Skip to content


By Alicia Mullikin

Contribution Acknowledgement:
Albee Abigania (Lynnwood/Everett/North Seattle), DJ Baluyot (San Jose), Cheryl Delostrinos (Los Angeles/Seattle), Imana Gunawan (Seattle), Sue Ann Huang (Seattle), El Nyberg (Seattle), Noelle Price (Detroit/Seattle), Coral Taylor (Los Angeles)

Visual Artist:
Nalisha Rangel (Seattle)

As a first generation Mexican American woman of color in the dance world I have experienced microaggressions that have caused significant barriers to my progress as a dance artist and damaged my emotional health as a person of color—and yet, what I have endured is only a drop in the bucket. Through conversations and collaboration with other dancers of color and colleagues, we named some of our personal experiences in the dance world that reinforced systemic racism. Though this is not an exhaustive list, it sheds light on some problematic power structures that contribute to continued inequity in dance. Here are a few ways you may have participated in systemic racism in dance.


  • Saying “ballet is the foundation of all dance.”
  • Saying ballet is the most important/difficult technique.
  • Refusing to cast someone in a role because of their race. (“Clara can’t be Filipino”…why?)
  • Refusing to acknowledge or teach that Balanchine was a privileged white man who profited from the appropriation of Africanist Aesthetics (jazz), the use of Black bodies for shock value, and the reduction of race to aesthetics by exoticising Black bodies. (Do your research and stop worshipping him.)
  • Putting up with, supporting, and participating in the racist B.S. in the Nutcracker (seriously, stop).
  • Saying someone doesn’t have a “ballet body” because their body doesn’t fit your image of the thin ballerina with no butt and no chest.
  • Not casting POC because most of your dancers are White, and you don’t want the image to be broken by Black/Brown bodies, claiming “symmetry” is more important.
  • Requiring Black & Brown girls to wear pink tights and pink ballet shoes.
  • Making Black girls “tame” their hair for ballet class and making statements like, “Well, I just don’t know what to do with your hair,” to Black dancers.
  • Making Black and Brown dancers dye their pointe shoes and accessories. (Production of pointe shoes in a variety of skin tones didn’t start until 2018 and colors other than pink/peach are STILL not easily accessible.)
  • Allowing cis White males to dominate the choreography world and leadership roles.
  • Talking about how far we’ve come but not recognizing how long it’s taken. (It took ABT 75 years to appoint their first Black female principal, Misty Copeland, in 2015. NYCB cast its first Black Marie, Charlotte Nebres, in 2019, after half a century of Nutcrackers. PNB just changed some of the choreography from the Chinese Tea variation to be less stereotypical.)
  • Teaching about the history of Ballet without its cultural context as a European ethnic/folk dance.
  • Saying/thinking that someone lacks “technique” because they don’t point their feet or straighten their legs.
  • Referring to ballet and modern as “technique” in a way that implies every other genre of dance does not require formal training, skill, or technique. 
  • Rejecting a student from your program because they lack ballet training.
  • Making ballet and modern dance requirements for a dance degree but making hip hop, jazz, and other genres electives. 
  • Offering multiple levels for ballet/modern and NOT offering advanced level courses in styles derivative of Black communities: jazz, hip hop/urban, etc…
  • Only hiring/featuring white-passing and/or light-skinned people of color in efforts to “diversify.”
  • Hiring token Black folks to teach ballet and modern. (That’s still putting significance on Euro-centric styles.)
  • Having White full-time faculty and adjunct POC teachers.
  • Refusing to hire a hip hop teacher at a university because they do not have a masters in dance when hip hop is not offered broadly at a collegiate level and certainly not at a masters level. This is a system set up to keep Black/Brown folks and their dance forms out of colleges and to continue to invalidate their contributions to the dance world. (Dance Departments need to demand change.)
  • Valuing lines over rhythm, poise over grit, or abstraction over substance.
  • Using the one Black or Brown person on your poster or recruitment literature. 
  • Having classes called “Contemporary Issues in Dance,” “Dance History,” “Ballet History,” “Dance Appreciation,” or anything similar and never speaking DIRECTLY about race.
  • Not understanding that equity means giving POC dancers added support, not just allowing them to grace your school/company. (Equality is NOT sufficient to combat systemic racism.)
  • Teaching hip hop classes without knowing where the steps came from.
  • Calling all street styles “hip hop.”
  • Not teaching about the history of jazz and tap dance coming from Black communities.
  • Teaching that Bob Fosse is the father of jazz.
  • Making an assumption that the Black/Brown person walking into your dance studio is there to take hip hop.
  • Not teaching about the contributions of Black dancers/choreographers in ballet/modern. (There are more than just Alvin Ailey.) 
  • Not teaching about the racist history and appropriation of African, Indigenous, and Asian cultures by white dancers/choreographers.
  • Not recognizing the intersections of race and class, or the implications of Black and Brown families having barriers to generating wealth, and then…
    • Assuming all dancers have had the ability/funds to take intensives.
    • Assuming all dancers have had the ability/funds to take formal classes.
    • Assuming dancers who are not taking intensives or formal classes are not serious about dance.
    • Assuming all dancers have access to transportation.
    • Assuming all dancers can afford to buy the required uniform and costumes.
    • Assuming that all dancers’ families speak English.
    • Assuming all dancers’ families can afford to buy a ticket to watch the performance/show.
    • Assuming the dancers’ families are used to watching concert dance. 
    • Assuming all dancers’ families are supportive in their decision to pursue a dance career.
  • Giving scholarships for talent, instead of potential (a practice that does not take into account access/barriers to formal classes).
  • Giving scholarships to students who have had the ability to take classes/intensives, rather than the student who studied dance at home/public school/community centers, (setting one up for success and the other up for a life of student loans, repeating the cycle of systemic poverty/racism).
  • Charging an astronomical amount for college, not offering scholarships to POC, and then being surprised when they drop out.
  • Giving feedback/tips/suggestions to POC folks without asking if it is wanted/necessary. (This includes your students.)
  • Assuming that POC choreographers are making the work for everyone. 
  • Assuming that, because you don’t understand the work of a POC choreographer, it doesn’t have value.
  • Being upset when the lyrics to a song or poetry is in another language and offers no translation. (White folks have the privilege of having their message. understood/heard/listened to because it is the dominant culture/language. It isn’t our job to make sure you get it; if you care enough, you’ll do the work.)
  • Assuming that your POC friends/colleagues are not receiving grants because they need help with grant writing. (Nope. We write fine thanks. It’s just systemic-racism preventing us from getting grants.) 
  • Asking Black and Brown dancers to “be a little more urban/street” (and more broadly, wanting POC dancers to fit within stereotypes).
  • Teaching all dance classes where the teacher is the authority and students are simply supposed to imitate, not considering how various dance forms were originally taught. (This assumes that all dance can be taught separate from culture.)


