Check the Transcript [On the debate of Erasure with The Dance Enthusiast ]

Recently I've found myself in a digital back and forth conversation about the systematic erasure of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) in dance critique. The conversation was sparked by a review on The Dance Enthusiast's website for the Dance NOW Festival's opening night at Joe's Pub.

In the review, writer Robert Johnson made a decision to write about and identify 8 out of 10 artists who participated in the evening. The two excluded artists were women of color. Where it gets complicated is that...

  1. I was one of the excluded artists
  2. The Dance Union podcast called out this slight and requested consideration and an apology. I'm a co-host of this podcast and co-host/framily J.Bouey brought this to light on my behalf. 
  3. I've written articles for The Dance Enthusiast for roughly 3.5 years. 
So, the dance world I exist in requires that I wear many hats. I find myself affiliated with a variety of organizations, and while this can get dicey, I'm clear about my responsibilities as a human and artist.

  1. As an artist - It's hurtful to be erased/excluded from an archive based on someone's bias, aesthetic, value judgement, racist lens or whatever their reasoning. It's valid for me to seek clarification around decisions for exclusion when it happens to me. And while this discussion  was sparked by a limited and short-sighted review on TDE, it speaks to a larger issue of systemic erasure in the dance field as a whole. This ish ain't new! 
  2. As co-host of The Dance Union podcast- It's our job to raise issues that are important to our dance community, provide examples, lead discussions, and advocate for change.
  3. As a writer - It's important to support writer integrity and accountability. 
I've discovered several things this past month. I'm grateful for the learning. Most importantly, is that not everyone is ready to have a thoughtful and intellectual conversation about systems and behaviors of erasure. Some people are incapable of being humble, recognizing their faults, and apologizing. Some people are not interested in opportunities for learning and doing better.  This is most evident in responses posted by Christine Jowers, editor/founder of The Dance Enthusiast. Right now it feels the conversation is going nowhere (see more below). Having to navigate around tactics of white fragility and victimhood is exhausting. I'm tired and I'm over it, which is leading me to reclaim my time, energy, and space. Nonetheless, my community will continue to advocate for equity, accountability, and visibility through supportive conversations, considerations, and respectful transactions. Stay tuned!

Below is a transcript of some of the happenings. Some on Instagram, some on Facebook. Archiving is important, especially when folks try to change the narrative, make false claims, delete comments, deny access. To that I say...check the transcript

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ON INSTAGRAM
thedanceunion's profile picture
thedanceunion On the Erasure of BIPOC Dance Artists and the Limits of the White Gaze. “It’s inconceivable that where [we] already [are] is the mainstream”
-Toni Morrison

I went to the opening night of @dancenownyc at @joespub on Beyoncé’s birthday, and really enjoyed the lineup and diversity of art and artists presented. And, I am appalled to see two artists, Melanie Greene and Sarah Chien’s (@laniereene and @dancepostcard) names and titles of work missing from this @dancenthusiast write up by Robert Johnson, and instead dismissed with, “Less successful were a couple of solos built around the performers’ identities—self-affirmation is commendable but not enough, by itself, to hold a viewer’s attention”. As an audience member I was captivated by these Melanie and Sarah’s solos. This is what could have been written about their works:

Melanie Greene gave an awe-inspiring and harrowing performance of Sapphire (an excerpt) at the opening night of the Dance Now Festival at Joe’s Pub. The piece interrogated the practice of show producers asking Black artists to present their work within limiting contexts that leave them vulnerable to the vicious consumption of the white gaze and white supremacy (as detailed in her opening poem...” invited to the stage, to be objectified by the white gaze, a token to make you shout, with black ass and titties out.”). Greene encouraged the Joe’s Pub audience, predominantly white, to “work/werk” while she remained at ease, beautifully covered in gold fit for a Goddess.

Sarah Chien’s performance Rollercoster shows Chien dressed in boxing attire, ready to bring an internal struggle to the exterior. In an Instagram post, Chien shared, “This piece is about fighting with all of the internal and external forces that pull in my emotions on a daily basis: self doubt, social pressures of different identities (#mixedrace)”. The performance did that and more in just 5 minutes.

