Teaching Tips

6 Ways to Bring Racial Equity Into the Dance Studio

A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.


Racial equity work is ongoing.

King began his presentation with a powerful disclaimer: "I'm not a magical negro. I don't have all the answers. I'm not going to have the answers to end racism in a two-hour webinar." Workshops like Dancewave's are important first steps, but they aren't a one-off solution.

It includes examining your own biases and blind spots.

King pointed out that, as teachers, we are the gatekeepers of knowledge and should examine the ways in which we've been complicit with systemic racism. It can be as simple as taking notice of who you're inclined to call on in class or as complicated as uprooting deep-seated organizational structures that promote inequity.

King urged educators to take a close look at who their organization has centered and who it has othered. Even something like language can be a barrier: He used the word "elite" as an example of a word that could be potentially exclusionary.

It requires continuous self-education.

Dance educators should also invest in their own personal anti-racism education. "Pursue learning opportunities. Seek new ideas that check your biases. Get out of an echo chamber," said King.

In addition to attending events like Dancewave's webinar, familiarize yourself with books such as How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi, or Nyama McCarthy-Brown's Dance Pedagogy for a Diverse World. King also recommended the following Instagram accounts: @sonyareneetaylor, @rachel.cargle, @browngirlcurator, @atabey.rev, @therealrynnstar, @thenapministry and @theconsciouskid.

It can be collaborative.

Having the opportunity to divide up in breakout rooms and connect with other workshop participants demonstrated that sometimes getting out of your echo chamber can mean simply talking to your fellow colleagues or even your students.

King suggested getting students involved in equity work by giving them a project that addresses a class, student or school need. If you choose to delve into sensitive territory with students, make sure there are support mechanisms in place for them.

It can be an embodied experience.

Dancewave's workshop included movement activities, which provided an additional layer of fun and embodied understanding. To warm up, we had to respond to an action command, such as "jump," with its opposite action, such as "crouch." This exercise in challenging assumptions was surprisingly difficult, and would be great for K–12 students.

Later, we reconnected with our breakout groups to create short movement phrases based on implicit bias. The activity provided a visual component to a heady concept and inspired both an individual deep dive into our personal biases and a collaboration to create our final dance.

It should be specific to your students.

King encouraged educators to take a step back, look at how your students learn, and analyze whether what you're bringing is actually relevant to them. For example, if the majority of your students' only dance experience is with cultural social dances, consider inviting them to teach those dances to one another in groups rather than jumping right into pliés and tendus. King also encouraged giving students ownership of the class by inviting dialogue and investigation.

"Consider your curriculum, the artists you bring into the spaces and the leadership opportunities you bring to your students," he said. "Are you bringing in people who look like the students you're teaching or share their background? Be intentional about that."

Teachers Trending
Cynthia Oliver in her office. Photo by Natalie Fiol

When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

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News
Clockwise from top left: Courtesy Ford Foundation; Christian Peacock; Nathan James, Courtesy Gibson; David Gonsier, courtesy Marshall; Bill Zemanek, courtesy King; Josefina Santos, courtesy Brown; Jayme Thornton; Ian Douglas, courtesy American Realness

Since 1954, the Dance Magazine Awards have celebrated the living legends of our field—from Martha Graham to Misty Copeland to Alvin Ailey to Gene Kelly.

This year is no different. But for the first time ever, the Dance Magazine Awards will be presented virtually—which is good news for aspiring dancers (and their teachers!) everywhere. (Plus, there's a special student rate of $25.)

The Dance Magazine Awards aren't just a celebration of the people who shape the dance field—they're a unique educational opportunity and a chance for dancers to see their idols up close.


Here's why your dancers (and you!) should tune in:

They'll see dance history in the making.

Carlos Acosta. Debbie Allen. Camille A. Brown. Laurieann Gibson. Alonzo King.

If you haven't already taught your students about these esteemed awardees, odds are you'll be adding them to your curriculum before long.

Not only will your students get to hear from each of them at a pivotal moment in their careers (and Dance Magazine Awards acceptance speeches are famously chock-full of inspiration), they'll also hear from presenters like William Forsythe and Theresa Ruth Howard.

This year, all the Dance Magazine Awards are going to Black artists, as a step towards repairing the history of honoring primarily white artists.

And meet tomorrow's dance legends.

Dance Magazine's Harkness Promise Awards, this year going to Kyle Marshall and Marjani Forté-Saunders, offer funding, rehearsal space and mentorship to innovative young choreographers in their first decade of presenting work—a powerful reminder to your students that major success in the dance world doesn't happen overnight.

They'll get a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes.

Solely teaching your students how to be a great dancer doesn't give them the full picture. A complete dance education produces artists who are savvy about what happens behind the scenes, too.

In 2018, Dance Media launched the Chairman's Award to honor those behind-the-scenes leaders who keep our field moving. Each year's recipient is chosen by our CEO, Frederic M. Seegal. This year's award goes to Ford Foundation president Darren Walker, who is using philanthropy to make the performing arts—and the world at large—more just.

And, of course, see dozens of great dance works.

Where else could your students see selections from Alonzo King's contemporary ballet classics next to Camille A. Brown's boundary-pushing dance theater works? Or see both Carlos Acosta and Laurieann Gibson in action in the same evening? Excerpts from the awardees' works will show your students what it is exactly that makes these artists so special.

So gather your class (virtually!) and join us next Monday, December 7, at 6 pm. To receive the special student rate, please email dmawards@dancemedia.com.

See you there!

Leap! Executive Director Drew Vamosi (Courtesy Leap!)

Since its inaugural season in 2012, Leap! National Dance Competition has been all about the little things.

"I wanted to have a 'boutique' competition. One where we went out to only one city every weekend, so I could be there myself, and we could really get to know the teachers and watch their kids progress from year to year," says Leap! executive director Drew Vamosi. According to Vamosi, thoughtful details make all the difference, especially during a global pandemic that's thrown many dancers' typical comp-season schedules for a loop. That's why Leap! prides itself on features like its professional-quality set design, as well as its one-of-a-kind leaping competition, where dancers can show off their best tricks for special cash and merchandise prizes.

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