  • Funding/Granting/Producing/Promoting the same White folks over and over and over again.
  • Funding/Granting/Producing/Promoting folks that engage in cultural appropriation.
  • Funding/Granting/Producing/Promoting people just because they are Black/Brown without understanding their message/intent/purpose as an artist.
  • Funding/Granting/Producing/Promoting Black folks but not Black Trans folks.
  • Rejecting a grant application because you “didn’t get it” or “it’s not relatable.” (Sounds like you need to educate yourself.)
  • Paying White choreographers more than POC choreographers.
  • Using the excuse that you didn’t hire/fund/cast any Black or Brown folks because “there weren’t any.” (Sounds like you didn’t look hard enough, recruit in the right places, or build trust in those communities.)
  • Expecting Black/Brown folks to work/perform for free.
  • Only promoting your work as a company/organization in affluent communities or White communities.
  • Having an all/mostly White company or organization and then trying to make or create work on social issues. (Your lack of intersectionality isn’t cutting it.)
  • Having an all/mostly White board of directors.
  • Having staff/company members of color but providing no real opportunities for career advancement.
  • Institutional retaliation against staff/company members of color for speaking out on equity issues.
  • Having a high turnover rate in staff/company members of color.
  • Only offering training sessions on unconscious bias when called out and with no ongoing action items for changing organizational practices.
  • Having a budget that only allocates for one/select token “diverse” show/production, with no strategic plan to rework practices to diversify the repertoire/company regularly.
  • Allowing White folks to indulge in abstraction and meaninglessness within choreography, while holding POC to impossible standards of depth/intent (thereby allowing a space for White artists to experiment, while stifling POC artists).
  • Only recognizing and valuing POC that are “successful,” while allowing “up and coming” White choreographers to take up space.
  • Being loud and proud about the work you are doing for POC communities but not having hard conversations behind closed doors.
  • Not allowing more than one Black/Asian/Latinx choreographer in the festival line-up because their work has similar themes, while allowing 5+ White folks to noodle around saying nothing for 45 minutes. 
  • A lack of understanding of the complexities of Black and Brown bodies in performance:
    • Black and Brown dancers are almost automatically seen as political especially in modern dance spaces (so, if we create/say something political, our work is put into a box).
    • Black and Brown folks are held to a different standard when it comes to post-modern and non-performative movement work in arts spaces that are run by white people.
    • If we don’t say anything at all and try to create “abstract” work or noodle around, we are seen as less “progressive” than our white counterparts.
    • Abstraction is unfortunately not a concept Black and Brown artmakers can freely access in most spaces and often have to choose between making the art they want or being respected/accepted as an artist.
    • An overarching assumption from art institutions is that Black and Brown artists are automatically interested in creating work relating to our race/gender/class/other social issues.
    • AND we are very often the only POC in a lineup, so whether we want to or not, we automatically become the representation for POC in those spaces, limiting what we are allowed to do and how we do it.

As White and non-black POC in the dance community, complacency with systemic racism prevents us from seeing all the ways we benefit and participate in it. We recognize that looking at this list can feel debilitating as an artist, director, or educator. Fully realizing an equitable dance community will not happen overnight. You WILL make mistakes and you WILL fall short because these structures run deep and are ingrained in the very fibers of our country, communities, and studios, BUT it is work that we must do dutifully. Hopefully shedding light on these things will help us put one foot in front of the other on the necessary walk to a more equitable dance community. The next generation of dance artists deserve better than the racist structures we had to put up with. 

Linked are a few resources we found helpful for dance artists committed to Anti-Racism.

Learn more about Alicia Mullikin and her work at