(Editor’s note: More thoughts from our 2014 Summer Institute Communications Work/Study, India Harville, on her experience at the Institute. You can read previous reflections on the Institute here and here. Stay tuned for India’s final few reflections! –Amanda Newman)
In my previous blog post, I shared about some of the presentations and interviews at the Summer Institute from the Dallas Partners. For those of you who did not read the first post, the Dallas Partners are people and organizations that have teamed up with Dance Exchange and Dallas Faces Race in a commitment to advance racial equity. Each partner offered a 15-20 minute workshop or presentation. Here are my reflections on several more of these offerings.
Jessica Tartaro is a clinical psychologist and dance instructor with a special interest in intimacy and movement. She led us through an amazing contact improv exploration in which we were encouraged to “get messy”. We explored many aspects of relationship through our physicality and through partnership with another. There were many partnerships comprised of two people who were very different from each other in age, gender, race, dance experience…any number of factors. Yet Jessica helped us to find safe ways to engage with each other. This presentation was incredibly helpful for building trust in the room and helping everyone to let their guard down. She encouraged us to let go of our need to keep the situation “pretty” and to predict what was going to happen. She encouraged us to surrender. These lessons were so valuable when paralleled with the work of moving towards racial equity – where (in my opinion) things have to get messy sometimes for us to make progress.
Monica Blossom is the producer of Ecstatic Dance, Dallas Texas and is a community ambassador. She led us through a short ecstatic dance practice. She provided an amazing soundtrack, some gentle guidance, and the space for us to really move however we felt inspired. It was amazing to witness people finding their own ways to process the week’s events through hardcore movement and dance. Though our dance was short, many people had cathartic moments, personal insights, and experienced the journey as profound. Ecstatic Dance is a wonderful modality for a mixed level dance community because everyone moves at their own pace and in their own way but there is still a shared experience. Many people even tried on the movements of others in the space. It was beautiful to compare how we were learning about movement from each other in this experience and about race from each other in the Institute experience.
Sonya Spencer is the Senior Director of Marketing and Public Information for Dallas Black Dance Theatre. She shared some lovely footage of Dallas Black Dance and posed a question around whether or not there is still a need for a “Dallas Black Dance Theatre.” A fascinating conversation ensued regarding why “Black” is in the name, why that choice was made, and the ramifications/impact of that choice. The conversation highlighted many aspects of racism: the lack of opportunities for black dancers and how subtle racism can be in the arts–specifically in the funding and perception of certain companies. Sonya’s background in journalism and marketing allowed her to give examples that illustrated her point – for example how people like to call the dancers a “troupe” instead of a “company.” The video she shared also illustrated the wonderful work Dallas Black Dance Theatre is doing in the community, so we left the presentation fully aware of the necessity and the importance of their continued work. Some participants also left with a new awareness surrounding some aspects of racism that can be very obvious for people of color but less so to others, especially those new to conversations regarding racial equity.
Each presenter gave us such a gift that enriched our overall experience and influenced our final performance pieces. I was amazed at the talent and the depth of thinking around racial equity as well as the depth of movement skills embodied in the various presentations. I appreciated how the presentations reminded me of how interdependence fosters opportunities for each of us to contribute in our area of expertise and lean on the expertise of others where we need to be edified. Stay tuned for the final blog in this three part series that covers the remaining Dallas Partner Presentations.