Racist Violence vs. Something More Than Tolerance

July 27, 2011

Like everybody else, I was utterly horrified by the bombing and massacre in Norway. I can’t stop thinking about those kids and their families. It’s mind-boggling to try to understand the motivation of someone who would do what Anders Behring Breivik did. And if it can happen in peace-loving Norway, it can happen anywhere. But it made me think about the dance community, wherever it exists, and why it feels so safe, and whether that safety is an illusion.

It’s hard to imagine one of these deranged, racist killers coming from within the dance community. I’m not saying that being a dancer automatically bestows ideal mental health. There are aspects of this profession (body image, narcissism, ambition, competition) that can twist a malleable mind out of shape. But for the most part, we’re pretty grounded and pretty compassionate.

First of all, we are constantly working with other people, and one of the things that turns a person like Breivik or the Unabomber into an extremist is their lack of contact with others. But further, there’s this:

I think that being in a studio dancing with someone is such an intimate experience—whether you’re actually touching that person or you’re just trying to stay on the same music—that you forget about the color of their skin or their religion. Any preconceptions you might have had about the “other” fall away in the heat and hard work of the moment. And as different as we all are from each other, just the attempt to perform well and live a life as a dancer binds us together.

I think the dance world has had a pretty good record of welcoming a wide range of races and colors (as I said in our July 2010 cover story). OK, maybe that hasn’t always been the case, and maybe not quite as much in the ballet world, but certainly in the modern, Broadway, and tap genres and more and more in the ballet world. But I just think that the blood, sweat, and tears of dancing with a diversity of people overrides the polemics of different opinions. And even though I used the word “tolerance” in the title of this blog post, I think the dance world’s acceptance of different races and relgions goes further. It’s not just tolerance but a real enjoyment of diversity too. So these thoughts make me feel, along with being shocked and saddened by Breivik’s lunatic killing spree, a little bit proud of the dance community.