By Zachary Whittenburg
If identifying and addressing issues of diversity in dance was easy, there might be fewer issues for us to address. If there was consensus on what successfully, sustainably diverse dance communities look like, there might be more examples available for reference. If there were no histories of experience driving feelings and opinions on diversity, navigating the present might be simpler, and planning for the future a little easier.
As I’ve said before, diversity is not absent, is not something requiring work to create. It is a fact of life, on this planet and of dance in Chicago. People, and by extension, dancers, are a diverse lot, and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future. The questions, the concerns around diversity I’ve heard, tend to focus instead on issues of representation, access to resources, critical vocabulary and response, and whether the field of dance is progressing toward greater equity, or away from it.
On March 10 at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall, Audience Architects launches its “Moving Dialogs” series with “Diversity – Then/Now.” When discussing diversity and equity in terms of the past and present, it will be important to resist polarities and binary examples, such as “black” and “white” or “us” and “them.” When discussing diversity and equity in the context of dance, it will be important to acknowledge dance-specific conditions, such as the fact that dance’s medium is the body itself and how, in body-based performance, some forms require uniformities or consistencies among the performing bodies, while others prioritize individual expression and interpretation through the form.
When words such as training, technique and fluency are on the table, anatomy and physiology come into play, and should be accepted as key factors of the status quo. Specialized dance instruction creates specific patterns of coordination in the dancer, favors distinct muscle groups, sorts of flexibility, ways of listening and seeing. Four logical responses today might be, “What is diversity, not in terms of populations, but within a single body? What is the polybrid dancing body? What does it know, and what might it be able to tell us?”
On the subjects of polybrids, “then” and “now”: Degrees of diversity are not constant; they increase and multiply. Potential market share falls in direct proportion to a proliferation of channels. If defined in sufficient detail, all populations are minorities. Therefore, it is impossible to arrive at firmly equitable representation. Discussions about diversity — in the past, present and future — must acknowledge this constant change. Chicago dance’s success or failure in addressing diversity must be assessed in terms of its status quo’s proximity to honoring current realities.
Good news lies therein, a truth that will ring a bell for folks who’ve worked in dance: It is, and forever will be, “all in the process.” We can and should free ourselves from pressure to “complete the task.”
We should instead ask ourselves the same, following questions regularly:
What is our current paradigm? What are we learning from it?
How will we apply those lessons to its next iteration?
How will we recognize opportunities to affect these changes, and hold ourselves responsible to acting on them?
As a discussion’s subtitle, “Then/Now” is only useful to the extent we remember that, inevitably, our “now” will become our next “then.” Resisting change will not postpone it and, as dancers and lovers of dance, it is our duty to address the present moment completely. Also worth remembering will be the following observation, by San Francisco choreographer Alonzo King: “What we think of as diversity in terms of appearance in human beings — height, size, age, color, sex, race — is nothing compared to creatures in the ocean, where the diversity is mind-boggling.”
Audience Architects’ Moving Dialogs series begins March 10, 2013 with “Diversity – Then/Now,” at the Old Town School of Folk Music’s Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall. The discussion, which begins at 6:30pm, is free and open to the public (RSVP here). Core participants scheduled to participate are:
Robert Battle, Artistic Director, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Sarah Dandelles, Dance Education Director, Old Town School of Folk Music
Julie Nakagawa, Artistic Director, DanceWorks Chicago
Onye Ozuzu, Chair, Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
Wilfredo Rivera, Artistic Director, Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre
Emerging Artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea
Moving Dialogs curator Baraka de Soleil will host and moderate the discussion.
Zachary Whittenburg is Manager of Communication at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
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