Dancing in a professional dance company has always been a dream of mine. Ever since I was little, I would mimic what I would see on music videos played on MTV and CMC. When I first told my mother I wanted to switch my major to Dance from Pre-Nursing, I was met with “What kind of job will you get with that?” Upon becoming a dance major, I began to wonder “Why don’t the other students in my class have this same issue? How is it that their parents seemed to be supportive of their decision to pursue the arts?”
I am a child of immigrants. My parents arrived in the U.S. with little to no support on how to navigate this new world. Let alone how to raise a child in a world or system they knew nothing about. So many questions ran through my mind my senior year of college and even after I graduated.
Why is it a problem for people like me to pursue a career in the arts?
Can I make a living with a career in the arts?
Where is the money in the arts?
Why is it largely not accepted for people like me to want to pursue art, or dance, as a career?
Is this my mental health speaking? Or am I living within a system that does not adequately support and provide resources for “people like me.”
When I say “people like me,” I mean Filipinos who have come to the United States for a “better life.” And yes, there are opportunities in this country compared to life back on the islands where life is much slower, simpler, and serene. Until U.S. militarization decides to occupy the land. But that might be a topic for a different day…
Fast forward, I left the pre-nursing I’ve pursued for four years behind and I am now a dance major. Long amounts of time being spent on conditioning and training my body, being with my body, and recovering my body was a dream to me. The studies and rehearsals led to me excel at my craft of performance while continuing to develop my artistic voice and profile of choreographic experience. I have been awarded two of the Carol Haas Excellence in Performance Awards. I wanted to keep the momentum going. Months after graduation, I was invited to a choreography showcase and performed a solo entitled “Prayer.” This piece was an ode to the limitations in life that we get to meet, resist, and accept. I felt like in a way, this was my entrance into the dance world no longer as a student held by educational institutions; I was finally dancing for myself.
Professor, you invited me back the following year to showcase two different choreography pieces. I invited dancers to join me that were not of technical, traditional, or classical training. In other words, their dancing was not Eurocentric. Instead, this particular dance collaborator studied street dance as his primary dance form. We created a dance piece together and submitted it to the choreographic advisor. The duet consisted of beautiful partner work, angular movements, sharp and solid textures, and heartfelt story lines. Upon receiving the feedback of the submission reviewer, I was disappointed in their response.
“You need to find a more articulate dancer.”
“I agree. We need to be at the highest level especially with Diablo Ballet dancers on the same program.”
I was infuriated. I felt insulted. I was insulted. Who are you to tell me I must find a more technical dancer for our own choreography? When you have no idea about what the technique to this dance form is in the first place? I was deeply disappointed in this reviewer's comment. I was flat out appalled. Street dance has its own technique, style, and form. Because this reviewer’s eye was not keen on street dance forms and its aesthetic, our choreography was seen as less than, unworthy of sharing a stage with ballet dancers. The hierarchy made me uncom
fortable. The comments made me feel undervalued. This is why I made the decision to pull the duet out of the show. I refuse to take part in something that has no commitment to uplifting the artistic healing of dancers of color. I wondered, who are these directors trying to appease? The donors? If so, who are the donors? Why would they not be interested in viewing street dance on stage? Any particular reason why? Were they trying to appease their own biases? I am not interested in artistic endeavors that continue to gate-keep dance spaces from folk or street dance and only hire “professional” dancers that are “classically” trained.
Eurocentric dancers and performers have long held the priority within university and concert dance spaces. I am constantly pondering the reason why? Why is ballet and modern considered to be the most supreme dance form of all? And all folk dance or street style dances are considered to be second-class or
less-than? It is clear that you do not value or bat an eye at the importance of culture folk and street dance forms uplift. For this reason, I am divorcing from your work and your community. I no longer wish to participate in your events, nor give you my energy, hard work, artistry, and talent.
There is so much more to say, but I will leave it at that for now.