Dancing into Inclusive and Equitable Spaces

Loyola Marymount University

4. Quality Education 10. Reduced Inequalities

Overview

BE COURAGEOUS: INITIATE is a training program developed by Dance Education Equity Association (DEEA) in which they work with a dance organization, over the course of a year, to create policies, procedures and accountability practices focused on anti-racism, anti-othering and anti-abuse in order to provide a safer and more inclusive space for their dancers. The training aims to help this historically exclusive art form transform into one of inclusivity for all.

Author

Alessa Meni

Alessa Meni

School

Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount University

Professor

Jeff Thies

Jeff Thies

Innovation

With the help of mental health experts and professionals, Dance Education Equity Association designed the BE COURAGEOUS: INITIATE training to span over the course of year to create institutional change in the dance education industry. DEEA essentially acts as an on-site diversity, equity and inclusion team for a dance convention, competition or studio. They first evaluate where the organization is in terms of their existing or non-existing inclusion practices. Through meetings with the organization and assessing their social media platforms, DEEA determines the organization's current level of commitment to safety and inclusivity. Once that has been established, DEEA will teach a curriculum centered on anti-racism, anti-othering and anti-abuse to enhances each participant's understanding of what it means to be safe and equitable.

The next part of the training has 3 components that are unique to each organization: policy, procedure and accountability. Policy refers to the guidelines that the organization plans to follow and uphold. Procedures are the actual ways in which the organization is going to follow through with their policy. There is an understanding that harm will inevitably occur and when it does they will hold themselves accountable. Procedures are developed for when the organization does not comply with the policies they created together. This process takes 4-6 weeks to develop and after policies, procedures, and accountability practices are established, DEEA conducts quarterly accountability check-ins to ensure that the organization is committed to the work and taking responsibility for their mistakes. The organizations are required to follow up with DEEA every year following the training to ensure they are still upholding the policies and procedures they established together.

This training is transforming the dance industry and will continue to do so as more and more organizations commit to this work. By creating a comfortable space where kids of all backgrounds, identities and abilities can experience the joy of dance our society will be improved.

Dancing into Inclusive and Equitable Spaces

Inspiration

The daughter and granddaughter of two outstanding Black dancers and having been a professional dancer herself, Geri Brown, knows how difficult it is to be a woman of color in the performing arts. Her mother and grandmother paved the way by fighting for equity and creating space for women of color in the industry when no one else would. The personal and generational racial trauma that Geri experienced made it hard for her to see success and acceptance as a Black woman in the dance industry. When she was ready to give up, her mother asked her “how are you going to take your gifts and make the world a better place?” At that moment, Geri knew it was time to take action and create dance spaces that were equitable and inclusive. She first created Liberate Artists- an organization that creates dance experiences for everyone no matter their race, gender, sexual identity, disability, shape, immigrant status, or economic status. After hosting a week of free dance classes, many families wanted to know which dance conventions they should take their children to where they would feel safe and included. Geri could not think of any off the top of her head so she began researching and evaluating 70 different dance conventions and competitions. Her research led her to discoveries about the exclusivity, abuse and predominantly white culture that exists at most of these organizations. Geri believed the way to solve these issues was to work with each organization individually to see their current level of inclusive practices and help them change their approach to dance education. Angered by the racism, othering, and abuse she was witnessing in the industry, Geri founded Dance Education Equity Association in 2020 and subsequently created their signature BE COURAGEOUS: INITIATE training.

Overall impact

In just the last two years since DEEA was founded, the impacts of the BE COURAGEOUS training has been profound. Their first ever client, a popular dance convention, has seen inspiring results since starting to work with DEEA. This summer, the convention will be hosting a college program with representatives from several different universities. The majority of university representatives are professors of color, which shows representation and signifies to the students of color that they belong. The representation of educators of color also gives context to these dance styles. The classes being taught at this convention are usually jazz/contemporary, hip hop and tap which are all dance forms that have roots in the African diaspora. The implementation of the training shows anti-racism and inclusivity at work. This client has also begun to use their social media platform for activism and education, which is a complete shift from the dance videos that are typically seen on dance competition's social media pages. They are changing the norm and showing other dance organizations how to make a positive impact and so far they have not received any negative feedback since making these changes.

In the long term, this education and accountability work will change young peoples’ relationships with dance and help them find joy in a space where they feel included. A new wave of enlightened dance educators who are committed to anti-racism, anti-othering and anti-abuse will encourage more young students to achieve their dance dreams.

Business benefit

BE COURAGEOUS has greatly expanded the reach of DEEA. The more trainings they provide, the more dancers want to get involved in changing the trajectory of dance education. They have been able to engage people in this work who have not had it accessible to them before. The increase in demand that DEEA is seeing will eventually lead to hiring more staff to help conduct the trainings.

DEEA works with organizations to establish an annual fee based on their financial resources. These profits are used to pay their employees equitably, provide need-based scholarships to people who participate in individual trainings and are donated to Geri's non-profit, the Always, Enough Foundation. The BE COURAGEOUS training is usually done over Zoom, but the positive feedback of the work led to the creation of "The DEEA Experience." Occurring in July 2022, this will be the first 2-day in-person BE COURAGEOUS training offered to individual dance educators in NYC and local dance institutions. The training will take a deep dive into the anti-racist, anti-othering and anti-abuse principles that educators need to help build curriculums and dance programs that are equitable. Having the opportunity to involve educators in live trainings will help spread the word of the value of DEEA's work across the industry.

Social and environmental benefit

DEEA is bridging the gaps of inequities in dance education so that everyone has an equal opportunity to learn. The importance of the work is magnified when you look at the impact arts and culture have on society. Art provides occasions for people to gather, reflect and connect with each other as well as themselves.

The work of DEEA is keeping the joy of dance alive in young children who may not have pursued their passion if they had experienced an abusive dance space. An equitable arts education expands the opportunities for people to contribute to a sustainable, thriving, society.

Interview

Geri Brown, Founder/Creator

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Loyola Marymount University

Loyola Marymount University

Los Angeles, US

Business Website: https://www.danceequityassociation.com/

Year Founded: 2020

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

Dance Education Equity Association exists to provide dance organizations and educators with the resources needed to build safe and equitable dance spaces. They offer trainings in which policies, procedures and accountability practices are established with a focus on anti-racism, anti-othering and anti-abuse. DEEA educates and inspires dance educators to create inclusive spaces and sustainable change for all dancers.