Puzzling through diversity in the arts

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I am an immigrant. I live in a country where my frame of cultural reference is different. In my work life, I am constantly questioning how we reflect our society in community settings, on the concert or theatrical stage. There are some remarkable barriers that exist to prevent presenting genuinely diverse work that isn’t an example of tokenism. The arts ecosystem isn’t perfect. For a variety of reasons, there is still significant inequalities of opportunity/access for artists of diverse backgrounds. And I’m still puzzling it through.

I see this all the time in classical music. I work mostly in orchestral music and opera. We are still working on gender diversity in classical music – let alone inequality of access for other groups.

I’m reminded of the challenge the sector faces reading the news back home. Recently, the Director, a designer and a performer have stepped away from a production of South Pacific at Calgary Opera. This was over the proposed casting of a white artist in the role of a Polynesian woman.

Operas/musicals are a kind of historical document, sometimes quietly or overtly racist in plot and character portrayal, we should absolutely be aiming to present works with culturally-informed casting! But it has to be part of the artistic direction and process from the beginning – as well as reflecting Canadian artists versus hiring international artists. It must be ingrained in the process and conversation with our Chief Executives, Casting Directors, Production Teams, Arts Programme Education Teams, Theatre School Directors/Teachers/Enrollment Staff, High School Music Teachers, Primary School Music Teachers (if that even exists anymore) and in the minds of parents. Arts Council England outline in their ‘Creative Case for Diversity‘ that “the simple observation that diversity, in the widest sense, is an integral part of the artistic process. It is an important element in
the dynamic that drives art forward, that innovates it and brings it closer to a profound dialogue with contemporary society.”

I argue that we need more of a culture-shift in how we think about the relevance of the arts and specifically diversity – in Canada and England. On stage, we need to reflect our contemporary society with exceptional artistry – but if the side argument is that there isn’t a pool of artists to draw on, then let’s make more opportunities for young people to see a progression route to became an artist.

Let’s be creative and think about how we reflect the face of our community participants, our audience members and our society in our programming on and off the stage. Let’s choose female conductors, designers and directors because they are excellent – not just because they are women. And artists of colour, and Aboriginal artists and artists who live with disability. Let’s publicly talk about the relevance of art and show its relevance! With Canada still so dependent on immigration for labour growth and population growth, some immigrant groups don’t see the arts as a profession. It’s perceived as a hobby. Let’s change that perception.

Let’s make it possible for the next generation to make a living in the arts in Canada!

Canadian artists work incredibly hard, but there is very little infrastructure to support their career unless they are ’emerging’ or ‘established’. Grants are an important tool, but what about child care provision, pension, disability insurance if they get sick and can’t work? You want more artists, show the progression route, show that you can have a family and pursue an artistic career without some socio-economic leg up.

Let’s reflect our society on and off stage. Let’s keep questioning.

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Update: Partner for ILHC

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Many people read and shared my post about my search for a partner for the International Lindy Hop Championships. I was slightly overwhelmed by the response.

I had dozens of followers email me to say that would never have the courage to ask publicly for a dance partner. I received the most thoughtful emails and Facebook messages from male and female leaders wanting to push their dancing and declaring their willingness to train and put some art out there in August. Some sounded like job applications (which was surprising) and some caused me to tear up from their thoughtfulness and kindness.

And where did I get too…
1. I had several offers from some leads I LOVE dancing with and some good conversations about working together.
2. I thought about pursuing a Pro-Am because it would challenge me to work on my own dancing and get expert input.
3. I thought really long and hard about what I want to offer the lindy hop community and what my strengths are in the short to medium term and beyond.

But it looks like I may not going to go to ILHC this year and even if I did, I’d probably only do the Jack and Jill and Strictly.

The money, the time and the resources I would have put into ILHC this year went into securing my future in a country and city I love.

When you want to live somewhere and don’t have the legal grounds to stay beyond are a certain time in that place you feel constantly ill at ease. Unsettled. In flux. I spent many hours trying for a goal that seemed wild and somewhat unrealistic. I spent more money then I expected, more time then I expected and missed a flight or two in the process (talk about #lindyhoplife).

I earned an Exceptional Talent (Promise, really) visa and it was for lindy hop. It gives me 5 years here in England and counts towards residency, if I want that. It gives me options and choices. It also solidified how much I love this community and the sense of ownership I feel to challenge my personal dance practice, to build my skills as a dancer and teacher and to create a pathway that suits me.

If I make it to ILHC this year, it will be a year of reflection and celebration. If I don’t, you better believe I’ll be there with bells on next year with a posse of my best friends and most inspiring colleagues from London. I just thought an update was in order especially since I felt so very supported. Thank you friends for supporting dreams I didn’t even dream for myself. I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing. I hope you are too.

