One of the most valuable experiences of my career, both professionally and personally, is my five years with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Youth, Community, and Education Programs. Beyond the training and experience I gained as an educator, one of the most indispensable benefits of my work there was the opportunity to engage with an immensely diverse range of populations. Teaching in studios and classrooms across the city of Chicago, I have learned how to relate to students from a wide range of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, as well as students with diverse abilities through Hubbard Street’s Adaptive Dance Programs – working with adults with Parkinson’s and children with Autism. No matter what background my students are coming from, I have learned how to be sensitive and aware, while also making sure that dance is what unites us. As a result of these experiences, and as I continue to work to dismantle my own implicit biases, both culturally and institutionally, I now make it a priority to create inclusive spaces in both my teaching and my creative processes, and to amplify historically marginalized voices and contributors to the field of dance.
In teaching, my first priority is always the environment I create. I make a point of creating an open, inclusive, supportive community, setting clear expectations for our classroom values and participation, taking time to get to know my students, modeling compassion and encouragement, and inviting my students to bring their whole selves – their full identities – with them into the room. Beyond environment, I also seek and take every opportunity to amplify marginalized voices, particularly voices of color, within the content of my course. Every jazz course I teach starts on day one by acknowledging and learning about the form’s roots in the African Diaspora, and the history of how it arrived to its current form. My jazz students have studied the work of artists such as Katherine Dunham and Pepsi Bethel, and analyzed works of jazz dance through the lens of Patricia Cohen’s “Jazz Dance as a Continuum”. My modern students have delved into the cultural context of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (1960), alongside Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America (2015 & 2016), and have read about and watched works created by the female pioneers of the form. Across genres, in community, context, and content, diversity is something I value and prioritize within my work as an educator.
In my creative process, I prioritize diversity by empowering and focusing on the voices in the room. I work collaboratively, inviting my dancers to draw from their own experiences and identities, exploring the themes of the work through their own lens, and making a product that is unique to them. Through my research investigating empathy and connection, I have learned that real connection is found through fostering the individual and the specific when creating, rather than zooming out to the general or “universal.” My mission as an artist is to cultivate such connection, and if possible, empathy, creating opportunities for connection across barriers of difference – in identity, experience, race, ethnicity etc. This work starts in process in the studio, with hope that it translates to an experience with an audience through performance. Whenever possible, I try to invite diverse voices into the room, and to cultivate an environment where we all – including myself – feel safe to create within the full expression of who we are.
Across all areas of my life, diversity, inclusion, and engagement with antiracist education are crucial values and objectives. Privileged to hold a position of influence, as an artist and an educator, I consider it my responsibility to do everything in my power to make the world, and the field of dance in particular, better and more inclusive for generations to come.