Thursday, February 26, 2015

More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 3)

More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 1)
More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 2)

The reason I spent the first two parts of this series framing and then publishing my remarks from Sunday is simple -- I labored to produce those remarks and be prepared for that conversation, and unfortunately those efforts were not honored in the space.

As a Junior Committee member, I (gladly) volunteer a number of hours each month toward the work of Dance/NYC; however, over the past few years because we have been interrogating race + equity on the committee, I along with other members of color have what Brittney Cooper named in her recent article for Salon, "'the black or people of color tax' — the extra, and often unacknowledged labor, time and resources we give to institutions, that our white colleagues don’t have to do and for which we are uncompensated."

Let me be clear if it is not already, this work is deeply personal, and I want to do it

So when I am asked to speak on a panel about "race + dance," I seriously do my homework. Not that I wouldn’t usually do this, but for weeks it has been an extra priority for me to attend and participate in all of the various panels, discussions, gatherings and events around the city that consider the intersections of race/diversity/equity and dance/arts/cultural work. Additionally, I have held multiple conversations with trusted friends and mentors on how to approach my participation on the panel, my remarks, and what organizing was possible in the actual space.
We came up with more ideas than I was able to put into action though -- my capacity to volunteer more hours organizing waned. I had babies to teach and choreography to create, rehearse and perform.
I ended up spending most (read: all) of the Symposium day in a quiet corner putting together my thoughts around the question posed: What is already being done to realize a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable sector? But as the day went on with my eyes glued to my laptop screen, I found myself more and more frustrated. My compensation for participating on the panel was admittance to the Symposium, but I was not actually able to take part in the multitude of sessions and the ample opportunities for networking because I spent the time preparing. 

It has already been said, but I'll say it again -- the way in which the Race and Dance series of panels were formatted and facilitated did not best serve the aims. Even though I was on the conference call and email threads to prepare for the panels, I did not feel empowered to seriously interrogate the entire format of the program, but looking back - I wish I had. But then again, that probably means I would have volunteered myself into more organizing hours, which we have already established I did not have. So you see my problem. Again, back to the eloquent Professor Cooper, "Are these not also the wages of race at play?"

In Cooper's article which explains why she will not unpack Patricia Arquette's #epicfail at the Oscars on Sunday, she writes:
Asking black women and other women of color always to explain, show and prove to white people what is so wrong about what they have said or done, when we have no guarantees that they will change, shift or grow, is unacceptable.
This thought applied to the case of the Symposium means asking the persons of color participating in the Race and Dance series of panels who are more steeped in facilitating these conversations to question and/or re-organize what has already been set up. This is particularly taxing especially because we were not originally a part of building out the series of sessions.

Unfortunately, the method in which the conversations on race and dance were organized and facilitated did not reflect the changes that we wish to see in our field, but they should have. As Eva Yaa Asantewaa describes in her review of the event on InfiniteBody, "the Gibney theater proved to be fatally formal with the audience seated in rising rows opposite panelists lined up behind a long table." I felt that formal distance, from the audience and from the three panelists opposite the moderator, even though we shared a table.

Our dance institutions are full of these divisions: ballet vs. contemporary, performer vs. audience, lack vs. abundance. But if we truly want to address racial equity we have to do more than have a conversation in the same manner that perpetuates the very systems we are attempting to critique. We need to re-imagine how these convenings come to be and who is involved in building them. We need to re-imagine the use of space and our relationship to one another in the space. And we need to be mindful of what we ask of people, be mindful of where they are and re-imagine the best ways to honor each person's efforts to be present and willing to work.

More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 4)

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