My recent sabbatical allowed me to spend time in my hometown. The town has grown so much it doesn’t always feel like where I grew up. Now, there are things to do besides riding your bike or going to Dairy Queen. I have a different appreciation for it now that I’ve been away for a decade. I run into old family friends periodically and sometimes they don’t recognize me, so I enjoy flying under the radar. News still travels fast, though. When I bump into someone I know, they seem to already know why I’m here and what I’m doing. For the most part that is okay; I am not guarding government secrets. One thing I enjoyed about living in cities, however, was the ability to be anonymous.

Today, I found myself face to face with an old family acquaintance. Honestly, I usually turn the other way when I see her coming (for a lot reasons I won’t detail because that isn’t the point). A master manipulator, this individual flipped from friend to foe when necessary for her own gain. This is the grit of small town living: some people or situations are totally unavoidable. My parents chose not to respond in kind for a lot of reasons, some I’m aware of and some not. Today, I learned one more reason.

It isn’t worth it. There isn’t time or room in my life for such ugliness. Hopefully, this person has changed in the last decade. The five minutes I spent talking to her didn’t really suggest that, so, I had a choice to make. I could let the anger and emotions swirl to the top, ruining my day. I could call a couple friends who would completely understand my feelings and rant the afternoon away. But that still small voice whispered to me, “You don’t have room for this in your life.”

Perhaps it is because of Valentine’s Day but most of my daily scriptures recently focused on love. “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense (Proverbs 17:9)…perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).” I calmly smiled at this person, engaged in sufficient pleasantries, and moved along. When she moved the conversation toward her usual direction, I changed course and felt no shame in refusing to play her game. In the past, I might have spent the afternoon fuming and reliving this person’s misdeeds. But, I had more important things to do today, things I really cared about. When I allow someone else’s behavior to dominate my mind and emotions, they are my master. When I choose to be confident in who I am and focus on what is important to me, I am free. Which is exactly what I sought most of my growing up years – to be free of the negative, toxic dump trailing this person.

This revelation could apply to any number of situations in my life; but today, it was one of those quietly powerful revelations. The fog cleared, and it was my hand that wiped it way.

The art and practice of storytelling resurfaced in the last decade with the development of organizations such as The Moth and slam poetry. By resurfaced, I mean since oral histories became formal text and later illustrated via digital means. When I think back on my undergraduate work in Communication Studies, I keep hearing my professor say, “the medium is the message/the message is the medium.” If I remember one thing, it’s that how the message is received is sometimes more important than the actual message itself. In terms of audience engagement practices, there is increasing focus (hopefully) on understanding what our audience seeks from us (and in what way) rather than cheerfully forcing what we think our audience should need/want upon them…frequently followed by anxiety over ticket sales.

Professional development offerings often include interpersonal communication seminars to reduce office tension and increase productivity. I’ve taken several of them. Social media platforms emerged as highly empowering to the individual and organizations in terms of agency and accessibility. It allowed me to share video of a coworker’s really annoying ringtone rather than actually discuss the really annoying cacophony a spouse’s ten calls a day caused – the ringtone was a squawking chicken at max volume. Apparently neither the spouse nor grown children knew where anything was in their house. Is there a relationship between the social media explosion and communication effectivity? e.g. fake news.

I attended a Craft Talk at Virginia Tech’s Moss Arts Center featuring Wild author Cheryl Strayed. Disclaimer: given the immense popularity of Strayed’s book and the Reese Witherspoon film adaptation, I completely forgot that while I read much about the book and Strayed, I hadn’t actually read the book. So, when everyone else enthusiastically bobbed their heads up and down when Strayed referenced specific scenes from the book, I added it to my Goodreads list.

Strayed’s residency activities, presented in partnership with VT’s Department of English Visiting Writers Series, focused on the technique and form of memoir writing. Alumni Distinguished Professor Lucinda Roy interviewed Strayed on the intricacies of shared narratives. Strayed discussed the importance of acknowledging the duality that “who we perceive people to be may be different than who they actually are” doesn’t negate our perspective. Memoirs are messy because it complicates the ownership/authorship of narrative. Each person has his or her own journey in life that is uniquely theirs. However, all life stories involve the people in our lives. So, when telling our story, to whom does it belong? Strayed recommended “handling the truth gently because your truth involves other people…the truth can hurt people. However, the truth – as Strayed learned through her legal team – is an absolute defense.”

When we communicate with others, are we using the truth to manipulate a false sense of agency? Or, are we using it as an investigative lens to uncover the whole truth? A holistic approach to communication predicates an intimate understanding of all the stakeholders in a story (or truth). When sharing our truth, perhaps we can consider it as bridge building rather than a final destination. In my recent professional transition, I took special care not to burn any bridges. I soon realized that if a bridge never formed, nothing existed to manage or salvage. Rather than looking back and hoping to preserve some kind of access, focus is invaluably spent deliberately building lifelines. Accessing the truth, or perspective, of someone else creates a shared, embodied experience of an authentic relationship/narrative.

