I was thrilled to join the Dance Exchange in my neck of the woods—they were in Milwaukee for the Thr!ve Symposium, a national youth arts education conference at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. From October 14-16, arts educators, community leaders and funders from across the country gathered to share ideas and find solutions for an endangered youth arts education field facing a difficult economy. “How do we not only survive, but also thrive in today’s world?” they asked. Keynote speakers Liz Lerman, Aaron P. Dworkin and Peter Buffett, as well as symposium participants, offered their responses.
With the help of Dance Exchange artists, Lerman led three workshops that focused on collaboration and culminated in a performance. Peppered into her interactive keynote were dance vignettes. As a symposium participant, I got to dance with the long-time Dance Exchange artist Thomas Dwyer, who is 76. I delighted in gasps from the audience as he carried me upside down, but I found Lerman’s ideas about false dichotomies most exciting.
Perhaps my experience with Dwyer represented one: His career has proven that dance is not just for the young. We symposium participants took the stage with the Dance Exchange and found that you don’t have to be a professional artist to create meaningful art. Similarly, Liz spoke about her experience building an arts curriculum. To her, distinctions between undergraduate and graduate students might be useful, but they’re also “permeable”—neither is better than the other, just different.
Her comments got me thinking: When you dwell on what something is not, you appreciate it less for what it is. It’s an idea about acceptance, about removing embedded value judgments. “How much more efficient our Congress would be if they took this approach!” she joked.
But seriously, what if more of us thought like this more of the time? How would we be different, both individually and collectively? And while we’re talking about false dichotomies, how can we reframe this question to account for a permeable distinction between self and society? If the two are not so mutually exclusive, does that change how we relate to each other?