How college dancers can marry passion with activism

Maria Simpson will never forget watching Hillary Clinton’s 2016 concession speech on her desktop computer as students and professors crowded around the screen. “People were crying,” recalls Simpson, head of Bard College’s dance department. Many of his students asked, “Why should I dance now? Shouldn’t I do something more “serious”? ”

Amid a turbulent political climate, racial injustices and a global pandemic, many dancers may find themselves asking the same questions. But rather than abandon the arts, college dancers are discovering ways to marry their schoolwork with activism, using movement to respond to the world around them. “Dancing was always a radical act, even though it was covered in gauze and tulle,” Simpson says.

Arts & Activism 101

There are many ways to start diving into activism as a college dancer.

Consult the course catalog. Some universities have begun to incorporate courses that merge arts and advocacy into their curricula. Bard College created its The Artist as Citizen course, the University of San Francisco offers a major in performing arts and social justice, and Marymount Manhattan College offers a concentration in dance studies specifically for students who wish to become activist artists.

Focus on your schoolwork. If your program requires you to complete a senior project, use it to address a social issue through research and movement. Or use student choreography opportunities to highlight a topic close to your heart.

Use internships strategically. Look for organizations that address social justice topics through the performing arts and contact them to see if they hire interns.

Join a student-run club. At Loyola University Chicago, students formed a dance honor society to engage with their community. From preparing food for local women’s shelters to creating a fund that supports Loyola dancers in need of supplies, the group provides a channel for students to merge their craft with social justice, says Sandra Kaufmann, founding director of Loyola’s dance program.

Mobilize your peers. Invite other dancers passionate about the same issues to be part of a flash mob, or book a studio space to start your own choreographic incubator. Activism doesn’t have to be formal to be meaningful. “It’s about finding the margins of where you are and bringing light to those places,” Simpson says.

Sandra Kaufmann. Photo courtesy Kaufmann

Know before you go

If you are a high school student and already know that you would like to incorporate activism into your art form, look for colleges that incorporate this into the curriculum. Read their mission statements. Ask what type of courses and special concentrations or clubs are offered. Research faculty members to see if they have done social justice work that interests you.

Finding meaning in movement

For years, Leslie Morales danced for pure pleasure. The Bard College senior relished the way dancing made her feel — happy, powerful, understood — until the pandemic turned her life upside down. During the height of COVID-19, Morales and her entire family in the Bronx were infected with the virus and had difficult conversations about vaccine hesitancy. “It just got me thinking, why do some people question this stuff?” she says. This experience prompted her to investigate medical ethics and the moments in history that made marginalized groups suspicious of medical treatments, especially how poor Puerto Rican women were used to test pills. contraceptives in the 1950s. Now Morales uses his senior project to research unethical medical practices and then express his findings through dance. “A mix of my own experiences and what’s happening in the world has led me to put more activism into my performance work,” she says.

About Bernice D. Brewer

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