This is what was missing from the Dance Enthusiast’s review. Greene and Chien were strategically left out. The history of erasure through a lack of documentation and archival of BIPOC folks in dance is long and unfortunately still alive and well. Do better. -J. Bouey | @j_bouey

Comments:

virginia_woolf_official This is so fucked! Old white man erasing WOC from his purview and bothered by queer aesthetics. I can’t. But dance enthusiast is generally lame and built on white supremacist aesthetics so should be boycotted

thedanceunion@virginia_woolf_official it’s definitely trash! No more @dancenthusiast until they right their wrongs!

brendandrakechoreography I’ve been having hard time finding the words to articulate my feelings on this @dancenthusiast write up (mostly because of how deeply hurtful Robert Johnson’s comments on my work are). I have many opinions on this (because of course I do) but for now I will say @dancepostcard and @laniereene were by far my favorite works of that night. Challenging, forthright and with a unique point of view. That is what I saw and that is what the audience saw.

_peoplemovers I was also in the audience that evening - such a reductive look at the performance and a simplistic way to talk about choreographic work in general. And the erasure is inexcusable. Expressing my support and gratitude for @laniereene and @dancepostcard and @brendandrakechoreography for making work that’s vulnerable and risky, and doesn’t always please a crowd. Art should not always make people comfortable or feel like it was “successful.” Your courage is seen and deeply felt.

remiharris_What the fuck?? This is awful.

Bo_archive_scraps  @dancenthusiast write up described my work as “exotic” last summer.





















UPDATE: ON J’s FB page...
An update on the @dancenthusiast review of @dancenownyc ‘s opening night at @joespub in which @laniereene and @dancepostcard were not named in the review written by Robert Johnson, nor were the titles of their work, only flippantly dismisses with, “self affirmation is commendable but not enough..”
Unfortunately, the @dancenthusiast is complicit in the erasure of BIPOC artists. I hope the founder and editor in chief, Christine Jowers, will use her executive powers to repair its reputation by:
-issuing a public apology on their platform
-editing the article to include the two reviews of Melanie Greene’s work Sapphire and Sarah Chien’s work. I provided for them in a previous post.

Jay Bouey:
I hope The DancEnthusiast can right their wrongs, and do right by Melanie Greene and Sarah Chien by issuing a public apology and updating the review in which Robert Johnson dismissed them and their work. There’s still time.

Thank you for taking pictures of my comments and sharing them, and asking me to write the wrongs of my website...but what can I say except my writer didn't care for the work. You disagree and think he is trying to erase People of Color. I got it and I disagree. He didn't care for the work and didn't want to associate the artists with a bad review, actually thinking that was the kindest approach. Make of that what you will, and God Bless.

and please feel free to copy and paste my thoughts anywhere you please. I am Christine Jowers the founding Editor-in-Chief of The Dance Enthusiast. And since identities matter a great deal to you, I am a woman of mixed race heritage from the Caribbean who supports free speech and stands behind my writers.

Based on the entire review, it’s clear the writer was not concerned with possibly associating artists with a bad review.
You’re background and identity does not excuse you from thinking rooted in white supremacy and I find it laughable that you would hide behind the “free speech” narrative to avoid being held accountable as a gatekeeper in our field.

I’m sending this meaning no ill will but rather as a white artist who is interested in dismantling the racist systems in place that erase artists of color. The work is difficult and uncomfortable and long term but deeply important.

DancEnthusiast A few things, dear...
1. Freedom of speech doesn't make any of us free of consequences or being held accountable. Remember that.

2. As the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Dance Enthusiast, I feel confident in assuming you hold the most about of power and executive control to address and repair the damages done by the writers you hire.

3. Just to echo Brendan Drake: "You’re background and identity does not excuse you from thinking rooted in white supremacy". Also, you're not alone in that. I find some of my thoughts rooted in misogynoir, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, and ableism. The real test of character is what we do once we learn about the damaging effects of those thoughts and perspectives. Do we deny deny deny? Hide behind our good intentions to absolve ourselves of the accountability of our impact? Blame the messenger for making us feel bad? Or, do we listen, learn, and repair. Which brings me to my last point

4. Asking you to publicly apologize on your platforms and amend the review that Robert Johnson wrote is a simple, low-cost request that could help save the reputation of your publication. This request is informed by healthy and reparative Public Relations tactics and the skill of Community Engagement.