Weekend Inspiration: be you

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Full disclosure that I don’t know James Clear (who’s post this is) from a hole in the ground and I cannot attest to the rest of his blog, but I can tell you that I read this post just when I needed it.
Martha Graham has this to say about comparing yourself to others: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”

http://jamesclear.com/quality-comparison 

I often think that quality and competition are related. I’m not competitive with others, I am however highly competitive with myself. What can I accomplish? What am I capable of? What I love about this quote and post is that it talks about allowing things to flow rather than judge or stop. Something that I think could apply to a variety of experiences in our professional lives. Have a read, have a think and I hope you feel like you’re being your best self today. Happy Saturday.

Hard talk: what conversations should we be having?

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With all the European Swing Dance Championship madness, I feel like I haven’t sat still in six months. Thanks to the vision of the event director, Sharon Davis, I had the unique opportunity to curate a series of lectures around the big picture of lindy hop. I tried to put together talks and topics that hit a number of notes like: health and wellness, conflict resolution, design in dance, community building, business best practice and historical perspectives. It was small – only five lectures, but meaningful. It did however leave me wondering about bigger conversations we want to have. Conversations around ‘value’ – whether business related for organisers and teachers or ethos related around role and gender, conversations around ‘power’ and what it means to be a role model in our scene – or any talent based discipline. I like bringing people together to discuss hard topics, to find the words and understandable language to improve understanding and empathy. I guess I want to know what you want to talk about? How can we keep the conversation going? Do you need help? How can we help you? I don’t mind moderating to facilitating the ‘hard talk’. It’s not about me, Nancy Hitzig, it’s about all of us and how we relate to one another and promote kindness, respect and personal ownership.

I’ve made a career around hard topics of conversation: money, legacies, wills and estates, human resources – artistic projects, dreams, schemes and everything in between. I don’t why that is. Maybe because I feel a relative amount of distance between myself and the cause or activity I’m fundraising for? Maybe because I’m often bringing an artistic vision to life and I don’t let myself feel bogged down with someone else’s perception of me? Whatever the cause, it often yields professional clarity or contractual clarity that makes it easier to deliver what I say I’ll deliver. There are so many topics we shy away from – perhaps we need to lean into them a bit more. Examine them with open hearts and heads and bridge the language/education/socio-economic gap…wouldn’t that be exciting? These are just initial musings, but I want to know – what do YOU want to address in the lindy hop community? What do you want to talk about? Let’s make those conversations happen with the right research, moderator and panel and in the most appropriate language where people can be heard. You tell me.

Definitions of Success

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I’ve been thinking about the idea of ‘success’ lately in relation to dance. What it means to be successful, to find greatness and what that means for different people. This past weekend I went to Rock that Swing Festival in Munich and competing brought to light some familiar feelings and insights around competing that I thought I’d share. These are definitely coloured by my experience as a figure skater, solo dancer, jack and jill participant, partnered swing dancer, opera singer and burlesque performer. They are by no means groundbreaking, but might be helpful to someone else especially as people start preparing for London Swing Festival in May.

1. Define success before the competition. Why are you doing it? For the love of performing? For the thrill? To challenge your personal dancing? To place? Decide what success is before and then whatever the outcome take a moment to celebrate afterwards. You’ve worked hard.
2. Be kind to yourself. Unless it’s a showcase of some kind, you don’t get to pick the music, sometimes you don’t pick your partner or even the texture of the floor. The moment you walk on the dancefloor you’re winning – so don’t let other s#$% affect your state. Go back to what you defined as success. Sometimes it’s winning, sometimes it’s just sharing what you love with other people. If things go wrong, let them go. It’s just dancing! (I personally struggle with this, but you really do have to do it.)
3. Only wear things you’ve danced in before. This is something that I see far more in burlesque then lindy hop, but it still applies. Practice or social dance in the things you want to compete in. You’d marvel at how many things go flying or rip or tear when you haven’t tested them out. Wear that necklace or dress and make sure it’s not going to be more memorable then your performance.
4. Consistency is key. Practice your routine. Film yourself, watch the video and look for things to celebrate AND things to improve. Let yourself get comfortable with particular movements, tempos etc. It’s the easiest way to alleviate stress.
5. Look up. Maybe smile. Whether it’s burlesque, swing dance, cabaret – whatever – it’s about connection. Look up and connect with the people in the audience. Invite them in, make them a part of your success. They want you to do well and are on your side, let them give you energy. You’re in this together! That’s part of what makes dancing, performing and competing fun. If you lose this part it lacks the joy and life it deserves – that you deserve.