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


Pricey Karen,

I’ve heard you say time and again that you simply need to hold politics out of dance. That you just’re upset that dancers you’ve admired converse up in opposition to racism, in opposition to discrimination, in opposition to a system that frequently assaults and subjugates black and brown our bodies.

I’ve heard you ask, “Why do it’s important 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 incorrect. Dance is political. For hundreds of years, for millennia, dance has been political.

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

I used to assume that if I spoke up in opposition to injustice that I might lose followers and college students. That it could 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 relating to or crediting the our bodies who’ve suffered and struggled in order that we will study 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 hold dance in a theater, in a literal field, the place you’re the spectator, the patron, and the dancers are there in your amusement and leisure. Your ideally suited dancer has no bodily company of their very own, however as an alternative is there in your enjoyment. And when the dance is now not throughout the confines of the theater partitions—on the road, on public transit, within the park, in your sidewalk—then you definately can not 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 all in favour of what it feels love to do the actions created by one other physique however as an alternative you’d moderately take these actions to precise and promote them as your personal.

You aren’t all in favour of feeling what it’s wish 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 by which you reside, the place you imagine that justice is actual, and that if folks simply labored tougher they’d have the ability to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even after they don’t have any rattling boots. To confess that unsettling actuality would crack open an impending and haunting existential disaster that one way or the other you’ve been lied to about equity on this world… and that possibly any benefit you’ve gotten hasn’t been due to your personal work ethic however since you gained the melanin genetic lottery.

You might be frightened of going through 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 wonder journal. The place you aren’t afraid of being pulled over by the police as a result of you understand you may bat your eyes and get away with a warning. Your physique is secure.

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

Now right here’s the most effective half. You imagine that stomach dance, a primarily Arab dance type, can one way or the other be stripped of its ethnicity and coloration so that you could really feel lovely and take pleasure in a self-serving fantasy. And one way or the other this dance type, which has express 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 via 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 riot in opposition to the established order that will moderately 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 feel 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.

In fact you simply need to dance. As a result of when you admitted that to bop 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 in 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 have to take duty for your self and your actions and navigate an ambiguous future the place there isn’t any binary of proper and incorrect, however solely of what’s the most equitable, simply, and moral choice you can also make with the assets you’ve gotten… and imagine me, there are such a lot of assets, 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’ll be exhausted. Good. Should 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 bop.

Now, I’m not saying I’m excellent. 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 cannot cease being “political” to make you snug.

Dance is a radical act.



Additional studying


Anti-Racism For Novices 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 (contains free webinar) from Egocentric Activist (A bodily method 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 “Follow Dancing” Doesn’t Know Their Historical past.” Dance Journal. 10 July, 2018. (Be aware: Good for newbies.)

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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