I know that I don't have the power to destroy The Dance Enthusiast or it's/your reputation, but you do, by virtue of your actions and inactions. Learn something from this.

Yes to what Jay said and also listen with open ears to your community before going on the offensive right away.

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Comments on a Controversial Article : ***Editors Note - October 1, 2019 - On Christine Jower’s FB page… (here)

The IMPRESSION of opening night at of DANCE NOW Joe’s Pub ( published September 7, 2019) by Robert Johnson, one of our contributors, and a highly regarded professional in the field of dance journalism, has been the subject of great controversy and anger in our dance world. Indeed there has been more controversy and anger over this piece than any other article on the site in the history of The Dance Enthusiast.
Two artists who were in the opening night show at Joe's Pub were not named. I understand that they were the only artists not called out by name in this article. The two artists are Melanie Greene, (also a valuable contributor to The Dance Enthusiast for three-and -a half years, a Bessie Award Winner for "the skeleton architecture", and one of the faces behind a new- to- the-scene podcast called The Dance Union) and Sarah Chien.
These women are emerging artists, Women of Color, whose solo work I've heard many good things about, but have not had the good fortune to see personally. I wish them the best in this difficult field, and future good notices of their work here and on other arts journalism entities.
The Dance Enthusiast, subsequent to this IMPRESSION, was called out on social media for erasure of Women of Color and Black Identifying People of Color. There were other accusations and calls for our boycott.
This has been sad time for an organization built on an idea of inclusion, and respect for our large, diverse moving community. We are working behind-the-scenes to create more productive discussions on dance writing, the art of dance, who is left out and who is not. As the editor-in-chief, I would like to contribute to and create positive discussion. There is a lot of talking at today instead of speaking to. Maybe The Dance Enthusiast can help to change that. I hope so.
Anyone familiar with the body of work of The Dance Enthusiast over its 12 years of existence knows that to erase Women of Color, or Black Identifying People of Color, or any person at all is NOT what The Dance Enthusiast, stands for. Anyone who happens to know me personally, my history, or my identity, knows this is not what I stand for.
We stand up for our community - dance artists, dance journalists, and beyond. We respect passionate differences of opinion. It is part of my job description to listen to people who want to speak about their feelings regarding this journalistic forum.There are a myriad of ways to do begin this conversation - emails, phone calls (my contacts are listed on the site), letters to the editor, posting alternative audience reviews, or posting comments under the articles themselves.
We - myself and all the contributors here - invite EVERY BODY to share their opinions on our site, and to share their alternate reviews of any performance they've seen - especially if they passionately disagree about what is said by our writers. It is important that our community's thoughts are part of our permanent archive, not to be erased.
We welcome conversation, and critique, supporting freedom of expression. freedom of speech, the flourishing of our art form, and its artists. Best always, Christine

and this letter btw is now part of the permanent archive of THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST it is listed beneath Robert's article and I have also linked it to a reminder of What The Dance Enthusiast Stands For Check it out

Love this idea of speaking to rather than at people. And let’s remember the role of active listening in this process. Thanks to you and all of the contributors at The Dance Enthusiast for covering and supporting the dance community. We are a large, diverse group of folks. Inclusion is key. It’s amazing to see organizations like yours founded AND practicing inclusion while also learning and changing with the times. Thanks for all that you do and stand for!! I am a dance enthusiast!


This is a step in the right direction and the editors note at the end of the article is an addition that is appreciated.

Unfortunately, this is a lot of words for the lack of an apology and a thinly veiled attempt to police how the public responds to bad journalism.

We asked for an apology. An apology is an acknowledgment of one’s actions that lead to a specific fault. You’re the founder and editor in chief and an article went into circulation missing the names of two women of color. Whether that was your intention or not, it happened and an apology is how mature adults respond when they unintentionally cause harm. It’s like when you accidentally step on someone’s foot at Starbucks and you reflexively say, “oh! I’m so sorry.”

Here are a few clarifications:

1. No one called for your boycott. Even if we did, did it work?
2. BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, People of Color. I just learned that this year myself because it’s kind of new.
3. The initial post was meant to reflect two major issues within journalism at this time.

