Curtain Up

June 20, 2007

In 1967, when the Civil Rights Movement was in full force, Dance Magazine came out with a cover that caused a bit of a stir. It pictured Arthur Mitchell and Mimi Paul in Jacques d’Amboise’s Othello, staring into each other’s eyes. To see that cover now, it looks sweet and mild, with a hint of romance. But dancer and scholar Judith Brin Ingber, who had just taken a job as an editorial assistant at Dance Magazine, remembers the angry letters she had to answer from subscribers who were upset to see a black man and a white woman pictured together.

Have we come a long way? Yes. Obviously. And yet plenty of dancers still feel the burn of discrimination, from being shut out of certain roles to facing insidious assumptions about their abilities and style. Race is an issue that doesn’t get talked about enough—at least not beyond the comfort zones. To help fill that gap, we are devoting most of our pages this month to the subject of race. You could call this the race issue issue.

Now, 38 years after that controversial cover, the demographics of the dance world in the U.S. have changed. Through a surge of immigration, we have not only white and black dancers, but also many more Latino and Asian dancers. “Beyond Tokenism: When Diversity Is Part of the Art” interviews choreographers who revel in the new diversity and make it part of their artistic mission. Other features reflect the perspectives of African American, Asian, and Latino dancers. We wanted to be both inclusive and practical, so we interviewed many other dance artists for “Other Voices” and outlined funding possibilities for culturally specific companies in “The Color of Money.”

Recently I was in a studio improvising with a dance colleague. As I knelt to set down a prop, he said, “Oh don’t do it that way—it looks so white.” Though both of us are white, I knew exactly what he meant. My legs were close together in a narrow base, and my torso upright—sort of dainty. I had done it before with a wider base, legs squatting wide, chest leaning forward, and he preferred that version.

Whiteness has its own characteristics and can be looked at and labeled in the same way as other culturally specific dancing. Author Brenda Dixon Gottschild breaks it down in her essay “Whoa! Whiteness in Dance.” She intentionally treads a fine line between analyzing and stereotyping, but she demonstrates that no one race has a corner on “normality.”

At Dance Magazine we want to open up the conversation on race, and that means listening to other dancers’ experiences. Considering the potentially explosive nature of people’s feelings about race, the dancers interviewed in this issue are remarkably straightforward and honest. Please listen—and read—and continue the conversation with the dance artists in your own circles. In order to move forward, we need to accept—no, celebrate—the gloriousness that diversity brings to our art.