Strayed’s memoir utilized dual narratives: hiking the Pacific Crest Trail paralleled reflections on her life. Strayed said that writing a memoir, “allows us to recognize origins of ourselves and our lives.” These recognitions advance the plot. In our communication practices, what advances the plot of a story line/relationship? Crisis? Genuine inquiry? Rather than scrupulously defend one’s truth, can we include others in the narrative? This is the very crux of issues in today’s discourse. Political parties, activists, and lawmakers seek to enact their own truth as unilateral – I’m speaking to folks on both ends of the spectrum. The truth of a nation involves a narrative with a million leading characters and a million more plot lines. Whom or what have we positioned as the primary role in the narrative on healthcare, civil and social justice, and equality?

Truth is only an absolute defense…when your voice matters. I’ve learned my voice matters more to someone when it is part of the narrative rather than a red-marked edit. I’m also aware that there is a hierarchy of voices that matter which is why diversity and inclusion are crucial for authorship of the full narratives in our communities. In our communications with others, are we advancing the opportunity to understand a 360 degree truth or to superimpose our portion of the truth across an entire narrative?

 

This afternoon I attended an open rehearsal for Penn State’s presentation of The Every 28 Hours Plays.  The work’s title refers to the statistic that every 28 hours a person of color is a victim of systemic violence.  Structurally, the work consists of one-minute plays grouped together with an ensemble cast utilizing spoken text, song, percussion, and tableau staging.  The minute-length plays drew upon very recent and longstanding injustices in American race relations.

It was traumatic, it was intense, it was ugly, it was heartbreaking.

The actors provoked audience member’s realities and world views as they evoked poignant symbols and statures of the fight for justice.

I experienced the effects of gun violence at multiple points in my white middle-class upbringing; however, those experiences were not the result of a targeted population.  They occurred as accidents and one-off schizophrenic behaviors.  I at least have some relief knowing that they weren’t specifically after me, or predisposed towards injustice because of who I am.

This is different.  Black lives are being subjected to scrutiny, hate, intolerance, and oppression.  Black lives matter.  Even though that belief is being proclaimed in streets and communities and blogs, it is not a universally accepted truth.  It is an argument, a political foible, a vengeful statement of privilege.

Every 28 Hours takes place in communities across America.  For more information, visit: The Ferguson Moment.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The turbulence of social issues swirling around the upcoming presidential election include gender-bashing, body-shaming, and objectifying women. We are asking a lot of questions about our world. Why are so many people hurting? How do people make decisions, especially decisions to hurt or oppress others? What can we do to find common ground?

Changing a culture is hard.  Really hard.  A couple weeks ago, I participated in my university’s It’s on Us campaign utilizing the Green Dot Bystander Intervention philosophy to create a safer campus. I learned that there a lot of people refusing to acknowledge that violence exists in our community. I learned that the perception exists that some of us are seemingly excused from participating in such conversations since “it isn’t our problem”.

Actually, it is our problem. It is your problem and it is my problem. Lady Gaga’s song “Til it Happens to You” is chillingly true. There is an assumption that victims are partially responsible for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with the wrong people, etc. Somehow the concept of individual responsibility mostly applies to victims, not the perpetrators, i.e. the Brock Turner case. “No” or the question of “consciousness” should not need qualification. And yet, it does.  So, we will do that.

Like Lady Gaga’s statement, the arts are a powerful community to amplify this movement. As artists, we’re focused on the process of discovery and attaining understanding for what we don’t understand. This is a place where the arts, artists, and art educators can lead the way. Amber Rose, in her own distinctive way, continues to reveal the discrimination women face even by Rev Run and Tyrese.

So, what can we do?

Step in and step up. Join the conversation. Object to stereotyping, victim-blaming, and slut-shaming. Bring others into the problem, to become part of the solution.

These are a few ways my community is advocating for awareness:

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standforstate
Take Action

 

 

The Society of Dance History Scholars’ Special Topics Conference, Contemporary Ballet: Exchanges, Connections, and Directions, gathered an international cohort of scholars, artists, and educators in New York City on May 20-21, 2016. Curators Jill Nunes Jensen of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel of the Royal Academy of Dance in London initially collaborated on the 2015 issue of Conversations across the Field of Dance Studies: Network of Pointes. From that endeavor, they worked with artistic advisor Lynn Garafola to stage the conference. With over fifty presenters, conference attendees engaged in a vibrant discourse on ballet structure, technique(s), and form; race; gender; and, sustainability at New York University’s Center for Ballet and the Arts and Barnard College, Columbia University. As inquiries on defining contemporary ballet launched, scholars referenced Thomas F. DeFrantz, on the “assumption that dance is a unified thing.” How can the field define its work from within, when the process is an ever-producing labyrinth of possibilities and experiences?  Continue reading, here.

No ghouls or ghosts in Program C at John Ryan Theater in the annual Wave Rising Series, although the three piece program had its share of tricks, treats, and characters. Deviated Theatre’s The Short Forever presented aerialists in its dance opera; The People Movers Not So Shiny bicycle jaunt dwelt on the meaning of success; and White Wave Young Soon Kim Dance Company‘s Eternal NOW excerpts put the dancers through a virtuosic obstacle course.  Continue reading, here.