A. erasure is systemic and part of the historical fabric of dance journalism and archival practices and we want an end to that.

B. The CisHet White Male Able Bodied perspective of art made by the marginalized and oppressed is too often one that falls in alignment with white supremacy and WE ARE TIRED (see: Alastair Macaulay)

Lastly, please stop spinning this to make you and The Dance Enthusiast the victims in this narrative. We can’t work with you if you refuse to hold yourself accountable or be held accountable. We’d like to work with you.


Not a victim nor is The Dance Enthusiast.

Christine Jowers the fact that you only replied to that point, among the many others, is telling.

The Dance Union I would like to invite you to respond on the site, if you feel that is appropriate and something you are interested in. I don’t believe the journalism is bad but as you do, I welcome your words so that our audience of readers can see them. I need to write some of my own stuff now. So for the moment, I can’t lend much more energy to the conversation. Thank you for making your point. I am sorry that my words are not working to bring us to a better understanding. I struggle with words.

What if you three did a podcast episode together? I’d personally be very curious to see how that would go.

things that make you go 🧐 hmmm. Yes to a larger intelligent discussion on the topic of erasure, real erasure and real oppression of people who really are being left out of a conversation. The social media anger game of trying to call out The Dance Enthusiast as representative of white male patriarchy over a sentence in a review is utter bullshit and disrespectful to people who have been, erased, oppressed and left out.

Please check out a dance artist of the highest caliber who dances about his life and oppression ..Faustin Linyekula. He is one of my many personal dance heroes.


The author of that piece excluded the young women based solely on a negative appraisal of their performance. He didn’t wish to single them out.

If I believed for one second that the reviewer omitted their names for any other reason, an apology would be due. But in this case, journalistic freedom takes precedent over anyone’s interpretation of a reasonable decision.

We could have added, ‘Also appearing that evening were, etc. But the contrast would not have assisted those two young artists in their nascent careers.
The critique was not against the performers’ talents or emergence as artists, rather believing their performance did not fulfill their talents.”
I hope this clarifies our position.

So this entire thing started because RJ didn’t want to shred someone in a review?

Yep

Christine Jowers I think you’re owed an apology.

i just want to do my unpaid work meh chile ( ps That’s what we call friends in St Thomas,U S Virgin Islands and we also say something that I love to hear when life gets u down, “stay up!”

To add - I do think the Enthusiast made a mistake here. A personal decision was made to "spare" two artists bad press, which I find a bit problematic. They should have gotten the negative review with the context you just provided (their performance didn't fulfill their talents). Their relationship with DE bestowed upon them a degree of privilege to which the other poorly reviewed artist did not benefit.

And I will give my standard: thank you for your opinion please feel free to share it on the dance enthusiast in letters to the editor or in an alternate review. 🌺❤️😊 or if you feel strongly enough i would consider a guest editorial. 😊

What is unfortunate and a missed opportunity for learning is that the writer's 'negative appraisal' of the works is irrelevant. This reasoning is condescending and creates a different kind of 'single them out' through omission. If the Dance Enthusiast is ‘built on an idea of inclusion, and respect for our large, diverse moving community’, as you mentioned above, why is there a clear advocacy and practice of exclusion.

What you appear to be missing is that this writer chose to view work from a very specific lens, aesthetic, and made a judgment call where he felt justified in completely ignoring/erasing participants from the evening (PERIOD). This cavalier dismissal shows the short-sightedness and limitations of both the writer and editor(s) of the article. The fact that the two missing artists were both women of color is equally telling and a reasonable call for anyone to take a look at how work is assessed and valued, whose voice gets to be heard, and who decides.

I've done undoing racism training through PISAB three times. Our upbringing, race, gender, birthplace doesn't absolve us from doing much needed work around equity and anti-racist work, more so it has probably aided our blindspots. I know participating in anti-racist work/training has been suggested to you more than once and I agree with my colleagues Jay Bouey, Brendan Drake, and many others that this work is important and necessary for the equitable dance spaces we wish to cultivate. Again, if The Dance Enthusiast is an ‘organization built on an idea of inclusion, and respect for our large, diverse moving community’, you'd want your writers to do that work as well. Trying to couch our concerns, critique, and your discomfort in rhetoric around writer victimhood and freedom of press reflects clear behaviors of deflection articulated in Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (highly recommended) and does little to support our field moving forward and onward. I fully acknowledge that you don't feel an apology or acknowledgment is owed. Understood. This is your right. This is also where our visions for the dance field diverge as my colleagues and I advocate for equity and accountability.

