Category: The “Other” Category (Page 1 of 3)

Why You Shouldn’t Do An “Insane” Dance for Halloween

I believe that today’s dance educators and choreographers should never do a “crazy/insane” dance number, even though it’s a common practice around Halloween and all-season-long on the competition circuit. I said it. Note, I’m not saying that mental illness should never be a central theme, driving idea or research material; I’m just saying that, as an industry, our usage of “crazy/insane” as a costume or character needs to stop. Articles on this topic go way back, even before the 2011 controversy of the Robert Morris University students pictured above.

When I posted this opinion today in an online group for dance educators, a majority of the nearly 200 comments were counter to my argument. If I distilled the virtual eye rolls, name-calling and comments from those who annoyed or angered by my post, I would say their accusations against my thinking fell into four categories:

    1. Infringing on artists’ First Amendment rights 
    2. Oversensitivity to a non-issue
    3. Ruining people’s good fun
    4. Wanting boring and bland choreography

So here are my counter arguments.

Every American has a right to free speech as long as it is not inciting violence. Violence comes in the three forms: direct, systems/institutional, and cultural. By perpetuating stereotypes and misrepresentations, artists often contribute to cultural violence without realizing it.

Even if we dismissed all that, we as educators have deeper responsibilities. For me, student education is paramount. I want my students to know and trust their diverse neighbors. I wish for them to have a balance between strong confidence and strong empathy (please note that I did not say sympathy). When our students are more aware and knowledgable than we are, that’s a huge sign of success. I love when they school us on issues.

It is important that we in this role of educating the next generation of artists and audiences keep trying to do better, be better. We must keep working toward cultural equity and allowing space for our students to be themselves publicly without fear or stigma. If they are trans or gay or have a mental illness, they should never feel shame. If my students ever performed a human stereotype or misrepresentation, they would embody that stereotype or misrepresentation. I know this because I experienced this myself when I decided to be “homeless” for Halloween as a kid or when my own dance teacher had me portray “African.” It’s difficult to get past the negative perceptions and stigmas we were raised with.

So if a student or artist wants to portray something fictional onstage or for a holiday (not a real person or event), I’m thinking there’s two choices: pick a non-human/fantasy/sci-fi costume or opt for an occupation (never an ethnicity, nationality, tribe or race). This is especially important when there’s not the time or need to an in-depth character exploration — like Halloween, and short dance numbers, and short dance numbers on Halloween. Imagine if we flipped the script on the characteristics often associated with our common costumes?
Police Officer portrayed as scary.
Firefighter portrayed as goofy.
An individual experiencing homelessness (not “hobo”) portrayed as a hero.
A person with mental illness (not “crazy/insane”) portrayed as courageous.

There’s a reason we don’t have a dancer without physical disability in a wheelchair onstage acting “scary.” It’s only mental disability that we treat this way. It’s not good and it’s easy to stop.

Never was I offended. Rather, I was disappointed. What others perceive as my oversensitivity might be awareness. I’m always looking for how we can improve. I know our sector can do better. It’s too important; we have no excuses. There’s plenty of fun to be had without perpetuating misrepresentations of our fellow humans.

Lastly, on being boring, I firmly argue back. Those who know me know my adventurous spirit. Always pushing against the cliche and the status quo. Ever an advocate for complex, thought-provoking, impact-making choreography and dance programming. We should hold ourselves to high standards. We are way too creative to be limiting ourselves to stereotypes.

How Can We Get From #IDidntReport to Critical Social Change?

10 reasons why #Ididntreport:

