Sticks and stones may break my bones but words….do they hurt me?

I get it. We open our mouths haphazardly. We joke, but do we contemplate the impressions our words make? And for our purposes, how do we talk about dance? Are we perpetuating a starving artist mentality, or shifting our society’s thoughts and values on the arts? If we keep talking about dancers as starving artists, those who wear tattered work-out clothes to rehearsal and are proud of it, those who have to ration off their paychecks for food let alone luxury items, those who just move their bodies and not their minds for a living (Grrrr, makes me so angry), those who are seen as something overtly sexual, objectified, and effeminate (angry again) – the more we perpetuate this connotation to our world. What a shame. Let’s not add to this cycle, but start talking about dance and the arts in an elevated fashion; in its true, utmost capacity to inspire, move, educate, and enrich our community. What’s the point of having a community, society, and nation without this zest? Without it we are simply going through the motions of life, and that’s not enough for me. And it shouldn’t be for anyone. Let’s raise our standards.

Money, funding, and support follows what our country values. There is a stupendous industry following football (hello, even I know about Tebow), fashion (because Gucci is just a small meager empire), and technology (people camp out for the latest iphone. Where do they pee?!) because we clearly value these aspects of our culture.  There is no reason why we cannot add dance and the arts to that (short and inconclusive) list.  However, if we who live and work in the industry cannot talk highly of what we do, then there is absolutely no way others, who are further removed from the power of our sharing, can even turn a head in our direction.

I hear dancers complain about money and measly paychecks, but we knew what we were getting into when we signed up for this profession. This doesn’t mean we settle here. Don’t complain about it. Misery loves company. Mindless complaining to colleagues without a focus on rectifying a situation is not solving anything. Negotiate intelligently. Do something about it. Accept it and move on, but don’t whine. Open lines of communication with those allocating pay wisely, firmly, and with sensitivity to the both sides – the arts organization working to make ends meet and yourself doing the same with the need for respect and honest treatment.  Work another job and have it influence your art and discover new curiosities you hold or start a business of your own and carve your own path. Pridefully share what you do to others, those with paychecks who eat yours for breakfast and those who are biting tooth and nail all the same.

We have the agency to make this shift. We can’t expect arts education to enter our schools systems as inclusively as they should, without this more deserving dialogue. And arts in education is the way to shape our future generations, and henceforth future societal values.

Dancers are tough cookies and we work gruelingly on our bones rehearsal after rehearsal. Surprisingly, to myself included, this may not be where we as an industry do the most damage, torn ACLs, menisci, and metatarsals aside. How we speak about ourselves is a driving force. Choose your words wisely and think before you speak. Looks like mom was right.

Thank you Annie Leibovitz for such an inspiring conversation post our Alaskan show. I felt compelled to share and owe you credit. In the words of Annie and Annie, “Let’s do it!” 

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