Okay, I’m doing it. I’m writing a piece on representation. I am hugely under-qualified, and expect people to call me on it, but here’s why I chose to write this: If I saw an article about the important issues facing dance artists in Canada today and representation wasn’t among them, I would be disappointed.
I often hear my colleagues discussing how to ensure what is on our stages reflects our communities. I know dance artists and curators across Canada have been thinking about and working on this for quite a while now, but there is still a lot of progress to be made. This is underscored by some recent news stories, local and national, which highlight the roadblocks we still have as a nation in working toward greater equity, inclusion and respect.
Representation and inclusion are important, but also complex. Sometimes, people feel that representation done wrong (i.e. tokenism, misrepresentation, appropriation) can be more harmful than doing nothing. This reflects the legitimate concern of falling into the tokenism trap, but it is not worth the price of inaction. So how do we move forward?
As artists and curators, we need to broaden our circles so that when it comes time to collaborate and program, we have an understanding of, and intersection with, artists of various forms and backgrounds. If we don’t do this, programming and collaborating with artists beyond our sphere of knowledge becomes tokenism. How do we do this? Here is a brainstorming of a few simple actions I think we can each take (or continue to take), as dance artists, curators, programmers, collaborators and audience members:
• Go to a show we know nothing about, by an artist we haven’t heard of.
• Forge new relationships at events.
• Tunnel our way through our contacts until we find someone who knows someone who knows someone (that we don’t know), and take that artist out for lunch and learn about what they do.
I’m sure many of you could add to and improve on this list. Those are certainly not all the answers (or all the questions) but just some small offerings of a way forward.