When our Executive Director, Wayne, asked all of us at Dancers’ Group to reflect on our hopes for 2017 for the January/February issue of In Dance, I was at a loss. It was early December and the 24/7 news cycle of the presidential election-turned-transition had me feeling like I was careening down a hill in a car whose brakes just failed. The pace of incoming information had a newfound urgency, which has continued through the early part of 2017 and shows no signs of slowing down. To respond to Wayne’s provocation I wondered: How can I (and those who share a progressive, liberal politic) endure a political environment that calls for attention and resistance at the pace of a sprint for the duration of a marathon?
No. “Enduring” is wildly insufficient. My bar is higher than survival. How can I thrive? How, and in what ways, can I make a positive impact on the lives of others?
I am certainly not alone in my concerns regarding the political actions and tenor coming out of the United States federal government, which I assert to be racist (e.g. the travel ban), classist (e.g. seeking to repeal the Affordable Care Act), authoritarian (e.g. restrictions on federal agencies’ communications), and lacking rationale. Several writers featured in this month’s issue also touch on political events and activism, addressing similar questions through their words and artistic practices.
Farah Yasmeen Shaikh continues her series of articles about her experiences of performing and teaching in Pakistan. This month, she reflects on how her artistic practice is a tool for combating the spread of fear of the “other” — in her case, being a Muslim-American woman. Kathak provides a platform for Shaikh “to bridge cultures…and do [her] part in influencing a global culture that can be positive, supportive, and non violent.”
Choreographer Charles Slender-White articulates the role that activism plays for him on and off stage. He recalls his personal evolution from being a young political organizer in San Diego, to his renewed focus on activism and ongoing work of creating artistic opportunities through his company, FACT/SF.
Famed tap dancer Michelle Dorrance expounds on tap’s history in African American culture, having emerged out of slavery and deep institutional racism that persists to this day. And Miriam Peretz celebrates the power of community and sisterhood through the newly formed Nava Dance Collective, a group of women who perform dance and ritual from Central Asia.
Back in December, I scrawled my hopes for 2017. May the tide turn toward love, justice, and joy. May we be patient with ourselves, yet urgent in our work. May our art help carry us through.
I plan to do my part in making these hopes become reality by investing at Dancers’ Group and also as an audience member to further support dance artists in their tireless and essential work. By reading well-researched investigative journalism. By calling representatives in Congress to talk about issues I care about. By instilling the values of compassion and curiosity into how I raise my daughter. By resting, laughing, and moving.
I do not expect, or want, everyone to agree about how to address society’s ills. Our artistic and personal diversity – in form, background, and belief – enables our work to engage, to begin and continue needed and important conversations. To “bridge cultures,” as Shaikh writes.
Dance need not be overtly “activist” in tone or intent to have political implications. Dance’s mere existence pushes culture forward – even as it recalls its history – a radical act in its own right. Dance can be a provocation. A communing. A history. A hope. A resistance. May it be all that, and more, for you.