct contributions to  conflicts such as Iraq, nor our responsibility to help. No class or professor or classmate even mentioned Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Sudan…; if they did, I wasn’t listening.

I have no defense. Being an artist (or a student, or both) is no excuse for being completely arts-absorbed, deaf to the world.

Decades later when I read “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power and traveled to Bosnia, and also Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Northern Ireland, I was devasted by how much was happening in the 1990s that I had been unaware of at the time. I didn’t even know when I was party to gentrification or privilege. I didn’t even see what was happening on the other side of the river in Saginaw, MI.

Well, now one big world crises is Syria. And it is serious. It is devasting. And I hope we as artists are listening.

 

IMG_5254

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

 

According to the UN and Amnesty International

  • More than 50% of Syria’s population is currently displaced.
  • Around 250,000 people have been killed and 13.5 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria.
  • One-in-every-two of those crossing the Mediterranean this year – half a million people – were Syrians escaping the conflict in their country.
  • While waiting out the long resettlement application process, more than 4.5 million refugees from Syria are in just five countries: Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • Funding shortages mean that the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in Lebanon receive just US$0.70 cent a day for food assistance, well below the UN’s poverty line of US$1.90.
  • The United States has approved only around 2,500 Syrian refugees for resettlement here, mostly women and children whose fathers and older brothers are still in process and living abroad.
  • Shamefully, the high-income countries of Russia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places.

The U.S. could set a better example by welcoming more refugees and also strongarming the leaders of the high-income countries mentioned to do something.

We, as the artist community, might not be rich and may be (like me) unemployed or underemployed, but we are wealthy in potential contributions of another kind.

 

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

 

In Chicago, there are 25 refugee families; my friend and I found out during a holiday event for the cause. Their services are managed by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Syrian Community Network (a small, local nonprofit organization run by an amazing woman and her mother). You can read example stories of the families on their website. We asked what they needed: English tutoring, quarters for laundry, gift cards for groceries, and feeling welcome among their new neighbors, new homes.

After some further investigation, I found out the families live within walking distance of the small dance studio where I used to teach for nearly a decade and continue to sub. I love this school. They said yes right away to my proposal of hosting the Syrian refugees in the studio.

I have volunteered to offer a series of English language learning dance workshops (free of charge) in this space (also donated) where the children and their parents will mingle with other dance parents (mostly Jewish and Christian), as well as to collaborate on a community performance opportunity in June.

 

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

We started last week and it was amazing.

One of the students I supported in Egypt is now in Chicago getting his masters as a Fulbrighter; he is volunteering to help with translation and facilitation during the workshops.  Other guest teachers and facilitators have also signed on to volunteer.

We just need a little help.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One of my intentions is to make the experience as authentic as possible. I want the workshops and performance to be as close to what the paying students get. The Syrian refugees are real dancers and I want to treat them as such, Although we incorporate certain social-emotional skills and language goals for these particular students, we provide them disciplined dance classes in ballet and jazz, fused with the assets of their traditional Syrian dances and culture. Sweaters and jeans won’t do.

Plus, I cannot fathom the visual of all the other dance students in polished outfits while the “poor refugees” are on stage in t-shirts and socks.

What we need…

  • 10 sets of skirted leotards and tights for the younger girls (in process)
  • 5 sets of long-sleeve leotards, long ballet skirts, and dark tights for the older girls – size adult S, M
  • 15 sets of boys’ white or black t-shirts and black dance pants – child S, M, L
  • Girls’ and boys’ jazz and ballet shoes in a range of sizes
  • Girls’ and boys’ costumes (in matching sets of 3+) or a connection to a costume company who could donate matching costumes for the entire group
  • Monetary donations or gift cards for the volunteers and the families

Donations can be sent to my name at Performing Arts Limited, 2740 W. Touhy Ave., Chicago, IL 60645.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

If you can, I ask you to also look for the refugee communities in your area and see what they need. Welcome them into your dance, music, theatre, and visual arts worlds. Look into the possibility of bringing ourselves as artists to refugee camps. At the very least, continue to open our ears to crises and to be a voice in the face of fear and Trumped policy.

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

Photo by Mohamed Radwan

One Way of Being the Change I Want to See in the World

My parents did everything they could to make it financially possible for me to dance growing up in an increasingly expensive sector. They made sacrifices and worked multiple jobs. I am an only child.

When I was 15, I had the opportunity to attend a summer training opportunity in the Edge studio in LA. I never knew how my parents financially made this happen for me, but it certainly changed my life, my sense of worth.  I got to go with my friend Candy and I stayed with her and her mom. [Side note: Once of my most vivid memories was Elizabeth Berkley aka Jessie Spano training for Showgirls  in one of our jazz classes wearing Calvin Klein undergarments as dancewear.] It was an early 90s, commercial, white, pop world at that time.