  1. I didn’t know that my detailed memories, in and of themselves, could be evidence. I didn’t know about the “level of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the brain” and that “the neurotransmitter encodes memories into the hippocampus so that trauma-related experience is locked there, so other memories just drift.” Thank you, Dr. Ford.
  2. None of my friends knew that I had gone to a bar alone that night. And he had also been alone, a tourist in town for the weekend. No one really saw us.
  3. I was mortified and alone.
  4. For months after the assault — as I kept returning to his Facebook page and saw that profile picture of him obnoxiously eating a hoagie — I was overwhelmed by the disgust I felt by his existence and the memories of that night. I wanted those memories to go away. I wanted to recover. He and I had never exchanged phone numbers and he never tried to contact me in any way, so I simply deleted and blocked him online.
  5. After several years, I couldn’t even remember his name or when exactly this happened — but I never forgot the location of that hotel on Surf St. and the circumstances that led me there from Friar Tuck’s bar, me trying to impress him, his take-charge demeanor, a sense of paralysis from his weight on my back combined with my own inebriation, me desperately trying to find pockets of air inside the folds the pillow,  me distinctively saying “no” while he did his thing, the moment I realized what had just happened to me, the design pattern of the bathroom tile as I crouched and cried as quietly as I could, and the amber light from the street lights as I walked myself all the way home in gold high heels because I didn’t want to see anyone, not even a taxi driver.
  6. I had a feeling he would wake up and not consider any of it a crime at all. Perhaps this was just the type of sex he enjoyed and mistakenly thought I did too. Maybe my “no” hadn’t have been loud enough; if I had been too quiet, would that have made it consensual? Was it rape if I had gotten myself willingly into that bed? Did it matter how many times or how deeply he assaulted me during the incident? I thought the police wouldn’t even consider this case. Honestly, I didn’t even think about the police for at least a year.
  7. I didn’t understand that my drunkenness, flirtatiousness and short dress were not equal to his inability to hear my “no” or read my lack of consent in the moment. 
  8. I thought, “That’s what you get for putting yourself in that position, Shawn Lent. Stupid girl. Lesson learned. Never again will a man do that to you. Gain strength. Move on.”
  9. I had no idea that there was a National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673 and online chat service, as well as local service organizations for rape and sexual assault survivors. 
  10. I felt deep shame in the idea that he would go back to Florida, advance in his military career, and attack more women — and that I had done nothing to prevent that all from happening.


From my failures, I hope other survivors can learn. I hope they flourish. I hope that the next generation is empowered and knowledgable.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted (meaning any nonconsensual sexual act), raped or sexually harassed, I urge you to do the following. 

  1. Record your detailed memories. Collect any evidence that you have. 
  2. Ask witnesses to record their testimonies and collect their contact information.
  3. Remind yourself that you’re going to be okay. You’re not alone. #MeToo, remember?
  4. Seek protection immediately if you need it. Seek medical help immediately if you need it. Seek therapy if you need it.
  5. Reflect on your good memories. Life is, overall, goodness.
  6. Read up on the laws regarding consent.
  7. Remember that your behavior didn’t cause this.
  8. Remember that you didn’t deserve this.
  9. Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673, use their online chat service, and/or reach out to a local service organizations for rape and sexual assault survivors.
  10. REPORT to family, friends, police and/or any appropriate authority. 

This Judge Kavanaugh hearing is an awful episode in our country’s history. It’s painfully so. But from pain, maybe we can create collective social change. Sexual assault is inexcusable. Sexual assault is criminal. Sexual assault is happening, a lot, and has been happening for centuries, across class and industry. Continued, rampant sexual assault in our midst is unacceptable. No one gets a pass.

We must educate potential perpetrators; they must understand what sexual assault is in order to prevent it. Our awareness of one another must grow. Our attunement to one another must be strengthened. We must build our consent literacies and stop hurting one another for sexual pleasure, for power. And we must hold all these folks accountable.  Toxic masculinity and rape culture be damned.

More than ever before, I understand the capacity of an upswell of loud survivors. We are amazing, especially together. Let’s do this.

How Can the Debate Still Be Out On Kids Wearing Ethnicities As Costumes?

It was near Purim, so I recently allowed my younger dance students to dress-up for class; they were allowed to bypass the usual ballet uniform and wear anything they like. For fun. My first class of the day was students ages 3-5, all girls. They came dressed as Elsa, Jasmine, Cinderella, queens, lady bugs, rainbows, etc. Two wonderful sisters from a wonderful family walked in with brown tutus, headdresses and face paint; the girls stood up in front of the class and told me and their peers that they were “Indians.”

My colleague turned to me later and whispered, “Please tell me they were dressed as turkeys.”

In this situation, I didn’t know what to do. For me, dressing as Jasmine was far different that dressing as an Arab woman. Dressing up as Elsa is different than dressing up as a white woman. Dressing up as Princess Shuri of Wakanda is different than dressing up as an African woman. Dressing as Pocahontas would have been different than dressing as a Native American or even an Algonquin woman. This situation in preschool dance class seemed innocent enough, as many of the families are from a very insular community. But this class is at a very diverse studio; while I was certain the kids in question were not of Native American heritage, I was less certain that no other students were. These little girls had the costume of a race/culture, not a character, which is a definite no-go for me. Perhaps this could have been a teaching moment but I decided to do nothing at the time.

