Dallas — In February of this year, I wrote a piece on the politics of dance, and now, just one month after an election that rocked our nation, and just one month away from the inauguration of arguably the most polarizing political leader we have had in our country’s history, the concepts and issues I discussed seem ever more relevant.
I previously referenced an essay by Sylvia Glasser in the 1991 Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement in which she examined the role of dance in society through a cultural anthropological lens. She found that there are two views on the matter—either you think that dance is inherently political or you think that dance should exist separate from political matters. It is often those who have the political power who support the latter. A fact we saw proven true this year, 25 years after Glasser’s study, when Donald Trump took it upon himself to define the role of theatre.
On Nov. 19, 2016, in an attempt to “defend the honor” of his Vice President-elect, Trump logged on to Twitter and “educated” us on the “real” mission of theater—that it “must always be a safe and special place.”
The thing this, he’s right—only not in the way he intended. Theatre should be a safe and special place, and for decades, it has been. The arts, theater and dance, have been a safe space for free speech, and for women, people of color, and the LGBT community. The irony of him chastising the cast of Hamilton, a musical commenting on the importance of immigrants in America, or the action of him trying to redefine what we already know, is not lost. It instead seems to place Trump as the central character in our dramatic tragic comedy—he is just a player on this worldly stage.
We know that the theater is our safe place. It allows us the opportunity to express opposition and resistance; it allows us the chance to grieve, to get angry, to retaliate, to problem-solve, and to compromise. Our recent election has given us inspiration and motivation. It has reignited the passion and drive to create, not just for ourselves, but for each other. It has drawn together the artistic community in an immediate and crucial way. It has reminded us that what we do is critically important, especially in moments like these. We are poised to make a dramatic and pivotal mark.
Further, when considering the function of dance and how it gives a bodily voice to sentiments that we cannot or are denied the right to express verbally, we can’t refute that this election is an artistic call-to-arms. Following in the footsteps of the dance-makers, the artists, who have come before of us—Kurt Jooss, Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Paul Taylor, William Forsythe, Pina Bausch, Yvonne Rainer, and Bill T. Jones—we can find empowerment during these soon to be dark times. The work of our predecessors captured something unique, freezing in time historical moments, and highlighting a mix of inspiration, fear, delight, and freedom. We have the opportunity, capacity, and the mandate to voice our thoughts, our emotions, and our platforms and join their ranks.
The political power of dance will continue to be discussed, examined, and debate and the same questions raised: Should dance portray and magnify the realities of life? Or should dance be an escape from reality? It is in the complex area between these points where dance harnesses its strength and becomes a powerful tool of expression.
If Glasser is correct and dance is “not only an expression of political feelings, [but]…can also influence the perceptions of the participants and viewers, and contribute to transforming socio-political systems,” then “dance not only reflects the society, but it can also mold society.” We must relearn how to inhale despite new stifling political and cultural circumstances, and we now have renewed responsibilities as America’s creative class. What will be our role in what is seeming to be a forthcoming attack on culture? How we challenge this new power and yet remain full of tolerance, transparency, and accuracy?
This generation—my generation, the millennials—must prepare for a strange battle. We are now facing our version of the 1990s culture wars, and what we must remember is that art—all art—and its institutions and supporters, are easily demonized. But we are the bearers of the lessons of history and the students of our past. We relish the challenge of investigation, education, and debate. We have a reservoir of writers, choreographers, musicians, designers, and performers—a reservoir that is brimming with truth and earnest, hard work. We will mold the next chapter of artistic freedom. We are stronger than 140 characters.
» Danielle Georgiou is a dance educator, critic and writer. She is the Founder and Artistic Director of DGDG (Danielle Georgiou Dance Group) and is a working dancer and performance artist. Her column Sixth Position appears on the third Sunday of the month on TheaterJones.com.
- February 2014: Cash Choreography
- March 2014: Make the Fringe Your Future
- April 2014: Don't Freak Out, It's Just an Audition
- May 2014: You Love Dance. You're Not Alone
- June 2014: Persevering Through Movement
- July 2014: Sharing in Success
- August 2014: To the Barre
- September 2014: Method Act
- October 2014: Fear of Flying
- December 2014: The Editor Dance
- January 2015: Community Relations
- February 2015: The Fabric of Movement
- March 2015: State of the Dance
- April 2015: The Dance Mom Complex
- May 2015: Who Wants to Date a Dancer?
- June 2015: Figuring How Men Fit In
- August 2015: Creative Economy
- September 2015: Dancing to Learn
- October 2015: Whose Idea Is It Anyway?
- December 2015: '15 Going on '16
- January 2016: In Memoriam
- Februrary 2016: The Politics of Dancing
- March 2016: No column
- April 2016: Defining Dance Theatre
- May 2016: No column
- June 2016: Dancing for Change
- July/August 2016: No column
- September 2016: Sweat the Details, Not the Consequences
- October/November 2016: No column