Fun Fact/Last note: It's beautifully ironic that the writer chose to leave out two works and trash another that spoke directly to issues of identity, accountability, and white supremacy. Gotta love art!

Hello Melanie, I will read this thoroughly on Monday. It would have been nice to have a discussion with you on the phone or face to face instead of being called out on social media by your podcast. I am glad you have had racism training, it just seems that you haven't had training in how to communicate with people you work with. I really like you and have supported your voice and point of view on The Dance Enthusiast for 3.5 years, and have been pleased, more than pleased to do so. I was thrilled when I heard you started a podcast. (halle,freakin'luiah...finally. I thought all over the dance world people would be doing things like that) But wow... didn't expect our site to be the target of an attack. This experience with you and your podcast, and your fans has been eye-opening to me. I realize that people prefer to see hate instead of the love and generosity and appreciation for dance which this website was based on. I have been called out by your organization for trying to and I quote "police the dance conversation" over this. Wow. No one has even commented to the writer in question re his piece. No, it has to be a take down of the organization that built to support artists and communication about dance. Irony abounds, as does ignorance. I am working behind the scenes at the moment to try to create a larger more fruitful discussion. I am hoping it will be productive. For giving me the impetus to work on this issue, I do thank you, for the rest ( not so much). Dance communication needs to be addressed and needs so much work and tending to. This is all I will say on social media. You know my number, email, and address. If you'd like to really talk I am there. But I do need a moment to collect myself. Despite the fact that I have been "told" I should not take this personally it personally hurts me and that is the plain truth.


Phones work both ways. We can agree to disagree. No need for a ‘thorough’ response. You’ve made yourself very clear. logging off


Melanie Greene I was at the doctors office when I found out your organization called mine out on social media, immediately going for the jugular. I emailed you (if you recall) to ask what it was about and why you didn’t email me to let me know what is up. I am sure you know that all the editors cannot attend shows with our writers. I had no idea who was left of of the program upon reading the review. I had to research to find it out. Please don’t pretend I didn’t reach out to you. My word. I disagree with you and the way you have dealt with this issue 100 percent.


Hi everyone,

BIPOC erasure is real. I'm grateful to Jay Bouey and Melanie Greene for leading this conversation.

On a personal level, I've been wrestling with a few things:

As a mixed-race person, my relationship to the POC label is complicated. I fit in no one category. Some people view me as white and some people view me as POC and I have no way of knowing how someone sees me in the moment. Often times I don’t have a say. This can mean being excluded on the basis of being too white or on the basis of being not white enough. Or inversely, being included because of any facet of my identity. 



When J. first messaged me about this article, I began looking back at opportunities that I haven't received and wondering if my identities were actually working against me, without me knowing. This is what many artists of color feel, but the mixed-race experience is especially confusing to parse in these situations.

I've been hesitant to jump into this conversation, but I've been following along and trying to articulate my response/responsibility. For DanceNow, I actually made a short piece about how exhausting it is to navigate the various identity labels that get assigned to me (diversity burnout!), so imagine my exasperation when that piece ultimately sparked more of the same.

The truth is, as an independent artist, improviser, and DIY-producer, I’ve never seen myself well represented in dance criticism. Rarely do dance critics even attend the venues where I make my best work. I wonder if dance **criticism** is even a helpful approach in a field so scarce of resources, when what we all need is more support (Melanie and J touch on this in their podcast episode "Ain't Ya'll Mad”). I love when dance writers share a perspective about their experience of the work that *adds* to the conversation, that helps us see a work in a new way, rather than seeking to judge. When writers can be artists offering their own written artistic work in dialogue with the performed work.

I admire people like Melanie and J who have the energy to fight for inclusion and visibility. It’s never fair that POC people have to spend extra energy fighting, explaining, educating. For now, I’m spending my limited energy on my artistic work. I’m touring my solo show (www.songsstuckinmybody.com) next week and that’s where my focus is right now.





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