Dance as a form of protest
I believe that dance is the ultimate form of protest, especially in our modern world. In a world that seems to unfold behind screens, dance is conscious physical embodiment. In a world that seems increasingly isolated in spite of our digital access to one another, dance is meaningful connection. In a world that seems to hide behind filters and photoshop, dance is raw. In a world that loves the 20-second soundbite, dance is persistent and eternal. In a world that is always looking to what is new, dance is primal and innate. In a world that seems to encourage division and disagreement, dance is universal. In a world that only sees in black and white, dance is vibrant. In a world that forces yes or no, dance holds and honors multiple perspectives, voices, and modes of thinking, moving, and being.
Of course, the dance industry is not always reflective of the true nature of dance itself. The world of dance is not immune to the issues that plague society: classism, sexism, ageism, ableism, colonialism, and most pertinently today, racism. We must urgently work on recognizing and removing these systems and mindsets from our institutions and from the hearts and minds of the individuals who compose them. We must listen deeply, discuss openly, and move mindfully to create a dance world that:
- Honors the contributions of Black dancers and choreographers, both throughout history and currently;
- Supports Black students with culturally responsive teaching practices;
- Creates equity and access for Black dancers, choreographers, administrators, educators, and students;
- Honors and authentically engages with diversity in all aspects of the field;
- Consciously and continually engages in self and organizational reflection to uncover and eliminate bias and racism.
I am committing myself to listen, learn, research, reflect, acknowledge and work to undo my own biases. I have been reviewing my blog posts and resources, to be more transparent about my background and experience, and how they shape my perspectives and practices. As I work to deepen my knowledge of culturally responsive teaching practices, I will make more updates to existing content and create new material accordingly. I will continue to seek a diverse group of reviewers for each new resource in The Holistic Dance Teacher Collection. (If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please email me at email@example.com.) I have always, and will continue to, welcome comments, feedback, and suggestions in the form of blog comments, emails, surveys sent with each purchase from the HDT Collection, and in The Holistic Dance Teacher Facebook group. I am also using my social media platforms to share and promote diverse organizations, blogs, and individuals that I learn from and admire.
Perhaps most importantly, I will continue to engage in and advocate for the radical act of dancing, which I fervently believe can and will create change in our world, if we do it well, together.
Introducing protest dance to our students
It is very likely that your students will want and need to address issues of race and racism when we return to the studio. I encourage you to take advantage of this time to talk honestly about the contributions of and challenges faced by Black dancers and artists past and present; acknowledge the ways that Black dances have been appropriated by White culture; and examine the role of dance in protest movements throughout history.
I’ve used this Protest Dance unit in the past, and find it a great way to tackle important issues through dance education. It works well in middle and high school programs, college dance appreciation, history, and culture courses, and conservatory style choreography and composition classes.
It is vital to understand and honor the fact that dancers will all have their own levels of understanding and experience with the concept of protest, and with various causes that they might want to protest for or about. This activity is designed to be broad enough that dancers can approach it in a way that is relatable to them. Remember that there are many issues that a student might feel moved to protest for or about.. Allowing dancers to explore the issues that most interest them will keep them engaged in the experience. The intention of this activity prompts is not to force a perspective or way of thinking on dancers, but instead to help them think critically and creatively about the issues they are hearing about on the news and in social media.
When working with youth, always remember to present the material in a way that is appropriate for their age and development. If necessary, consult a school counselor or mental health professional for advice on tackling difficult subjects and facilitating healthy discussions with your dancers.
Protest dance activity to use in your dance classes
Essential Questions: How do individuals and communities use dance to respond to, raise awareness of, promote, or protest against issues that matter to them? Why do they choose dance as opposed to other forms of protest? Is dance an effective tool for protest?
Part 1: Learn about a variety of protest movements that use dance to spread their message, and protest dances created for the stage. Some of my favorite movements that use dance are the One Billion Rising Movement, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, Global Water Dances, and the recent use of the Electric Slide in current Black Lives Matter protests. In addition, this list highlights a number of great concert dance pieces created as protest. Where possible, teach the students a section of each dance that you are introducing them to, so that they can feel how the dance embodies the social issues of the protest movement.
Part 2: Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group a video of a different version of a dance associated with the One Billion Rising protest movement. (I use this movement because there are many different diverse videos available on YouTube – feel free to choose a different movement.) Direct the students to learn the choreography from the video and determine how they want to teach it to their classmates. Allow each group time to teach their classmates the dance they learned. Discuss the similarities and differences in each dance, and how each engages with the theme of the protest movement.
Part 3: Be inspired by the dance that you taught and those you learned from your peers to create your own protest dance.
- With your group, decide on a cause you would like to raise awareness about through the creation of a protest dance. It could be related to a broad issue related to social justice, the environment, and arts advocacy, or local issues affecting your school or community.
- Direct students to choose if they will create a “protest dance” to be performed by large groups of people in public settings (like the One Billion Rising Dances), or a concert piece that addresses the issue through an artistic presentation to be viewed by a group of non-dancers (like Strange Fruit).
- Give the dancers appropriate guidelines for their dance, or help them develop their own: length, location, music, costumes, props, etc. Have them create a plan for sharing their dance with the school or community, whether virtually or in-person.
Part 4: Share and discuss the dances, either as a class or with the community. How did each dance inspire change? What action are the observers or participants inspired to take because of the dance?