Instead, I later went to an online group of dance educators for some advice. I asked how have they handled similar situations of cultural inappropriateness and appropriation. I was shocked and overwhelmed by the vast majority of the group strongly saying I was wrong and that it’s important for children to explore cultures and to express their appreciation.

My thoughts flashed back to when I grew up in dance during the 1980s and 90s. My friends had a number called Cherokee Maiden that included a sequined, fringe dress with headdress, and shuffles accompanied by the cartoonish hand-over-mouth war cry gesture. All dancers were white and — although we all lived in small towns with Native American names such as Chesaning and Saginaw — if any of us had Native American heritage whatsoever, it went undiscussed. I remembered feeling grateful that I was never asked to dance such a grossly inappropriate routine. Yet when I was a junior in high school, we did a dance called Africa where I had the lead role. We wore animal print unitards and I had an Afro wig while lip synching to Guns n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” I won’t even describe the choreography. We dancers were all white and I never stopped to question this once. So yeah, awareness is important.

The good news is that society has progressed. We have come a long way from the encyclopedic presentations of Ruth St. Denis in the early 20th Century. And four years ago John Oliver asked “How Is This Still a Thing?” about dressing up as other races. The Halloween and dance costume companies are slowly evolving.

Costumes currently sold by Dansco, similar to many other costume companies.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of examples where cultural appropriation is still widely accepted and embraced. The most obvious example for me is the Shriners (which I wrote about previously), an Arab-themed Western fraternity with few to no Arab members, and with no real intention or interest in learning the actual cultural or religious practices of any Arab peoples. They proudly wear the fez with a crescent emblem, often accompanied by bellydancers in parades. Shriners are generally older, white gentlemen who say “As-salāmu ʿalaykum” to one another as if it their own sort of secret password. The fraternity was founded as the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.) in 1870. 

Also in the year 1870, the opera Aida premiered. La Bayadère came out just a few years later. The ethnic/racial depictions written into many of the characters, costumes, and choreography are highly questionable. While I was living and teaching in Egypt in 2014, I worked to convince the Cairo Opera to stop wearing Blackface and doing cartoonishly stereotyped movements during their productions of these ballets, but I was forcibly dismissed. The director gave me a mighty amount of pushback founded, his stance mostly in traditional practices of the performing arts.

Coming back to the US, I encountered similar concerns. Nutcracker, with its problematic second act in the Land of Sweets and Stereotypes, was written in 1892 and has been embraced as the right of passage for any budding ballet dancer, of any race. Nearly every young dancer portrays an Arab, Asian, Russian, or Spanish person during their training. 

Nutcracker is a keystone. Just a year following the first Nutcracker was the World’s Columbian Exposition (world’s fair) held in Chicago. This event brought Orientalism and “culture on display” to new peaks. The World Fair/Universal Exposition continues to this day — every five years — but nowadays the focus is much more on trade and cultural exchange, learning about one another. I was honored to attend the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy as a guest of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and found it fascinating. In 2020 the World Fair will be in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. 

If the World’s Fair can evolve, can dance and musical theater education as well? Can our predominantly white school perform West Side Story or Aladdin? What about Fiddler? What about learning and performing a Hoop dance from one of our peers when only one student is from that tribe? What about offstage; does a non-Indian wear a Sari to an Indian wedding? So many questions arise.

For me, after much debate and discussion, I’ve come up with five elements that must be at play if you are going to have children exploring cultures through arts education in these days and times.

  1. An invitation. If you weren’t invited, there must at least be a context of reciprocity, sharing and learning. An attempt to collaborate within a balanced power dynamic.
  2. An aim toward accuracy, learning from someone of that lived experience not just genetic heritage. 
  3. An attention to the details of a specific cultural practice or a person/character with a complex and unique history and experience. Never a cartoonish stereotype of a nation, religion, race or ethnicity. Never trying to replicate a skin tone. 
  4. An awareness of the communities and peoples of these cultures, both in the past and (more importantly) the present, both internationally and in your neighborhood. With the internet, we can communicate and share with people of different geographies and cultures.
  5. The intention of respect. No culture stealing or profiting off the other. No student being type-cast for their own cultural heritage. No demeaning of a culture or peoples.

What are your thoughts? Should we even still be talking about this?

Dear 2017

Dear 2017,

This weekend you will take your very first breaths. On your first day, I will slow and sit down, hold you to my chest, and wait until my breathing is synched perfectly with yours. 

