It’s The Floor: Why We Use Dance and the Arts in Racial Equity Work

(Editor’s Note: This is the final reflection on the Summer Institute by our Communications Work/Study, India Harville. The Dance Exchange team has so appreciated the depth of knowledge and investigation India brought to her time here during the Summer Institute, and we hope you have as well. To read more about India’s experience during the Institute, check out some of her previous posts here and here. -A.N. )

When asked what the role of art is in building allyships in working towards racial justice Roma Flowers, a Creative Partner on the Dallas Faces Race Project had this to say:

“Art is the floor. It’s the foundation. We like to say in dance – you don’t need lights, you don’t need costumes, you don’t need walls, you don’t need a ceiling, but you need a floor. Art is the floor to building our lives and everything in it. It expresses everything we go through, it expresses all of our hopes and aspirations, it expresses our history – the stuff back there. Who we are today, who we want to be. It’s the floor. That’s it.”

I love this idea because it encapsulates so much of my thinking about the importance of dance and the arts in such an artistic metaphor. During the Summer Institute, dance and the arts were our floor.  For some of us, that was a familiar orientation to life and for others, it was newer.  Many people were skeptical about the capacity of dance and art to be a strong enough foundation for us to traverse such a challenging subject as racism, but not me.

Dance is how I understand the world, myself, other people, life.  It’s where I turn when I am confused, unsure, or torn between choices. It is where I turned at the most challenging times for me during the Institute. It’s where I go when words won’t suffice to express my feelings. I dance with my biggest emotions – joy, rage, fear, grief – and somehow I soften, shift, calm. Dance makes sense when nothing else does. It is my floor.

Dance Exchange has a gift of sharing the arts and dance in a way that brings people on board with the idea that dance might be that kind of floor for them, for all of us.  In the beginning of the Summer Institute, everyone seemed so different. We all came into the work of racial justice from such different vantage points and amounts of time in the work.  Dance Exchange started imbuing us with various dance and movement tools that helped us craft our floor.  Our collective movement repertoire and toolkit became a shared language through which we could communicate our unique racial and ethnic realities–a language in which the rest of our personal identities were invited to stay in the conversation as well. It became a space to process and hold difficult things and contradiction and a space for us to feel feelings about our racial/ethnic roots and about racism.

And as Roma indicated in her comments, you don’t need a lot of other things when you have that floor.  We began to use dance to share the historical legacies of racism – even when those stories were very hard to share, we used art to illustrate how we concurrently hold oppressed and privilege statuses at the same time; we used singing to show our hopes and aspirations for the future. And in the alchemical process that is art making, our very personal stories softened, shifted, calmed.  What remained were treasures – images, movements, lyrics – that seemed to tell stories about our humanity…our longing for healing, justice, change.  The themes became more relatable as we found their essence and conveyed them
to each other.

The day of our performance, I was shocked and moved to tears at what the distilling of our 10 days had allowed us to create.  I knew that dance and the arts would be a sturdy floor for us to use in our journey towards racial equity together, but I was so touched by the beauty of our performance, the beauty of the floor we created together. Our showing depicted where we had come from at the beginning our 10 days together, where we were that day, and where we wanted to go to see racial equity move forward. We didn’t have fancy costumes or lighting.  We just had our art, our floor. That was it, and it was enough.



About India Harville

India Harville is a dancer/dance instructor, somatic practitioner, diversity educator, mediator and activist dedicated to facilitating people in personal and collective healing and transformation. India has been committed to social justice and community organizing for over fifteen years. She has helped create diversity centers, diversity education curricula, and has taught workshops and graduate course on diversity. Her eclectic resource bag draws from Dancing Freedom, NIA, Process Work, Theater for Change, Nonviolent Communication, Generative Somatics, and Rosen Method Bodywork. India likes to incorporate drama therapy exercises, movement, dance, voice/singing, breathing and centering practices into her workshops as she is committed to encouraging her participants to be deeply present. She holds a BA in health psychology from New College of Florida and a MA in Integrative Medicine from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). India lives in Berkeley California where she manages a mixed ability fitness studio, teaches dance classes, and runs a healing arts collective for people of color healing from internalized racism called The Movement.