Recent proposed curriculum changes at the small, private, women-only, liberal arts institution Mills College, which sits in the Oakland hills in the San Francisco Bay Area has threatened the Dance Department there. Mills’ Dance Department is one of the oldest of its kind in the nation, and it happens to be where I am currently earning my Master of Arts in Dance. The MA program has revolutionized dance, and how I think about dance.
Here’s what I wrote in response to the proposed cuts, and the power that I believe dance has for all bodies, particularly in the 21st century.
Dance is not just movement. Dance allows us agency over the one thing we all have: a body.
What’s in a body? Our selves, our being, our identity. Our family histories. Our presence. Every place we have ever been, seen, heard, and walked through. Everything we have ever done.
Dance is not an activity relegated to the elites of society, the super-bendy, the strong, or even those with four limbs. Dance is for anyone with a body.
Dance has been the realm of the subaltern, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the activist, the protester, the visionary. Take away everything else, and we still have our bodies. With our bodies we express our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations… our fears, our pain, our sorrow, our anger, and our joy. We are rebels, yes, and our cause is justice.
Dancers are some of the most mindful, community-oriented, well-rounded people I know.
Dancers in higher education must be leaders, exceptional team players, fast learners, and problem solvers. We are motivated. We are always striving to improve ourselves and those around us. We are interdisciplinary. We work with lighting designers, set designers, costumers, seamstresses, musicians, visual artists, writers, historians, social scientists, psychologists, politicians, programmers, biologists, chemists, and physicists. Some of us are these things. Dance teachers are a hybrid of instructor, psychologist, physical therapist, body-worker, analyst, scientist, and community leader. And even though we are the most underpaid, underfunded, and under-appreciated art, we are very much equipped for life in the 21st century, thankyouverymuch.
So what happens when we as a society start chipping away at dance in higher education? We eliminate the one discipline that allows humans agency over their bodies, themselves, their identity, their very essence. You take away the voices of the marginailized, the disadvantaged, the minorities. Dance is one of the few disciplines not dominated by cis-white-hetero men.
You can’t take our bodies away from us, and we will fight for dance as long as we have agency over our bodies.
You might see this as “just” eliminating the Dance Major. But we see it as an affront to our entire art form. Centuries of struggle, expression, and fighting for social justice. We see it as an affront to our very bodies.
Do you dare take dance away from us?