You are born innocent, but much damage was done by 2016. You, sweet one, are born addicted to self-righteousness. Although we acknowledge this has become dangerously oppositional, it is hard to stop because it is generally well-intentioned. Your withdrawals from self-righteousness will be devastating to witness. You may tremor, seizure, vomit, cry. Perhaps we will have a Hindu mundan ceremony as it is meant “to rid the baby of negativity from their past life and cleanse the child’s body and soul” and we will pierce your ears to ward off evil. Some people will “baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” and others will whisper the adhan in your right ear as the first words you hear. Your Shinto parents will take you to your family shrine for the miyamairi, asking for your protection.  Your Sikh parents will celebrate you and read from Guru Granth Sahib. There will be fireworks.

Then you and I will both get to work. Your responsibility is to take all 7.4 billion of us living humans and countless ancestors, animals and sacred plants on a cruise around the sun and back again. So galactic. And you only have 365 days (your entire, beautiful lifetime) to do this. 

As we travel, some will ask that you bring them prosperity or at least the opportunity to pursue it. Many will need health or miracles at a bargain price.  Some will need comfort in their grief, shame, terror or violation. Some will beg for an end to wars while also struggling for important victory beyond generations. Some will be passionate for themselves and their own family, others will begin their goodwill with strangers beyond borders.

You should know that in 2016, prosperity and progress were at each other’s throats. When differing human quests conflict with one another, let you be the year we master collaboration; together, may we enjoy some of the good life while also dismantling violence in its many forms. That harm is sometimes hard to see and includes “physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural or spiritual behavior, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates or destroys others and ourselves.” You will learn that many of your predecessors have been sickeningly cruel in their biases, greed and injustices. We have hope in your potential to right those wrongs. bring rights and dignity to all people no matter their race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender identity, physical or mental ability, or age. You and I can look to 1865, 1919, 1965, 1973, 2015, among others as inspiration for social progress. They did some good work in their time.

As a parent I am excited to teach you to walk, then run, then dance, and maybe revolt, but your first steps will be steps of simple greeting. Your feet will meet the ground for the first time. Hello, forsa saida, nice to meet you. You don’t have time to be timid or naive, yet as your Jain family will be teaching you, harmlessness is the path to happiness and liberation.

Welcome to the world, 2017. Let’s lean into today and tomorrow’s principals of Kwanzaa (Nia: purpose, Kuumba: creativity) and do some good.


With the hope and resilience of a General Organa,




Photo: Flckr user, Derrick Lee





Artist/Nasty Woman Meets Artist/Trump Voter

I was struggling to breathe. Wherein I had been worried for months that Trump would find a sneaky way to win, I had been reassured it was impossible. I had spent the day in a pantsuit applauding Hillary Rodham Clinton’s great assets and potential. And here I was on my couch witnessing a presidential ticket which had attacked 14937220_10154462979591084_4707175039355721611_nthe truths I hold to be self-evident winning more electoral votes than the more qualified candidate with more policies of equity and respect, the more experienced public servant, the country’s would-be first female Commander in Chief. Finally!

The unthinkable was happening, and my dear home of Michigan held the future in its grip. All this “grab them by the [email protected]” talk had been triggering some trauma in me as one of this country’s mass of sexual assault survivors, plus the Trump/Pence policy proposals were directly threatening my family and close friends; then to have this vile, misogynistic man being declared a winner in my home state was particularly sickening.

My understanding of the values of this country was being violated and I felt it gradually ripping under my skin.


Maybe all was not lost. Could there be a rain delay with a 10th inning rally like our Chicago Cubs? Come on. Something. Virginia!! Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.


Then he won.

The pain hit as hard as the shock.


That was followed by despair, followed by denial and confusion. Then shame.


It was hard and continued through the night.


I wasn’t alone.


We weren’t going to stand for it. Yes, democracy is glorious and the electoral college was the agreed measure going into the election, but I was not claiming that a president whose policies, rhetoric and behavior are so unAmerican represents me. He (now) questions climate change, has threatened to dismantle the National Endowment of the Arts and discredits the value of the arts, disrespects entire groups of the population, and he and his running mate have advocated for measures that are nearly state-sanctioned oppression. In addition, he is an adulterer, not paid taxes to some level, had his wives and nannies raise the kids, and has led an ostentatious life of privilege and self-interest. I cannot even fully list all of his actions, statement and policy proposals that disgust me. His voters seemed to be okay with all that. A vote for Trump was a vote condoning racism, sexism, nativism, and more. A vote for Trump was prioritizing jobs over rights, a government shake-up over human decency, bridges over bodies.  I was fuming.

