(Now) “Emotionally Charged” Dance Workshop Community, Again, Questions Inclusion

By ANKITA SHARMA

“We want to be heard for once.”—People of Color

Behind every “emotionally charged dancer in motion” recently made visible in the biannual Dance Workshop production, people engaged in discussion about what to put onstage that best represented a vision of an “all-inclusive” dance community.

Photos by Daniel Sarché

With the impetus of the heinous email sent over spring break, a platform arose for necessary conversations to finally be brought to the forefront regarding issues of race and people of color representation onstage. What ensued was a push from multiple dancers of color in the dance department to demonstrate that the Dance Workshop community, though imperfect, will continue to strive to be a platform for anti-racist change within the Colorado College microcosm.

After much deliberation and exacerbated miscommunication within the dance community itself, this push took shape in the form of a change to the format of the finale. This year, the usual buoyant, effervescent celebration of all the “fun dance” brought on stage was replaced with a stark reminder of the need to address how, institutionally, CC will always function as an arm of white supremacy.

With leadership from seniors Trevon Newmann, Jaiel Mitchell, and Ellen Wen, a powerful statement was given regarding the need for Dance Workshop to take action in order to not only be an inclusive but an actively anti-racist organization.

“You’re just being emotional.”­­—People in power to people of color voicing their concerns

For what served as three seniors’ (our only dance major’s) final sentiment to the dance community at large, addressing an issue that supersedes in importance the dance world alone, many members of the Dance Workshop community were both disappointed and offended by The Catalyst’s representation of the show’s finale. The issue left unaddressed regards to racial biases in an institution that operates within white supremacist systems. This was danced around in an article that keyed into the emotionality surrounding race while ignoring the topic itself. “An important social message defined the finale,” but what that important social message is remained undefined in the article.

Is the subject of race too touchy to be even named in an article written by and telling the stories of a predominantly white school? Perhaps so, because voice and representation,seems to be an issue in the article. In particular, the usage of Newmann, Mitchell, and Wen’s image as they stood to bow after their powerful, necessary finale statement, without the use of their voice at any point in the article, served only to perpetuate the issue being addressed in the finale: the invisibility of the voices of people of color.

Titling the article such that it related inclusivity to emotion only further served to perpetuate the almost archetypal linkage of POCs to an over-emotionality that renders their voice nonsensical garbage. The angry black woman caricature exists for a reason, as does Luther, Obama’s “anger translator.” The reason is that even the most level-headed liberal white person finds something to fear in critique of their actions. Disregarding the people of color voice as emotional clap-trap allows for the majority to continue upholding their practices that are backed by historical precedents of institutionalized racism.

Even in bringing about the finale, Newmann, Mitchell, and Wen were met with resistance from dance faculty that essentially discounted the value of their words as being emotionally driven. Till all racial issues are not solely addressed as emotional contentions against white people, couching POC concerns as being “emotionally charged,” without stating much else about the issue, only further erases marginalized perspectives.

Furthermore, not only did The Catalyst fail to represent the voices of students of color, but they also misrepresented the voice of Dance Workshop Co-chair, sophomore Zoe Lilak, the only person quoted in the article.  She said that her “quotes had been used out of context and portrayed inaccurately” and that she was not explicitly made aware that her words were utilized in regards to the “inclusivity issue” of the finale.

This becomes an even greater problem when considered in light of the fact that the co-chairs of Dance Workshop are the ones being given credit for giving the marginalized voice a platform. In Lilak’s words, “it sounded like the it was the co-chair’s initiative to do this,” and the article “does not give credit where credit is due.” To be clear, it was Newmann who went to the Co-Chairs spearheading the idea of addressing racial representation in dance by giving a statement in a space that has often failed to recognize dance as an instigator of social change.

Sure, Newmann, Mitchell, and Wen got the co-chair’s “ok” to issue the statement, but the desire to promote discourse regarding racial issues is still coming from students of color. People of color just need the approval of the white people in power on occasion because we must finagle our way around historically white power structures while pushing for change in any way we can.

While we understand the pressures that go into writing a Catalyst article, we ask that journalism be taken seriously and that an adequate representation of voices be sought out when attempting to give a comprehensive perspective of any thing, event, or issue; especially when this event is the most widely-attended student run event on campus.

Though the writer’s intent may not have been to feed into the erasure of marginalized voices, the impact that it had on the POCs who fought for the right to speak publicly, not just this past spring, but for 4 years, was great. Intent versus impact becomes a fruitless conversation to be had when we are speaking of people who fight institutionalized oppression and are left unheard day in and day out.

We ask that The Catalyst and its writers take note when assessing whose voices to utilize for their articles in the future, especially when dealing with issues such as race. The voices of your friends—who, if you are white, are often white people—are not the voices that need to be heard in every situation, certainly not this one. From how the finale was covered to the easily obtainable factual details of Dance Workshop (e.g. electronic is not a style of dance, just a style of dance music), we found The Catalyst article to be lacking in depth and hope that our concerns are taken seriously when writing in the future.

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