October marks Black Achievement Month in the Netherlands, a month in which we celebrate people of color and their contribution to society. We asked several of our dancers to reflect on the importance of this celebration and on how they navigate today’s dance world as dancers and artists. Throughout the month, we will share several insights written by them. Please enjoy the read!
“I am encouraged by examples of dance makers, institutions, schools, companies etc. that innovate, that utilize, that celebrate how black and brown bodies, our ideas, perspectives, and movement language have voice and contribution beyond simply ‘fitting in’ to what has been perpetuated.”Lea Ved
“You simply cannot ignore the achievements and history of black and brown people in 2021; they are fruitions that have been fought for, from a largely inequitable ground and biased world.
With a father who grew up in India, and a mother who grew up in the Philippines, I’m looking at the big picture, the histories and generations of people without the advantage of western idealisms of wealth, status, resource, and opportunity. To celebrate achievement today, is also to acknowledge this context and its enduring reality.”
“In the plentitude of black and brown dancers that are navigating the dance world, I hope amongst them are more choreographers, directors, facilitators, curators, and leaders that believe they can claim their gifts and dreams in a western euro-centric industry.
The concert dance world was shaped and formed from a western idealism of classical form and lens of elite physical expression from predominantly white bodies. But I am encouraged by examples of dance makers, institutions, schools, companies etc. that innovate, that utilize, that celebrate how black and brown bodies, our ideas, perspectives, and movement language have voice and contribution beyond simply ‘fitting in’ to what has been perpetuated.” – Lea Ved, dancer with NDT 1
“Many of my own dreams were shaped by seeing or hearing about the accomplishments of people that looked like me. And the simple realization of what was possible, helped mold them into a more tangible reality.”Kele Roberson
“Celebrating black and brown achievements, history and identity not only empowers the striving for places we may not otherwise see ourselves in, but shows to the world the infinity in which blackness can exist. Many of my own dreams were shaped by seeing or hearing about the accomplishments of people that looked like me. And the simple realization of what was possible, helped mold them into a more tangible reality.”
“There is also great importance in acknowledging perseverance despite inequity. Recognising this, along with those that have come before and those that are achieving greatness despite, inspires and helps pave the way forward.
I’m still in the process of figuring out how to navigate today’s dance world being a mixed race artist …it’s an ongoing conversation with myself and those around me. And there is great value in such conversation- finding community in others with similar understandings has allowed for the sharing of weight, helping me give value and figure out how to address feelings and experiences.
But from conversation must come action! Which for myself, I am finding lies greatly in existing as honestly as I can- expressing, loving and celebrating all the facets of blackness that exist in me. Perhaps someone may find part of themselves reflected there too, and open a door of possibility in their mind. My hope is to begin to create more space for black and brown artists to come, particularly in places that can influence profound change and help shape the future of the dance world.” – Kele Roberson, NDT 2 dancer.
“I approach every day with the goal of not being afraid to showcase all parts of myself that have been deemed unacceptable in predominately white spaces.”Ricardo Hartley III
Ricardo Hartley III
“I believe celebrating the existence of black and brown persons is acknowledging and expressing gratitude for work that has opened many doors and created countless opportunities.
Also, to serve as a reminder that there is still a great deal more to be done to ensure that the same opportunities are given to black and brown bodies, without the base assumptions of race, gender, sexuality, or tokenism.”
“I approach every day with the goal of not being afraid to showcase all parts of myself that have been deemed unacceptable in predominately white spaces.
I believe dancers of color are put into a monolith that prohibits change; imposed narratives that do not acknowledge the fact that black and brown bodies can exist in multiplicity and can be defined without the white gaze.
My work as an African American artist is to break down these narratives that are placed upon myself and others around me, so that we can exist as authentically as possible.” – Ricardo Hartley III, dancer with NDT 2
“I don’t see why most all roles can not be interchanged not only racially but also by gender. Why can’t it just come down to a dancer’s quality and gift rather than their skin tone?”Jon Bond
“I believe it is important in today’s society to acknowledge everyone’s voice and achievements. We must be grateful to those fellow brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, kings and queens, mentors and inspirations who have shown their light and paved the way long before, in order for us to do what we do and be who we are today. We must lift up, applaud and celebrate each individual’s gifts, successes and continue to stand up and make ourselves all seen, heard and known. No one’s light should be dimmed or cast shadow upon.”
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“Honestly I’ve either never been black enough to be lumped into the black clique and never asian enough to roll with the Asian groupings. In terms of connecting: to a degree it has at times made me feel like I didn’t belong or that I was different. As a dancer of color I have flown a bit under the radar. When it comes to my physical appearance, my small physique and mixed race has kept me out of being overly classified as anything other than a small, explosive dancer.
It wasn’t until coming to Europe that I felt or noticed how strong type casting and racial bias could be in the concert dance scene. Maybe it has been my fortune of dancing where I have danced and with the individuals that I have been surrounded by to not have this experience so present for me as it has been for so many?
I’m not sure if people are so unaware or if they are just so narrow-minded to need an Asian girl to do a role previously done by an Asian girl or a brown boy to cover a role originated by another brown boy and so on. I don’t see why most all roles can not be interchanged not only racially but also by gender. Why can’t it just come down to a dancer’s quality and gift rather than their skin tone?” – Jon Bond, NDT 1 dancer
“We must embrace every part of our identity as loudly and proudly as we can, and make space for celebrating black and brown people with the utmost urgency, as that is the only way to combat the violence of centuries – long oppression.”Cassandra Martin
“To see black achievement, love, joy, history, pride, excellence, etc. is to actively combat the centuries of colonial power that have dehumanized and oppressed black and brown people for centuries.
We exist in a society that has prioritized whiteness and been fed the idea that white excellence exists soley, which in turn removes the existence and history of all other cultural groups, diminishing its humanity and importance. To reclaim one’s identity is a radical act of self love, which is why art and culture are vital. But I don’t believe in individualism as the sole tool for enacting change. We must work to cultivate different structures not just from within ourselves, but to put pressure on systems such as the dance world to enact real, non-performative change.”
“When asked to participate in Black Achievement Month and contribute my story at first I felt like I was taking up a spotlight that needed to be on other dancers of colour that had more difficult experiences in the dance world but ultimately came to the conclusion that my experiences as a white passing person of colour can do for others what embracing my identity has done for me.
I am Mexican – which is an identity that I have always felt to be a nuisance in a white dominant industry. As a kid in dance I adjusted my way of talking, how I dressed, and the kind of people I would spend time with in order to be more “white.” My body type was always judged in the dance world because it didn’t fit a very specific euro-centric ideal and was so problematic for me, that I strained to hold my body in a way to make myself look more like my peers, which ended up causing a chronic injury that I still deal with today.
I realized soon enough that I had no way of “becoming” white and the whole institution was designed to make people like me, and more so for darker people, feel like our body, culture, and identity are not worthy of love and respect. So I decided to educate myself on and embrace my identity as a Latina. What followed after was radical self love.”
“I was taken aback by all the ways in which I and others around me were reducing ourselves to reasons for disliking ourselves or being rejected by these systems of oppression that have no interest in us or in changing. We must embrace every part of our identity as loudly and proudly as we can, and make space for celebrating black and brown people with the utmost urgency, as that is the only way to combat the violence of centuries – long oppression.” – Cassandra Martin, dancer with NDT 2
EDWARD SAID ONCE SAID:
“When political identity is under threat, culture becomes a resistance tool in the face of attempts to obliterate, annihilate and exclude. Resistance is a form of memory in exchange for forgetting. A stateless person would consider writing or art a home to dwell in.”