Then I was stopped cold. Two days into petitioning and questioning and trying to reach out to those who caused this devastating result, I received a heartfelt, thought-out message. It was from a good friend who is both an artist and a woman, in a major US city, revealing herself to be a Trump voter and explaining why. 

“Six months ago I never thought I would vote for him. But in the end, I did. I believe in human rights and equality for all. As an artist, I dance because I believe the arts unite us and remind us of our humanity. I think art has the singular ability to bring peace, to remind anyone and everyone of our capacity to feel, empathize, and love. I cannot admit to my artist friends I voted for Trump because I have no doubt it would hurt my career.

“I am an Independent voter. I strongly dislike the two party system. Initially, I was appalled by the two choices, believing Trump and Hillary to be two sides of the same coin, but as I dug deep and did my research, and most importantly stopped trusting the mainstream media, and started going to the source of any and every statement, particularly reading things in their original context, I decided to vote for Trump. I also learned earlier this year about the federal govt. vs state governments and was shocked at how little I actually knew about which had power in various circumstances,… particularly in education.

“Unfortunately, there are extremists who also support Trump, the KKK being the prime example; though Trump did not want the endorsement (he also did not dismiss it entirely). I think it’s a good thing that we are seeing that these terrible views still exist. But I wonder how much of the racism and violence–violence on both sides– is the result of frustration and a human reaction to hate the other for problems beyond any one group’s control. I am appalled by the tribalism that has taken a hold of the country–aren’t we all Americans?

“Yes, I realize that many people are afraid of Trump because they fear they will lose their rights–I am not ignorant of that. I hope Americans, Trump and Hillary supporters and everyone in between, do as Bernie said–support Trump in his policies that support the middle class, and call him out when he tries to do anything that would hurt minorities/women/immigrants or the environment. We have 3 branches of government for a reason, so that one single person cannot make drastic changes to this country.

“No matter who had won, the country would have remained divided, and I hope we can all work together as Americans to build a stronger America. The U.S. has never been a perfect country, I am not looking to a past that was supposedly “great,” I look toward a future where we all work together to right the wrongs in this country, where we look at all people as human beings, where we recognize difference but do not judge because of difference, an America where neither class nor ethnicity nor sexual orientation nor sex limit us in any way.  If we’re too busy hating the other, or telling them they’re wrong and ignorant and don’t know what’s best for them, we cannot work together to find solutions that work.”

I was surprised and humbled, and I’m still trying to hear her out. Simultaneously, I told her President-elect Trump and VP-elect Pence must denounce the hate crimes being committed in their name and restore confidence that they will uphold the 1st and 14th Amendments.

She agreed.

Then I reminded myself that our Constitution and our government are on our side. Today the Obama White House has put out a list of available federal resources for reporting hate crimes, bullying and harassment of students, and threats against houses of worship. Use these if needed, my friends. No matter who you voted for. And send some donations to Planned Parenthood or social justice organization while you’re at it.



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


How to Become a Socially-Engaged Dance Artist

Since writing Am I a Dancer Who Gave Up? three years ago, I have been floored and humbled by the flow of messages I continue to receive from around the world, from age 12 to 62. The most common responders are current or recently graduated undergrads; their most common inquiry is How do I start a career in this? Where do I begin? I never knew how to best address this, skirting the question. I chose to merely list resources and opportunities while sometimes helping people connect to others in the field.

Well, I had a slight change of heart. I should do more to help, and I plan to in the future. In the meantime, this post is finally a more direct answer to the question of career path, while also encouraging individuals to find their own path. Thus, this is an ode to the crooked path.


In this exploration, I will present two stories as case studies: that of David Alan Harris and that of myself. David is someone I admire greatly; I am mighty humbled by his participation in this post. Each of us will provide a bulletin list of our major influences, turning points, and leaps of faith in our careers. Hopefully by recalling our two journeys, the capacities and connections needed for this work can start to be revealed.



David Alan HarrisMA, BC-DMT, LCAT, LPC, NCC, Co-Editor, American Journal of Dance Therapy, Adjunct faculty, Antioch University New England, Dept. of Applied Psychology


Brunswick, Maine



 B.A. in Fine Arts, Earlham College, Richmond IN.

 M.A. in Performance Studies, New York University.

