This article is a continuation of “What Do Emerging BIPOC Contemporary Dance Artists Want to See Post-Pandemic?” published on Feb. 23.
This article is published through our Regional Reporter Program. We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts through the Digital Now initiative.
Many BIPOC contemporary dancers who are making their living in the field of dance in Calgary are looking for change in the industry, as the city and live performances slowly emerge from being shut down.
In a sector many experience as white-dominated, some feel that investing in BIPOC work will lay the groundwork for the kind of changes they want to see in diversity and representation. Kunji Ikeda, a Japanese Canadian theatre and dance artist, and Pamela Tzeng, a Taiwanese Canadian dancer, both agree that funding work created by BIPOC folks and exploring BIPOC experiences is a piece of the puzzle. Doing so would, they believe, broaden the definition of contemporary dance, an art form characterized as a response to current social movements.
“How do we make resources that empower artists to go through development stages and discover their own aesthetic, their own interests, their own voice, but have it not need to be shaped and formed by colonial systems of white supremacy?” asked Tzeng.
“I think we need to recognize the ongoing systemic biases and unconscious systemic racism in this city,” Ikeda said.
This is something that Alèn Martel, a contemporary dancer of West Asian and South Asian descent, also emphasizes. He feels training needs to change and to start including the work of BIPOC artists when examining history.
Martel started dancing when he was accepted into the University of Calgary’s dance program. He recalls it being a very white space; he and another artist were the only BIPOC individuals in the program. But he confessed to being surrounded mostly by white women and BIPOC men on stages as his career progressed.
“My experience is that I am linked with, rely on and lean on the breadth of diverse artists that we do have in this city,” Martel said.
Tzeng had a similar experience. Having originally met with whiteness in Calgary’s contemporary dance scene, she has since found other BIPOC artists in the city, drawing strength from those communities.
“My relationships with other BIPOC artists in theatre and in other disciplinary forms has made it possible to have courage to just be myself,” Tzeng said.
Jocelyn Mah, a dance artist of mixed race, said she has seen some change in individuals and organizations in the city after the murder of George Floyd and the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. But she feels that there is still a lot of work to do, especially in terms of attitudes towards BIPOC artists.
Mah also said she has trouble separating the gender barriers in the industry from the race barriers. Opportunities are fewer when companies are looking for an equal number of male and female artists, and the challenge is even greater if the ideal body for the company happens to be white.
Ultimately, Mah hopes that social movements for BIPOC folks will create change in the future. She hopes that people see her making her way as a dancer and draw inspiration from that.
“I hope there are little Asian girls saying, ‘Yes, I can be a dancer. I can be a contemporary dancer if I want to,’ ” she said.
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