The dance sector has been set up in a way that does not centre or recognize Trans, two-spirit, non-binary and people of colour in Canada. Within our industry “inclusion” and “diversity” are popular buzzwords used to fancy up grant applications and make dance organizations appear “woke.”
As an African, Bermudian, Mohawk, transcendent and two-spirit person, I have first-hand experience working for people who assert good intentions with little to no follow-through. I often find that storytelling is a great way to illustrate complex concepts and I have a personal story that illustrates the contradictory nature of good intention/bad follow-through. I was working with a choreographer who was great on paper: he understood racism, sexism and homophobia. He created a solo for me that purported to challenge homo/genderphobia.
When it was time to show it for the first time, to the other members of the all-male cast, the choreographer played a piece of music I hadn’t heard before; it included fart sounds, a laugh track and effeminate female whimpers that continued for three minutes as I whipped my hair in heels while doing traditional hand gestures. I was humiliated as the cast of men watching erupted in laughter. It was horrific. Never did I imagine that this would be the soundtrack that he composed. To ask me with all the identities that I have and embody to perform a character whose sole purpose is shock value to elicit audience laughter is problematic. As marginalized dancers, we need much more than good intentions: we need actual change within our sector.
It is not enough to spout inclusion while using black and brown and/or queer and trans dancers as tokens to appear diverse. Think about the ways that you may be exploiting Black, Indigenous and people of color while continuing a culture of anti-Black racism, and homo/transphobia. Those with privilege, power, funding and influence are almost always white, cisgendered and heterosexual. The cycle of exclusion continues whilst we witness a co-opting of our language, culture, art and revolutions such as transfeminism, accessibility, intersectionality, racism and antioppression.
What I’ve learned on my journey of actively changing the landscape of dance in Toronto is that inclusion and diversity are lifelong pursuits and we must admit that we don’t have all the answers. We need to seek out those most affected by marginalization and exclusion to inform us of what changes are needed. And no matter what revolutionary change you create, remember that your back is always turned to someone: we all have spots that we cannot or have not connected with, so it is important to recognize, address and change that.