 Started dancing seriously in New York after finishing my first master’s degree. Performed with Meredith Monk, Stephen Petronio, John Bernd, Tim Miller, Yoshiko Chuma and the School of Hard Knocks, Johanna Boyce, RoseAnne Spradlin, etc. Studied release-based dance techniques through Movement Research, etc.

 Career as downtown choreographer in NYC: 1983-1998. Facilitated choreography workshops through The Field.

 Made a living working for social justice and human rights agencies, primarily as a writer and organizer: Human Rights Watch, National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, American Friends Service Committee, Lambda Legal Defense, Doctors of the World/USA (1985-2000). Traveled to Haiti on 2 human rights missions. Trained with Peace Brigades International.

 In 1998, had the idea of integrating disparate aspects of my life (i.e., social justice/human rights and dance) by becoming a dance/movement therapist to work with survivors of serious human rights abuse.

 M.A. in Creative Arts in Therapy (with specialization in Dance/Movement Therapy, DMT), Drexel University, Philadelphia. Thesis included a comprehensive review of literature on arts interventions with children affected by war and organized violence (for period 1975-2000).

 While a Drexel student, interned at Rocky Mountain Survivors Center (RMSC, a torture rehabilitation agency in Denver), and developed and ran the Dinka Initiative to Empower and Restore (or DIER, which is the Dinka word for dance), which served 70+ refugee minors from the South Sudan resettled in southeastern Pennsylvania.

 Worked as therapist with torture survivors at programs in Colorado and Maine, funded through federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

 Managed a district-wide torture rehabilitation and human rights education program in remote Kailahun District, Sierra Leone, 2005-06. Supervised over 100 trauma therapy groups and trained staff in both Sierra Leone and Liberia to apply DMT approaches to community healing initiatives. Ran the world’s first DMT group for (former) child soldiers, in Sierra Leone.

 The success of the ex-child soldiers group led to it receiving an international human rights award, the Freedom to Create—Youth Prize for 2009. I accepted invitations to speak on five continents, teaching dance and DMT approaches to trauma healing at 18 universities and at various NGOs. The U.S. State Dept. awarded me a grant to conduct trainings for civil society organizations in Harare, Zimbabwe, in the midst of a brutal political crackdown.

 Accepted several invitations to write for both trade and academic publications about DMT in trauma healing.


What We Can Do to Help Syria


Shawn LentProgram Director for Chicago Dancemakers Forum, Social Practice Dance Manager (freelance) in Chicago, IL, Independent Contractor at SUNY Purchase, Project Lead for Global Water Dances-Flint, MI, Alliance Building Team Leader and Writer for Createquity, Columnist for the Clyde Fitch Report,  Dance Educator for Performing Arts Ltd, Virtual Adviser for EducationUSA and AMIDEAST/Egypt.

 As the first and only person in my family to attend a four-year college, I earned in a B.F.A. as a Theatre (acting) Major | Dance Minor from Millikin University, Decatur, IL – Strong educational foundation in the liberal arts.

 Internship at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Development department, showing natural competencies in spreadsheets and data management

 Full-time position at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Development department w/ training and experience in events and database management

 Joined a church in order to learn to read music (by playing in the bell choir), enjoy weekly free meals, and to have access to some fellowship in the Berkshires, where there were few people my age. Excelled in the evangelical committee and converted two friends at a local donut shop.

 Taking up an opportunity through my church to volunteering in a majority-Muslim, immigrant neighborhood on the east end of London, UK. My second day there was 9/11 and I first started exploring ways to connect youth work, social work, the arts, mission ethos, and interreligious dialogue. Became more agnostic and spiritual in the process.

 Post-Graduate Professional Certificate in Youth Arts Development from Goldsmith’s College in London

 M.A.M. (Master of Arts Management) at Columbia College Chicago (thanks to a fellowship I had to apply three times for) – Internship at About Face Youth Theatre running a program for homeless LGBTQ teens.

 6 years of program management experience in arts integration in Chicago Public Schools

 Deciding to just go for it and apply to two major international fellowships for young leaders. Was accepted surprisingly, and attended summits/events in 10 international cities from Baku to Belfast, introduced me to opportunities to serve as a socially-engaged dance artist in Bosnia and beyond

 Finding like-minded partners and co-teachers at Performing Arts Limited, a community-based private arts studio on Chicago’s northwest side. Worked with them to find ways to be more inclusive of religiously conservative dancers, and how to make the Nutcracker less racist.

