Here at SeattleDances we are still glowing from our 3rd annual DanceCrush just over a week ago. It was an outstanding night of dance and each performance contributed artistry and beauty to an incredible evening.
Being an organization that values transparency, critical thought, and above all, support for the dance community, there is one thing we need to address. One of the artists who showed at DanceCrush, a white artist, used a song in their work containing the N-word.
While we won’t get into the full politics of that word here, (please read our interview with Jade Solomon Curtis on her amazing work that specifically addresses this issue) we recognize that this a slur that contains a great deal of history and pain, and it is impossible to use it or have it as part of a sound score without evoking that history and pain. Not to mention the current state of affairs, which is an ongoing, daily battle for the Black community. We must be aware when we make art of how our bodies create context, and how that context interacts with other elements of our work. Plainly said, if you are a white artist you should not be performing to music that contains racial slurs.
The artist has since posted an apology, stating on their facebook wall:
I had the honor of performing an in-progress excerpt of my new solo at DanceCrush last weekend. My piece comes from my personal history and explores how shame and religion can be used to shut down sexuality and freedom. Eventually I am planning on collaborating with a composer to create original music for the piece, but for last week’s show I used the song Humble by Kendrick Lamar for one of the sections. The chorus spoke to me because it says, “Be humble. Sit down.” This felt similar to the messages I received as a young person to take up less space and be ‘perfect’. Sadly, I truly did not consider the rest of the song. Nor did I consider how my dance would be viewed through its cultural lens. Because of this I know that members of the audience were triggered by my use of this song and the language in it.
To those who were present, I apologize for my lack of awareness and how my choices affected those watching. I am deeply upset that my piece had an alienating, traumatizing effect for people of color who were present. My hope for this piece is empowerment and freedom, and I am very sad that message did not come through. Thank you to the individuals who personally reached out to me after my performance to share the impact my choices had on them. I have learned through this experience. I see how important music choices and language are and will be very intentional about this from now on. I will be performing an excerpt of this solo again in a few weeks and I have changed the music. I plan to continue to educate myself on these issues and make more informed choices during my creative process moving forward. I hope that making these changes will allow people of every color and background to feel welcome and engaged when viewing my work.
At SeattleDances, this incident has given us a lot to think about regarding our role as producers, how we could have acted faster or shifted our curation process to ensure a positive experience for everyone.
The primary goal of DanceCrush has always been supporting artists, and thus far we have taken an approach of allowing artists the creative freedom to pretty much do what they want inside the ten minute performance. Because of this, we did not see the works and excerpts until dress rehearsal the afternoon of show. Although we were alarmed by this particular choice of music, we failed to address the issue in the moment. There are a lot of excuses—we were busy running a show, we were trying to be positive, and we didn’t, in that moment, trust our gut to speak up. But ultimately, we have to contend with the fact that we could have stepped in and we didn’t. In hindsight, what real support for the artists would have looked like in that moment was not boundless positivity. It would have looked like helping the white artist to find a different song. Both to create a respectful environment for our artists and audiences of color, and to help our white artist better understand the impact of their choices before they publicly performed. For this we are very sorry.
So it is our hope that this can be a learning experience, not just for us and those involved, but that in talking about this publicly we can help artists remember that their work exists in the context of the world, and to be conscientious about the choices they are making. In sharing our experience, we hope other organizers will be quicker to spot and resolve content that, intentionally or not, does harm. Even without malice, naïve does not excuse from fault. While we understand that making promises is easy and taking action is hard, we hope that you all, our community, will give us the opportunity to grow from this and make different choices in the future.
Kaitlin and Megan