This photo is courtesy of MMC's Dance Department webpage.
This photo is courtesy of MMC's Dance Department webpage.

How the School’s Dance Department Lacks Diversity

Questions from Students for Students

November 2, 2019

Marymount’s Dance Department is famous for producing top of the line dance shows each semester. The artistry of the selected choreographers executed with the skills of our very own student body is a compelling sight to see. Now that the Fall semester is officially underway, the Dance Department released the choreographers’ list via Instagram that our BFA dancers will be working with. 

The beautifully designed post with eye-catching font is what people unfamiliar with the dance field would see. However, The Black Iris Project, a professional collaborative dance company that celebrates diversity and black history, pointed out that there were no choreographers of color listed.  

This Instagram exchange stirred up a huge conversation regarding the lack of representation and diversity within the dance department. Some students may choose to gossip, complain, or ignore this concern but for many students of color, this was something that needed to be addressed. 

“Why did no one stop to think about the lack of diversity in the panel of choreographers before locking down and announcing who they were going to be? I know the department does it’s best to provide BFA students with great opportunities, and there’s a lot behind the scenes we, of course, don’t know,” said Maia Eugene, BA Dance Major & Business Minor, Class of 2020.

In an exclusive interview with Choreographer and Founder of The Black Iris Project, Jeremy McQueen, he shared, “ I find Marymount’s actions very disappointing, yet not surprising. MMC is a private institution on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, an area I wouldn’t describe as warm and welcoming for people of color. The Upper East Side generally attracts a specific demographic that is predominantly white and wealthy. If Marymount is attempting to cater to their isolated community then they are perfectly on-brand with the actions they’ve taken.”

“I think there is much more that happens behind the scenes of MMC’s dance productions than the general public is aware of. Cost-effectiveness, availability, and accessibility all matter when choosing choreographers each semester. Given the history of POC choreographers in the past, I think MMC’s dance department’s values are consistent with inclusivity.” said Lauryn Hayes BFA Dance Major, Class of 2021.

There is a process that the dance department has to go through when selecting choreographers. Yet, there is a lack of transparency about the process that creates these types of discussions. 

“For Marymount’s fall concert, the goal has always been to pull as much as we can from faculty already working at the College. This is not only to have the opportunity to work with faculty in another capacity but also because of budgetary constraints. Eight of our faculty of color do not wish to choreograph. This makes the fall concert very difficult. So, we often reach outside of Marymount. This particular fall that did not pan out for scheduling reasons outside of our control.” said Katie Lagan,  Dance Department Chair & Professor. 

It is interesting to note the different perspectives of students of color on how the lack of choreographers of color impacts their experience. Take a look: 

It’s expected, diversity can be the last thing to go through people’s minds when they are curating the next show,”

— Kenneth Winfrey BFA Dance, Class of 2020

The lack of choreographers of color impacts the dancers of color in the dance program at MMC because without seeing what could be, there lies a feeling of not belonging within the industry,”

— Jasmine Fitch, BFA Dance, Class of 2022

After my first few weeks at Marymount I accepted the fact that I might often be the only “me” in the room. Because of that, I think it may be easy for us to feel under-represented, though I can only speak for myself.”

— Maia Eugene BA Dance Major & Business Minor, Class of 2020

These perspectives are important to this conversation because in some way it shows how students of color have adapted to Marymount’s effort of diversity and representation. It is important for people who hold positions of power or influence to take note of the impact of operations. 

“Further, the impact on any student who wishes to perform at Marymount is seen over the totality of a four-year experience. As close as possible, every semester has had one or two choreographers of color. Also, concerted efforts to represent women choreographers are made. This semester’s lack of representation for people of color is not for lack of wanting to represent, but for a rotating group of faculty that would allow for a diverse experience in terms of dancing opportunities and timing.” said Katie Lagan, Dance Department Chair & Professor. 

On one hand one may argue that it is a big issue that there are no choreographers of color working with students, and on the other hand, when there is limited representation it is still an issue because it seems to only be room for people of color in a visually “ethnic” piece.  

“As a dancer within the department I’ve noticed that there’s this trend of one choreographer of color a semester and what typically happens it’s most of the dancers of color are cast in those pieces. I don’t think that this is a critical issue, however it does become a problem when we have a department that is concert based and dominated by the white race, and every semester there’s one piece that stands out in the show because it’s the only ‘ethic’ piece vs ‘the norm’ for a concert stage.”  Kamryn Vaulx, BFA Dance, Class of 2020.

Diversity and representation are heavy terms to unpack and implement, but it is often seen as just Black Vs. White; a false notion that has been promoted by our society. Consequently, alienating every other person of color that is impacted by the lack of representation out of the conversation. 

The lack of choreographers of color in the upcoming mainstage show is just a mere reflection of the systemic issue of lack of representation that has and is still impacting society.

“Representation of people of color in dance in higher education is lacking all across this country and MMC is unexceptionally a part of that problem. The choice of choreographers for the concerts is in many ways the least of it.  The issue is also evidenced in what dance techniques are prioritized, and what narratives are highlighted in dance history courses, as well as in the lack of full-time faculty of color.” said Catherine Cabeen Assistant Dance Professor

It is easy to reduce this to another Marymount issue, but in reality, this is an issue happening all across the country affecting every industry. Marymount’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion can be improved but at least they are willing to admit it. The only way that we will ever influence change is to use our voices to bring these types of issues into the public conversation.

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