 Having my worldview changed for the better by a wondrous little human named Donna.

 Becoming a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Egypt during an eventful year. Being welcomed into the 57357 Children’s Cancer Hospital while there in Cairo.

 Being lucky with a blog post that went viral.

 Going to a holiday party at the Fulbright Commission in Egypt and finding out that all of the applications I had sent for various jobs had landed in their spam folder. Offered a job with EducationUSA through the State Department.

 Having champions encouraging and pushing me along the way, including my husband, mother and father, Karen at University of Maryland, Laura at Millikin University, Barry at SUNY Purchase, Ginger at Chicago Dancemakers Forum, among others

 Going to a holiday fundraiser and meeting the director of the Syrian Community Network.


Careers are funny, ever-evolving things. David chose Dance Therapy which has a different level of requisites and professionalization. I, on the other hand, see social practice dance as my artform.  There are overlaps between our decisions and trajectories, but when it comes to handling liabilities and opportunities as they come up, we diverge. We both exist in the same ecosystem, but we each contribute in unique ways. Our crooked paths continue to miraculously crook.


1-minute Read: What You Can Do Right Now… As an Artist

Rough, Rough World. This hour is rocking us. Before we can help this situation, we need to do one thing. Time to get outraged, or mad, or fearful, or deeply sad. Cry like a baby. Any emotion will work as long as we each choose the healthiest option for ourselves and feel that feeling to its fullest.



Photo by Flickr user, ArtisteInconnu


#Brexit that proved isolationist bigotry can have a great impact.

#Baghdad where dancemaker Adel Euro was tragically killed.

#AltonSterling #PhilandoCastile whose murders made it evidently clear that we need to ask so much better of our treasured police force. Due process. De-escalation. Serve. Protect. Bring honor to the uniform.

#Dallas where a sniper is murdering police officers in cold blood. We need to ask so much better of our outraged friends. Due process. Golden Rule.

#Cancer that is the ever-beast of so many of our lives.


Time to do something. But where to start?




Gather and make art.

Play and swing.

Sit alone and write. Don’t worry about full sentences; those can be mighty difficult in days like these.


Donna (Miss D) taught so many of us so many lessons, but one that I try to live by (in her honor) is, “Feel your feelings fully, then move on.” This is important, my friends. Use our artforms to feel our feelings. Help our neighbors, families and fellow citizens do the same.

Only then can we move on to acts of activism, service or healing. Only then can we seek out knowledge, like these Free Downloads of arts therapy resources and the hundreds of other readings to inspire and share. Only after ‘being’ can we ‘do.’ If you want to see a spectacular example of people feeling #SayTheirNames outrage through tap dance, click here.


Test Prep, When Health is On the Line


Students around the world are facing academic exam season. While they search out strategies to deal with the anxieties of those tests, my mother and so many others are facing the anxieties of major medical tests. The parallels between the two situations are strong, yet for supporters of test-takers, one has the optimism is swimming in sadness. So for my family and anyone else out there going through a health crisis, I offer these test-taking strategies, actual language from this guide by ETS who produces the GRE and other exams. What to do your life is being tested…


Recognize the Signs of Anxiety in Your Body.

  • Tense muscles
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Faintness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling jittery or panicky
  • Racing thoughts
  • Mental blank-out
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Negative thoughts about the consequences of failure, past performance, and how everyone else is doing.

A tiny amount of anxiety isn’t bad – it’s actually helpful to be “up” when preparing for and taking a test.

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  1. Practice tension-release exercises.

    When you start to feel anxious, take a couple long, deep breaths and exhale slowly. When you feel your body tensing up, focus on a particular group of muscles (eg. the shoulders), and first contract them for 10 seconds and then let them relax.

  2. Don’t believe the rumors you hear.

    There are many myths that circulate, but they are just that–myths.

  3. Learn about the test.

    It sounds obvious enough, but a lot of people who have test anxiety deal with by avoidance. If you look at the test and start worrying, first take a deep breath and remember that worrying is not going to do any good.

  4. Make a prep calendar and stick to it.

    Have you take the necessary steps? When you have completed each task you have planned, cross it off your schedule so you experience a sense of accomplishment,

  5. Fill your time with positive thoughts and actions.

    The time to deal with negative thoughts is now. Remind yourself of all the positive things you have going for you. If I don’t pass this test, I’m a failure. replace with >>> I’m going to pass this test, but if I don’t, I can bounce back.

