Thursday, February 26, 2015

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

More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 1)
More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 2) 
More to Say: Reflections on the 2015 Dance/NYC Symposium (part 3)

This morning I had a conversation about managing expectations. While I did not by any means expect the Symposium sessions to be the pinnacle of conversations on race in the dance community - mostly because that is just not how it works - I did have expectations for deeper and more engaged dialogue around what is working; a more proactive learning session amongst peers in the field. I had hoped too high.

To say that the sessions were not productive would be a lie. People connected and are talking. I am writing. Action plans are indeed in the works, but I refuse to say "yay, we did it!" just because we held the space.

In one of my conversations in preparation for the Symposium, Paloma McGregor offered the phrase "come and apprentice," while referring to institutions who want to delve into this work on race but are not trained in doing so. Over the past few years, I have observed and participated with so many dance folk who are trained in doing this work and from whom I have learned so much, that I must say to my folks at Dance/NYC, "Come and apprentice!"

As I have read and discussed critiques of Sunday's events, I keep thinking back to The Gathering, organized by Camille Brown during APAP in January. I was enamored with the inaugural session in 2014, but the 2015 iteration proved to be an even more powerful example of modeling the change we wish to see in our dance field. Its format offered a useful framework for what the Symposium attempted to do.

Onye Ozuzu, Chair of Columbia College Chicago's Dance Center, facilitated the event using her work the "technology of the circle" (which I first encountered last year at the Dancing Diaspora conference). With it, we who were participating re-imagined that same Gibney theater space and built community within it. Whereas the Symposium space was divisive, The Gathering space was connected and fluid.

Dance/NYC Symposium, "Making Change: Artist Voices." photo courtesy Dance/NYC
The Gathering.

It started simply by greeting -- every one in the space introduced themselves and had an exchange with three different persons in the room with whom they were not acquainted. Over the course of the following two or more hours, Ozuzu guided us through building a score of dialogue and movement, and even time outs to process what was happening with that dialogue and movement, regarding whatever we felt we needed to express in that moment on support for Black women dance artists.

Onye Ozuzu, center, facilitating the circle.
What was so incredibly affirming and productive about the space was that it was full of permission. It was open for us to move and do what we needed to in order to take care of bodies --  even if that meant laying on the floor, sitting, standing, going to get water or food. There was equity in the space - every person had opportunity to become the center of the circle, and the story of the college student was just as important and worth while as the story of the "stars" in the room. There was equity in terms of ways to express oneself, whether you wanted to talk or dance your story, whether you wanted a lead or supporting role. There was room to listen for understanding, to challenge and question, to teach and lead, to be vulnerable and cry, to care for and hug. Watch the livestream here.

I keep thinking back to that event because I thought it was such an excellent case where the form and content - the choreography, if you will - of dealing with race in our dance community and building toward justice compelled participants to do just that right there in the space. Together, we built a functional learning community that made space for wherever each person was in knowledge, body and feeling.

I know both audience members and panelists at the Symposium wanted to talk practical solutions, but what became quickly apparent was that we could not get to those practical solutions and peer learning because we had not organized the space for it; thus the conversation could only go but so far. Eva Yaa Asantewaa writes,
Off in the far distance, sheets of paper covered the theater's wall of mirrors, but few people accepted the many invitations to take markers and share their evolving thoughts and feelings. It seemed a little awkward to get up from your seat and cross in front of the panel to reach the paper.
The act of going to the wall to write needed to be built into the score of the program, instead of an addendum.

In the panel previous to the one I sat on, Carlton Turner said that not all artists have to create work explicitly about social justice issues, but they can work in a way that perpetuates justice.  I want Dance/NYC and Dance/USA staff, boards and committees to make it their business to offer support to dance happenings such as The Gathering by showing up, listening, and learning in order to apprentice ways of working that perpetuate justice.

This is something I am thinking of constantly in my own work -- Am I working in a way that perpetuates justice? Am I working in a way that builds with and mutually serves the people with whom I work, particularly my fellow dancers and collaborators? When we work together, do they have a sense of their own power? Am I helping them develop their leadership skills? Am I really listening? Like, really listening? When is it appropriate for me to take up space, and when is it appropriate for me to make room for others? Is the mode in which we are making the work, supporting the message we want to communicate?

I offer these questions, if you are not already thinking about them, because I think they are crucial to addressing racism not only in the dance field, but as it cuts in all aspects of our lives.

This week I have learned to be more realistic about my expectations in relationship to whom I am working with on issues of race. Even more, I am learning what my boundaries are in terms of my labor and energy. I want to keep this conversation going, but for right now I need to ask -- Who got next?


Carlton Bush said...

Part 4 Nails it!
Advise Lane to schedule more Forums on the issue. And then you and Camille should Take Charge and RUN them.
Become the Change You Wish to See in the Workd, Grrl! Run the Workd, even if it is one expertly choreographed step at the time.

Sydnie Mosley said...

Thanks Carlton for your vote of confidence; however, it is not my goal to take charge and run all the forums on race and dance, or even to encourage Dance/NYC to schedule more forums. Rather, I am advocating for all involved in the organization to take a step back and learn from those in the field who are already doing the work.

Tamara Greenfield said...

I just want to say how much I admire this series of posts. They are thoughtful, honest, and nuanced. I also want to give you credit for the amount of transformation and change that you have helped to instigate. I had a similar response to the census (this doesn't look like the dance community in NYC I've seen!) and have attended previous Dance/NYC symposiums (where are the young people, the people of color, the dancers?). This year was a 360 degree change.

There is always more to do, but certainly you and the rest of the Jr. Committee and Dance/NYC leadership should be applauded for how far you have moved in even one year. Think of how much farther you can get next year!

Thank you for all of your leadership and for be willing to pay a tax that shouldn't exist but does.
much admiration,

SLMDances said...


Thank you for your kind words. They are an affirmation that it was necessary to write after my experience. Thank you for also being a leader in doing work that is accountable to your communities. We've all got more work to do, so let's get to it!
Mutual admiration,

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