A letter to those that say, “Hold politics out of dance.”


Pricey Karen,

I’ve heard you say over and over that you simply wish to preserve politics out of dance. That you just’re upset that dancers you’ve admired communicate up towards racism, towards discrimination, towards a system that regularly assaults and subjugates black and brown our bodies.

I’ve heard you ask, “Why do it’s a must to make it political?”

I’ve heard you say, “Dance is dance, and politics is politics.”

I’ve heard you say that your favourite performers ought to simply “shut up and dance.”

However I’m right here to inform you that you’re improper. Dance is political. For hundreds of years, for millennia, dance has been political.

And I can even inform you that there was a time that I used to suppose that I, too, shouldn’t be political.

I used to suppose that if I spoke up towards injustice that I might lose followers and college students. That it will have an effect on my monetary backside line. Late-stage capitalism is insidious that means, perpetuating itself by telling us that dance—artwork itself—is one thing superficial to be consumed with out concerning or crediting the our bodies who’ve suffered and struggled in order that we will be taught these dances… embodying their motion in our personal bodily selves. Dance is merely “leisure,” as if our different entertainments are usually not additionally political.

However you want to preserve dance in a theater, in a literal field, the place you’re the spectator, the buyer, and the dancers are there on your amusement and leisure. Your supreme dancer has no bodily company of their very own, however as a substitute is there on your enjoyment. And when the dance is not throughout the confines of the theater partitions—on the road, on public transit, within the park, in your sidewalk—you then can’t resist the necessity to comprise it by complaining about how the dancers are disturbing your peace.

Once you take a dance class, you aren’t fascinated by what it feels love to do the actions created by one other physique however as a substitute you’d relatively take these actions to specific and promote them as your personal.

You aren’t fascinated by feeling what it’s prefer to be a marginalized physique on this colonial, market-driven, white-dominated tradition. The very considered doing so scares you. As a result of then you would need to admit some very harmful truths in regards to the society wherein you reside, the place you imagine that justice is actual, and that if folks simply labored more durable they’d be capable of pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even once they don’t have any rattling boots. To confess that unsettling actuality would crack open an impending and haunting existential disaster that someway you’ve been lied to about equity on this world… and that possibly any benefit you will have hasn’t been due to your personal work ethic however since you gained the melanin genetic lottery.

You’re terrified of dealing with your personal privilege head-on, of acknowledging that you’ve got benefitted from centuries of colonialism and modernism the place the white and light-skinned physique is prioritized over all others, not simply on the proscenium stage, however on the film display, the newsroom, and the sweetness journal. The place you aren’t afraid of being pulled over by the police as a result of you recognize you’ll be able to bat your eyes and get away with a warning. Your physique is protected.

You’ve gotten by no means examined your house on this system, this financial system. You assume, like many people, that your private expertise is common, and when you’re proven time after time after time after TV present after movie after make-up commercial after health business that your coloration is the dominant one why would you even query it? You by no means must ask, “The place is the face that appears like mine?” It’s there each day, a lot so that you simply hardly even see it anymore.

Now right here’s the very best half. You imagine that stomach dance, a primarily Arab dance type, can someway be stripped of its ethnicity and coloration with the intention to really feel lovely and bask in a self-serving fantasy. And someway this dance type, which has specific roots in sub-Saharan African motion, and right here in the USA brushes asymmetrical shoulders with jazz and black and queer avenue dance, in your physique ignores the struggles of the peoples who’ve fought and clawed and clamored only for the proper to exist? And have expressed that wrestle by dance? And you’ve got the nerve to inform your “favourite” dancers that they shouldn’t be political?

From Vogue to B-boying to Lindy Hop to Strut to the zar to raqs sharqi itself, bodily expression is a insurrection towards the established order that will relatively the dances and the individuals who do them disappear as a result of they make the powers that be really feel uncomfortable in their very own our bodies. As a result of they remind these with political and social management that they’ve disconnected from their bodily selves. That they’ve felt corporeal disgrace that they don’t seem to be but able to grapple with, and that very same disgrace I believe you are feeling too. Which is why you’re not able to admit that even your personal participation in a dance class is political too.

After all you simply wish to dance. As a result of if you happen to admitted that to bounce is to embody the struggles, ache, and resistance of these whose corporeality you devour, then you would need to heal the ache, bigotry, and hatred in and on your personal bodily self. And you would need to admit that you’ve got made errors, that you’ve got dedicated your personal acts of existential violence, that you’ve got precipitated others ache. And that you simply’ll must take accountability for your self and your actions and navigate an ambiguous future the place there isn’t a binary of proper and improper, however solely of what’s the most equitable, simply, and moral resolution you can also make with the sources you will have… and imagine me, there are such a lot of sources, so that you higher begin studying, listening, and watching.

And I get it. After getting woke up to the truth of injustice within the physique, in dance, in artwork, in each factor and physique you devour, you may be exhausted. Good. In the event you’re doing the work, the self-examination, the critique, and increasing your consciousness, you’re going to get drained. And additionally, you will want to bounce.

Now, I’m not saying I’m good. I’m not saying that I don’t have work to do. I’ve made my errors and I proceed to make them.

However I can’t cease being “political” to make you snug.

Dance is a radical act.



Additional studying


Anti-Racism For Learners Useful resource Checklist, compiled by Tiffany Bowden.

Anti-Racism Sources, compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein

A cultural somatic reader on whiteness, trauma, and allyship (consists of free webinar) from Egocentric Activist (A bodily strategy to therapeutic)

“Politics and the Dancing Physique.” Library of Congress. (Be aware: Principally about US live performance dance.)

Articles and Reflections

Blakemore, Erin. “How the Physique Can Form Political Protest.” JSTOR. 30 December 2015.

Giles, Jessica. “Anybody Who Says Dancers Ought to “Keep on with Dancing” Doesn’t Know Their Historical past.” Dance Journal. 10 July, 2018. (Be aware: Good for freshmen.)

Haider, Arwa. “The Most Harmful Dances in Historical past.” BBC. 11 July, 2018.

Hozumi, Tada. “A Funk Lesson: If life is a dance, violence is a choreography, however so is justice.” Egocentric Activist. 29 Could, 2020.

Israel, Shayna or Sheness. “Why, I Say, White Folks Can’t Dance (And, Sure, It has to Do with Race/Tradition/Rhythm, Appreciation, & Respect).” Serendip Studio. 21 Could 2007.



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