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

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 12.38.01 PM


  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.



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…


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.



  • 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…



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.



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.



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+. “

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 … 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?



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!” 



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.”

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

“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.”


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?

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.
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?




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:

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.

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