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How to Support the Black Dance Community, Beyond Social Media

The dance community's response to the death of George Floyd was immediate and sweeping on social media. Dance artists, including Desmond Richardson and Martha Nichols, used their social platforms to make meaningful statements about racial inequality. Theresa Ruth Howard's leadership spurred ballet companies including Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet to pledge #BalletRelevesForBlackLives. Among the most vocal supporters have been dance students, who continue to share the faces and gut-wrenching last words of Black men and women who have died in police custody on their Instagram feeds and Stories.

The work we're doing on social media as a community is important and necessary—and we should keep at it. But now, that momentum must also carry us into taking action. Because to be a true ally, action is required.

A responsible ally amplifies Black voices­­. They choose to listen rather than speak. And they willingly throw their support, and, if they can, their dollars, behind Black dancers and Black dance organizations. Here are some ways you can do your part.


Participate in the Dance Industry Blackout

Activists are encouraging dancers to participate in the Dance Industry Blackout, happening today, June 2. To join the effort, first, post a plain black image to your social feeds. Then, avoid posting content for the remainder of the day. Suspend classes, rehearsals, and meetings, and use this time to identify ways to uplift black dancers and the organizations that support them. Be brave, and try to feel okay in the discomfort that these conversations may create.

Attend a Dance Class Fundraiser

Fundraising classes are a win-win experience: you get to train with master teachers and choreographers, and your donation goes to furthering causes that help propel Black artists. Here are a few options:

  • Peridance Capezio Center will host a full week of online classes starting June 6, with funds raised going to organizations that fight against racial inequality.
  • Gibney Dance will donate all online class revenue through the end of June to organizations on the front lines of the effort.
  • Former Nederlands Dans Theater dancer Spenser Theberge will teach three ballet classes this week, and all proceeds will go to the organization Color of Change.
  • Martha Graham Dance Company is offering all revenue from this week's online classes to the Minnesota Freedom Fund.
  • Instagram account Movement for Hope is hosting classes all week, with the proceeds going to a different organization fighting for equality each day.
  • Next week, the "Cindies Ballet Class" (with ABT principals Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside) will be collecting donations for @fairfightaction and @aclu_nationwide.

Educate Yourself

Seek out works by authors of color, because their perspectives will most accurately reveal what it means to be Black in America. The arts also play a major role in reflecting society, so watching dance works and reading poems that navigate concepts like racial injustice and white privilege can have an equally educative effect on you. A good starting point is this guide, which offers 24 peaceful ways you can get involved in the fight for black liberation without protesting in the streets.

Here are some other resources. This is, of course, an incomplete list—we hope it leads you into independent research.

Books

  • Ain't I a Woman by bell hooks
  • CHOKEHOLD: Policing Black Men by Paul Butler
  • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
  • Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy DeGruy
  • White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

Dance Works

Interviews

Have Uncomfortable Conversations

Start conversations about race and racism with your dance friends and teachers. These conversations can be challenging and uncomfortable—you don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, and that's valid—but that fear is what keeps us all from finding solutions for social change.

If you're not Black, consider how your Black dance friends might be feeling. They are not okay right now. Be empathetic and patient. Check in by sending them a simple text. If they respond, know they're hurting, so be completely open to how they feel without judging them. Their words may turn into tears, anxiety or anger. Respect and receive those emotions, and be sure they know you're there to listen. Ask open-ended questions, rather than ones that prompt yes-or-no responses, to show you're genuinely invested in how they feel.

Use movies or books as points of connection. There are tons of resources—including the ones listed above—that depict the history of racial discrimination in our nation. Invite a dance friend to watch with you, and be open to where the conversation goes after.

Get Involved Locally

You might not live near the larger cities where major protests are happening, but that doesn't mean you can't protest. If there are grassroots efforts happening in your area, join them. Talk with activists who are on the front lines of this fight. They are immersed in the struggle, and can provide a deeply informed perspective.

Look into starting an ally program, similar to LGBTQ+ ally programs, at your dance studio. This is something that should happen with the consent and involvement of your studio director, with Black dancers and their families at the helm. Ally programs can take many shapes, but even a Zoom conversation once a week is a jumping-off point.

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SAB Student Founds Dancewear Nonprofit to Help Others in Need

When School of American Ballet student Alexandra de Roos was 8 years old, she placed a collection box at her dance studio for others to donate their gently used dancewear. De Roos, now 17, has since turned that single collection box into a nonprofit organization that aims to minimize economic barriers in the performing arts with free dancewear and classes.

De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

After SAB shifted its winter term online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, de Roos decided to expand Peace Love Leotards. She reached out to dance companies, resulting in partnerships with brands including Jo+Jax, Lone Reed Designs, RubiaWear and Wear Moi.

"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

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