I wrote my first dance review for the San Francisco Bay Guardian in the late 90s. I had been writing listings for a while and this was my big break—500 words on the Bay Area debut of Sonya Delwaide’s Compagnie de Danse L’Astragale at Laney College in Oakland. When I received the first edits from, J.H. “Tommy” Tompkins, I thought, “Oh well. I guess I can’t be a writer.” It looked like he had pressed “select all” and then “strikethrough.” And his marginalia! Scribble after scribble of disdain. Tommy had shredded the review and, along with it, my soul.
But when I went into his office to hand in my badge, Tommy explained that his edits and comments, though harsh, were a sign that he was taking my writing seriously and an act of encouragement. So I took his edits and comments to heart, revised the review, and went on to write for the Guardian for several years.
I wasn’t sure that Tommy’s “tough love” editorial style was necessary to encourage green writers like myself, and though I remain grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to develop my craft, I’ve been lucky to have had a range of readers among peers in graduate school, friends in the dance community, and right here at In Dance, who’ve helped me form my editorial praxis, one that encourages extensive dialogue between writer and editor. I assume that if I don’t understand what I’m reading, the problem may not be with the writing; how I hear the written word is an amalgam of my literary experiences as an over-educated Gen X Ashkenazi Jewess from Brooklyn.
The original call for writers for this issue of In Dance emphasized my interest in hearing from dancer-millennials who identify as BIPOC and/or LGBT+ and/or disabled, and in folks who may not have experience with writing. I wanted to work with writers as a developmental?editor, to move back and forth through Google Docs until each felt their articles struck the right balance between individual voice and clarity of message (or fuck clarity of message, as the case may be).?I reached out to folks I knew who reached out to folks they knew, a community effort that led to over 20 dancers who’ve expressed interest in writing.
The essays by JP Bayani, Lashon Daley, ArVejon Jones, Joslynn Mathis Reed, Ezra Myles, Benedict Nguyen, Nkeiruka Oruche, and Preethi Ramaprasad are the fruit of a truly dialogic process. They express the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of a generation of artists living the double whammy of choosing a dance life in the context of late capitalism and enduring systemic racism, sexism, and trans/homophobia. Dancers are connoisseurs of what a body can do and what a body knows, and I’m extraordinarily privileged to have several platforms at my disposal to uplift their voices—on the podcast Dance Cast, in my classes at UC Berkeley, and right here at In Dance.
I’m certain their stories will move you to laughter, tears, and action.
– Sima Belmar, Guest Editor