Magazine article Dance Magazine

Other Voices: Dancers, Choreographers and Teachers Speak Frankly about Their Experiences regarding Race and Dance

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Other Voices: Dancers, Choreographers and Teachers Speak Frankly about Their Experiences regarding Race and Dance

Article excerpt

David Hochoy

"When I began studying dance in the 1970s I had never seen any Asian dancers and I didn't know if I would have a future in dance. That began to change when I saw the Ailey company and their Asian dancers. When I joined the Martha Graham Company, Martha had a fascination with Asian people. She told me a story of when she was younger being mistaken for being Chinese in a Chinese restaurant; she seemed to relish the thought. Because of my race I was given roles I never expected to get. There were also roles that grieved me, but I knew that was part of the deal. When I was rehearsal director, Martha ran the company like a court: There were people who were let into the inner circle and people who weren't. I think one of the reasons I was let in was because I was Chinese and she felt she could trust me because of that."

--David Hochoy, artistic director, Dance Kaleidoscope (Indianapolis)

Monique Haley

I remember a ballet teacher who told me to "Stop sticking my butt out." I said, "I'm not. I can't do anything about that. It's not going anywhere." I didn't have too many African Americans in my class. In college I was one of only two black students in ballet class. We hardly ever got corrections. It seemed like we were being bypassed. My feeling was she thought "They don't have what it takes." Later I was always getting roles where I was supposed to have soul or be spunky. They'd tell me, "Be more spunky" or "Be more soulful." I didn't know what they wanted. But I'd give a movement more hip or groove, or I'd give a ripple to my arms. Then I'd see if that's what they wanted.

--Monique Haley, jazz dancer with River North Chicago Dance Company

Patricia Hoffbauer

In the late '80s and early '90s, multiculturalism was a visible policy. The foundations were interested in diversifying their funding. It was a critical moment for me and other artists of color, but there was a complicated side to it. We were expected to do things that had to do with our ancestry--African, Indian, whatever. But white people were not asked to look at their racial identity; they were not asked to do anything different from the minimal, abstract, angst-driven modern dances that they'd been doing. My dances were misunderstood. In one dance I wore a carnivalesque outfit and sang the Chiquita banana theme song while a white male performer bossed me around. He'd tell me not to move my hips so much and not to talk so loud. He was trying to tone me down. The dance was about colonialization and cultural imperialism, but the audience thought I was trying to be Carmen Miranda. They thought I was making fun of Latin culture, but I was trying to show that I was not being accepted for who I am. You don't know how many times I was asked to do samba. I got calls from Long Island to perform at parties imitating Carmen Miranda!

--Patricia Hoffbauer, choreographer, NYC (from Brazil)

Finis Jhung

When I first started with Harkness, I became the company exotic. Whenever there was some kind of creature role, it was given to me. I was that thing that rose out of the woodwork wearing brown tights below my navel. I was one of those apparitions who are supposed to frighten people. Or I was cast as the noble savage, with a jewel in my navel and a long black wig. I don't feel it was racial at all. Everybody was being dressed as Indians. I started to hate it. I wanted to wear the white tights and do the classical parts. As I got better technically, I was able to get better parts. If I have been discriminated against, I'm not feeling great pain.

--Finis Jhung, ballet teacher, NYC

Fayard Nicholas

The Cotton Club was in Harlem but black people couldn't go there [as patrons]. Only the whites could go there. But my brother [Harold] and I, we had great parents who taught us right from wrong. We knew something was wrong at the Cotton Club. But when I asked the manager to let us go out and meet all these stars who came to see [our] show--Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, Gloria Swanson, Eleanor Powell, Jimmy Raney, George Raft and Harold Lloyd--we were the only ones who could go out there and mingle, I guess because we were so young. …

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