Dance/NYC Creates New Conference for Foreign-Born Artists

Calpulli Mexican Dance Company. Photo by Michael Palma, courtesy of Dance/NYC

What makes a dance performance "traditional," "cultural" or "ethnic"? What if that dance or dance style is so deeply intertwined within a family or community's life, they don't see it as a "dance," a "dance form" or even as "art"?

These are questions that get raised when you put together a group of dance artists from around the world—in this case, 14 people who serve on Dance/NYC's Immigrants. Dance. Arts. Initiative task force. "We're in a deep space of inquiry as we consider the varied experience that people have as an immigrant, and the reality of safety given the current political environment," says Alejandra Duque Cifuentes, Dance/NYC's director of programming and justice initiatives. "Ultimately, the desired outcome is to add to the momentum of immigrant rights."

This month Dance/NYC's first conference for its immigrants in dance initiative is free and open to the public in Corona, Queens—one of the most diverse places in the world—in partnership with the New York City Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs and Queens Theatre. There will be two keynote speakers, panel discussions, breakout sessions, presenters and opportunities for one-to-one consultations, as well as a networking lunch and a services fair. Simultaneous translation in Spanish, Korean and Chinese will be offered.

Pelenakeke Brown and Candace Thompson of Dance/NYC's Immigrants. Dance. Arts. Initiative task force. Photo by Albin Lohr-Jones

"Having a conference that focuses on immigrant artists is powerful," says Pelenakeke Brown, a task force member and an artist, writer and performer from New Zealand. "It shows you that you can exist, that you can acclimatize, meet people, build communities and see what the landscape looks like. The visibility of what this could be for immigrants—many of whom are scared to say they are one—will be so supportive. It's huge."

Dance/NYC's immigrants in dance network—which already has 100-plus members with hardly any active marketing as of this past summer—is an online community that provides information on activity within the New York City metropolitan area.

Before Dance/NYC started the initiative, immigrant artists were part of the "underbelly of the New York City dance scene," says Candace Thompson, a task force member and founding executive director of the Caribbean Dance COLLECTIVE. "There hasn't been a public space to discuss issues, such as identifying as an immigrant or the emotional connections that comes with being an immigrant. The policies this initiative could affect...the ripple effects of what the conference stands for...could be monumental."

The conference takes place November 8, at The Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, 12 pm to 8 pm.

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