Beyond race, I grew up with a strong understanding that to dance was a privilege. If your family could afford private lessons and summer intensives, you were on the path to succeeding professionally. Like other performing art forms such as music, the game is rigged in America. The more you are willing to spend, the more you are given opportunities to develop your artistic voice and rigor of technical talent. This always seemed backwards to me. Why would a society only want to develop the artistic voices of the upper class, especially in dance?

Now it is 2016 and I am doing my small part to help support the next generation, to be the change I want to see in the world. I believe in us, that together we can create more equity of opportunity and access.

Three talented and under-resourced dancers have come into my life in different ways and encounters. They each need $3,000-6,000 to attend a summer dance program (even with scholarships). Advanced summer training is an increasingly crucial step in the field, much more than in my day, and is just within reach for these girls. This will be a turning point for them. We can’t sit back and watch socio-economics stop them now. Can the world pool resources together to make a difference for three girls at a pivotal time in their lives? Can we make three dreams come true?

Sure we can!

We each have three choices:  donating, sharing, or connecting us to potential funders.

 

Maurissa - Lily - Chloe

 

MAURISSA (Turning 15 on Feb 24) – Madison, WI. Admitted to Pennsylvania Ballet Summer IntensiveBallet Chicago Summer Intensive, and Oregon Ballet Theatre Summer Intensive and with this funding can decide which offer is the best fit for her artistically and financially. “My dream has always been to be a professional ballet dancer and to serve as a leader for kids in my community. Any donations I receive will go toward my room and board, flights, and tuition not covered by scholarships, and to purchase the pointe shoes I  need. I would be so thankful for any help!” 

LILY (Turning 13 on Feb 24) – Chicago, IL. Admitted to Alvin Ailey Dance – Junior Division Summer Intensive in NYC, a city she would be visiting for the first time in her life. “I started dance lessons at two years old. Since then I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer. Dance is what I breathe and eat. It is a way of being free to me. I have only been taught by one dance school, because of our financial situation we have not been able to afford any other dance lessons. I feel going to dance with Alvin Ailey will develop my professional career so I can one day dance with a professional dance company. Then maybe one day I can inspire and give back to someone like me.”

CHLOE (14, Born in Haiti) – Ontario, CA. Admitted to Dance Theatre of Harlem Summer Intensive as well as Princeton Ballet School and with this funding can decide which offer is the best fit for her artistically and financially.“I love dance, specifically ballet, because it takes an enormous amount of dedication. It’s something that you can never be perfect at, which always keeps you striving for more. My biggest challenge as a dancer is comparing myself to others and being realistic with what my body can do and achieving my personal best.” She is excited about the possibility of attending DTH because, “This summer intensive is any amazing opportunity to train with other dancers of color.”

There are shockingly few pre-professional opportunities for dancers of color and even fewer for dancers with financial difficulties. Single-parent and multi-child households, in particular, are asked to make heartbreaking sacrifices to keep their kids dancing and summer training is nearly impossible. They are selected but are rarely able to actually attend. We are going to change that this year!

Scholarships for summer intensives do not cover all tuition, travel, room and board for the 5-8 weeks, nor the necessary but expensive dancewear for growing girls. Here, we have identified three future dance leaders from around the country who have auditioned and been selected for specialized summer programs with scholarships. We are immensely proud of them and have pledged not to let them down.

These girls are going places and I am humbled to play this small part, but I can’t do this alone.

Click here: https://www.gofundme.com/goingplaces2016

We have a big goal but if all of America and beyond cannot successfully support the dreams of three girls, there is something seriously wrong in society.

The Shame of Dance in America

I will start off by admitting that I am a very white dancer. My dance aesthetic grew out of white, lower middle-class, mid-Michigan, 1980’s rural-Suburbia. I mastered the Roger Rabbit, Running Man, and MC Hammer but my Hip-Hop was oblivious appropriation at best. My tap dancing had a very high center of gravity, far closer to Riverdance than to the legends “Buster,” “Stumpy,” or “Brownie.” There were sequins, red lipstick, wigs or curlers, and ankle weights the day before to help me dance and flip with more lift. [That was my dad’s idea. He is a sports guy.]

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Acro-jazz was my favorite. It was a sugar rush. It was drill team. It was “Solid Gold.” It was small-town American Broadway and Tremaine, not the jazz dance heritage of soul and funk.

Dance was a blessing in my childhood, but so very very white.

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Being there daily for the 11 years of my childhood, the dance studio was my second home. Our dance studio had fewer than three students of color. When we went to the competitions each weekend, we would encounter dozens and dozens of other dance studios. Again, they were on average 98% white. Hundreds of children happily dancing without their African-American/Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, Arab, or Native American Indian peers. In addition, we were all mostly Christian with a minority of Jewish competitors. I do not recall ever meeting a Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Buddhist dancer in those 11 years. In that decade, I met three dancers with disabilities.