 

Cory Stearns as Prospero in Alexei Ratmansky's The Tempest at ABTAmerican Ballet Theatre‘s Shakespeare Celebration on July 2nd delved into magical mishaps while bidding adieu to dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews. The evening began in a lush wonderland of Frederick Ashton‘s The Dream and ended with the choppy waters of Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky’s The Tempest. Driven by patriarchy, both ballets presented hierarchy and tradition as precariously shifting power schemes.

Continue reading at Broadway World

 

Wednesday, May 28th, New York City Ballet presented a program bookended by Balanchine. Concerto Barocco articulated propriety and decorum in delicate glances; Jerome Robbin’s Other Dances promulgated gentle desire in the pas de deux; Benjamin Millipied’s Neverwhere delved into power plays; and Balanchine had the last laugh with the exuberant laissez-faire Who Cares? In each of the four works, the progression of relationships unfolded.  Continue reading, here.

Dancing with the Stars underwent a makeover.  Like beauty, reinvention can be painful.  The edits left no stone unturned – format, dancers, hosts, and musicians – in ABC’s process.  While some of the changes seemed harsh, ABC demonstrated it’s desire to keep a hit-making show making hits with the most important part of the show – the fans.  The new format (from two nights to one) which might seem restrictive, actually pushed producers to focus more closely on the dancing rather than the extraneous (but interesting) extracurricular activities of rehearsals, the life and times of the performers.  The backstage gossip continues, though, with new host Erin Andrews.

Even with regular guest judges, the mainstays (Inaba, Goodman, Tonioli) biases and preferences continue to run unbridled.  The sexualized portrayal of glamour at the domination of the female gender continues with former child star Candace Cameron Bure as the bullseye.  Bure certainly came out guns blazing, emphatically stating what she would and wouldn’t do before her partner Mark Ballas even took a turn with her.  Surprisingly, she and Ballas wowed in their opening contemporary number.  The costume shop’s vengeance on Bure evident in her lollipop recital costume.  Bure herself directly delineated between sexual and sensual but DWTS doesn’t do nuance.  Either you’re a willing sexpot or you’re not.  Bure hasn’t exactly sought to endear herself to the judges, but should know that doing great dances isn’t enough.  What’s disappointing though, is that Bure actually has great facility and love for movement that the judges seem disinclined to reward or acknowledge.  The partner switch landed her with Tony Dovolani for a somewhat jerky, frenetic quickstep that judges passed over quickly.

Let’s talk about Nene Leakes for a moment.  Leakes, a Real Housewife and growing actress, is known for some rather outrageous one-liners and altercations.  However, one might notice that her costuming is rather conservative, coverage-wise.  She simply didn’t vocalize it on camera.  Obviously, Bure’s body is of “sexier” proportions which again conflicts with the DWTS standards: sexy bodies must be shown off, while the less taut ones should be covered with humor and feathers.

Bure trumps Leakes in technique, polish, effort, and appearance.  It’s a tie performance-wise.  Both ladies know how to put on a show.

Bure’s personal convictions have not hampered her product while Leake’s casual “I just like to dance” vibe is keeping her product as one-note.  Bure’s hesitations over performing the rumba did not outshine her artistry completely.  The conflict with her partner Ballas was evident as he felt restricted and dominated in choreographic choices which would normally be his domain (again, on DWTS the male voice projects a particular vision for its female counterpart).

DWTS wants your sex
Bure’s costume simmered but not enough for DWTS.  Since her detailed input was made public the lack of cleavage seemed to be the focal point rather than Bure’s softly sensual sweeping dance.  As Bure has mentioned, she is more concerned with the example she sets for her daughters than for placating the powers at be.

DWTS wants your sex and seems to think the choice is theirs.

Leakes
Leakes and partner Tony Dovolani delivered a rumba in honor to her first/second husband.  Note the similarities between Leakes and Bure’s costumes, the difference being the visibility of Leakes’ cleavage and bustier outline.  Leakes husband sat cheering in the audience and references were made that suggested he contributed ideas to maximize sexual energy in the choreography.

Leakes does not have the emotional force and dynamic (especially her rumba) of Bure. Leakes does however have an ease in her delivery whereas Bure’s performances can’t always conceal the tension in her effort.

Is her delivery a little Bristol Palin-esque? Yes, but does that matter?  Bure is taking charge of her body and sexuality (not ignoring it as her predecessor did) just in a different manner than say Rihanna or Miley Cyrus.  Earlier in the season Leakes submitted herself to a grueling jive at the whimsy of her non-competitor husband.  Although a picture-perfect poster woman for the conservative, religious right, Bure is the lone female on DWTS choosing to take charge of her sexuality, her body, and her equal place along side her male peers.  If her fans come through on her behalf, she might just outlast the judges’ apparent disdain for her independence.