  6. Take care of your body and mind.

    Eat well. Sleep well. Continue to socialize with friends and family, and take breaks regularly. Try to avoid acquaintances with negative attitudes. Surround yourself with positive people.

Thank you, ETS, for that advice. I’m sure prayer and spiritual connection can also be included. In any case, great reminders when health and life decide to test us.

April Showers Remind Me of My Bill Cosby

Writing publicly is a scary thing. This is especially true of first-person narrative. Putting yourself out there. Myself, I dived into the blogging deep end.

My first real post was about being shoved face down into a pillow. Sexual assault. And this was before I had told my family or friends directly about what had happened years before. I had told a total of one single soul about it. When I first told the world of my story, shying away from the word rape, I was mighty nervous.

I wrote about my shame, my guilt, my non-reporting and the added guilt from that major lack of action. What I had done was to look him up online; I knew he was a Naval officer from Florida and a few other details. In his profile picture, he was eating a large hoagie sandwich pointed towards the camera. That hoagie I now connect loosely to Bill Cosby. I acknowledge that is odd of me to do. I still associate that hoagie with unrelenting tears.

In any case, one day years ago after stalking his profile for awhile, I intentionally let myself move on. I stopped stopping at his page cold turkey. I shut it out. Hoagie included. Even made the difficult decision to forget his name.

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). And every year since I was assaulted, I have paid close attention to April, reflecting personally and trying to grow in my own awareness and supporting others.


I should have paid more attention before my own assault, but I didn’t. Not until it happened to me. You are so right, Lady Gaga.

One’s family are often the hardest to tell. My friends who are spoken word artists and dancers have shared with me that they expressed their stories artistically and publicly before approaching the subject with those closest to them. It was the same for me. My parents first learned about this thing I was once so ashamed of by reading my blog. It turned out that several family and friends were inspired by my act to tell their own stories. I was far from alone in being a survivor, I was just the only one in the family to bring their story to a public space.


Nearly 1 in 5 women, and1 in 71 men, in the United States have experienced rape or attempted rape some time in their lives (Black et al., 2011).

Forms of sexual violence include • Rape or sexual assault • Child sexual assault and incest • Sexual assault by a person’s spouse or partner • Unwanted sexual contact/touching • Sexual harassment • Sexual exploitation and trafficking • Exposing one’s genitals or naked body to other(s) without consent • Masturbating in public • Watching someone in private acts without their knowledge or permission

Less than 2% of stories are false reports. And prevention is possible.



All of us have a role to play in preventing sexual assault. We can:

  • Intervene to stop concerning behavior
  • Promote and model healthy attitudes and relationships
  • Share our own stories openly with family and friends
  • Believe survivors and help them in finding physical, mental, social, and legal support
  • Create and strengthen policies to promote safety
  • Assess and address the risks (to ourselves and others) in our environments (homes, clubs, campus parties, religious schools and institutions, businesses, military bases, post-conflict areas, Las Vegas, SnapChat, Tinder…)
  • Educate adolescents and young adults in how to combat rape culture and unhealthy sexual behaviors
  • Hold those who harm others (including our sons, uncles, nephews, fathers, aunts, sisters) accountable
  • Ensure that they get appropriate help
  • Promote positive messages and behaviors through marketing campaigns and advertising content
  • Invest funding to make sexual violence prevention a social responsibility priority
  • Use tweets, posts, and status updates to spread the word about Tuesday, April 5th, the national day for action.
  • Visit the SAAM blog for campaign updates and prevention resources:
  • Update online profiles or websites with a SAAM background, teal ribbon, or logo.

My start to blogging was surely intense. Sharing my stories publicly has been easier ever since. Life has also been easier in some ways since lightening that particular, loaded story that I now realize had been weighing me down. Life in my own skin is now more real (once I had shed that guarded surface) and life by a partner’s side is possible now that I can connect (once I had allowed for my nerves to truly carry by lifeblood/energy in and out). I can now see how writing about sexual assault made my life better. It was one of the scariest things I have ever done, but I would never have wished I had done otherwise.

So, now is the end of March and we have the beauty of Easter, Purim, Holla Mohalla, Nowruz… but less than a week before April begins. This post is meant to give everyone a running start into making Sexual Assault Awareness Month a beautiful thing. Spring renewal. Opening up our narrative like a blossom. This April, let the showers wash away guilt, shame, fear. Share what you have to share. Share this if you agree.



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