The one thing about growing up in this world is that it exposed me to a societal group I had never met before: people with money. While my dad was the custodian at the school, my friend’s parents had jobs that meant they could have a pool inside their house. Through the decade we grew up as friends, I learned to get past any stereotype I had about families with money. Even my friends who lived on farms had a decent life economically.

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My parents worked multiple jobs day and evening to keep me dancing. The tuition and competition fees were sometimes paid before the mortgage and utilities. I don’t think they knew I knew that.

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My dance education story may be familiar. It was not offered in my school, at all. Even if it were, the best training at that time was in the dance studio and competition sector. In this world, we had no exposure to Modern, African, Ethno-folkloric traditions, choreography, or dance history. If we had, I doubt we would have seen the value in any of it. To be honest, I remember laughing at such dancers during a school assembly. Our criteria for good dancing mirrored the judges on the competition circuit, the same suburban competition circuit that would decades later produce “Dance Moms” and Maddie in the glorious Sia videos.

When it came time to go off to college and select a major/minor, there was no question if I would continue dancing. The question was how big of loans are we willing to take on as a family. Now in my life, I have friends of my age who I realize had a completely different dance education experience in the same America. They grew up dancing with people who looked and believed like them.

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In 2005, Jonathan Kozol wrote The Shame of the Nation, exposing the disgusting fact that America’s public schools were being re-segregated. I think this issue goes beyond the school systems. Stop and think about all the places our nation’s children are exposed to dance, get to dance, learn to appreciate dance, or are trained to dance:

  • K-12 Public Schools
  • K-12 Private Catholic/Jewish Schools and Liturgical dance programs
  • Dance Studios who participate in competitions
  • Dance Studios who do not participate in competitions
  • Community-Based Arts Organizations
  • Community projects and productions
  • Park District programs
  • Outreach programs offered by Professional Companies and Venues
  • Pre-Professional Training Institutes and Camps

Now go through that list again and think about the degree to which the children in these different settings are divided racially, ethnically, religiously, and socio-economically. Some are much more segregated than others. You may disagree, but this is how I would rate the levels of segregation:

    1. Dance Studios who participate in competitions
    2. Pre-Professional Training Institutes and Camps
    3. K-12 Private Catholic/Jewish Schools and Liturgical dance programs
    4. Dance Studios who do not participate in competitions
    5. Community-Based Arts Organizations (some are intentionally segregated in order to support specific communities)
    6. K-12 Public Schools (including arts integration, dance education, and after school)
    7. Outreach programs offered by Professional Companies and Venues (some actually leverage segregation to reach target communities)
    8. Social Practice Dance and Dance Therapy (including hospitals, shelters, et cetera)
    9. Park District and Community Center programs

Now think about the costs to the families and participants. This could include tuition, fees, transportation, time, gifts for teachers, private lessons, socializing with peers, materials and costumes. Though it is dependent on a number of factors, in general the list stays close to the same:

  1. Dance Studios who participate in competitions
  2. Pre-Professional Training Institutes and Camps (scholarships sometimes available)
  3. K-12 Private Catholic/Jewish Schools and Liturgical dance programs
  4. Dance Studios who do not participate in competitions
  5. Park District and Community Center programs
  6. Community-Based Arts Organizations
  7. K-12 Public Schools
  8. Outreach programs offered by Professional Companies and Venues
  9. Social Practice Dance and Dance Therapy

Lastly, think about ranking the list in terms of quality.

That is where the discussion starts to feel gross. Is a Khattak class less quality than a contemporary class at a competition studio? Is it better to develop technique and virtuosity, or creativity and knowledge of the art form? Do we in Dance consider some outcomes over others? Physical skill development is commonly prioritized over emotional development, which is considered more important than knowledge of the art form, which is needed more than social skills. Often we cater to what the parents want, without educating the parents on what is possible and the choices they have. Who gets access to a future in dance as students, parents, performers, choreographers, scholars, educators, teaching artists, social practice artists, administrators or audience?

And that is where I will challenge the dance community. At the end of this month, we will celebrate International Dance Day 2015. Let’s use this as a launch to work together in bold ways toward…

  • Desegregation of Our Studios
  • Diversification of Styles (think of agricultural crops as a metaphor)
  • Distribution of Access and Opportunities (scholarships, shared transportation, audition and program notices, gifting shoes and dance wear, tickets to performances)
  • Development of Appreciation for All that Dance Can Do
  • Dancing with People We Have Never Danced with Before

 

Please. Let’s do it for the next generations in dance. What little role could you play?

 

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