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Misnomers and Privilege in the World of Dance

Updated: Aug 13, 2021

I have been enamored by the dance forms of: Jazz, Tap and Hip Hop since I was a mere four year old child. The vibrant rhythms, the robust accents and the veracious athletic nature of these dance styles captured (and kept) my grandiose admiration.

As a four year old, I did not know the origins of these dances. That concept was not even on my radar. I simply knew that I enjoyed performing the: isolations, ball changes, jumps, diagonal orientation of the spine, close proximity to the floor, hip/rib articulations and beyond. The older I became, and the more education I received, the more and more I have been able to be in the practice of paying homage to those who came before me. My dancesters…

Performing these forms out of context (in studios and on stages) as well as researching their: roots, origins and utilization for liberation, has deepened my understanding of these dances (Jazz, Hip Hop, Tap, Afro-Fusion, the Charleston, American Social Dance etc.), as well as valuing the perspectives which they derived from in history. Unfortunately, there is a false harmful narrative that has been insidiously perpetuated. This narrative being,

“Ballet dance is the center of all dance forms…” [False]

“… In order to be a truly good dancer, having a shot professionally, you have to be good at ballet” [False]

“Ballet is the center of ALL dance; making it most important compared to all other dance forms….” [False]

Why did this happen? How did this falsehood continue to disperse and settle into the subconscious mind so rapidly?

Human history has been over inundated with Eurocentric perspectives. Imperialism and colonialism, around the world, insured this ideology. Eurocentric Imperialism has dominated, exploited and harmed the narrative of written history and perceptions about the people of the world. Due to this, said icons, events and impacts are predominantly told through a Eurocentric (whitewashed) lens, creating a disillusioned hierarchy of “what matters”.

So if this notion is a falsehood then what is the “base” of all dance?

In actuality, the crux of dance stems from the African Diaspora and other indigenous dance forms around the world. Ballet certainly holds immense value in the dance field, but did not enter the scene until around the 14th Century as a social dance. Folks were moving and grooving long before then.

In the United States of America, Black Art, Black History, Black Music and Black Dance are at the epicenter of what our country deems to be the lineage of American Art forms. Black Dance has been “white washed” without honoring the appropriate lineage of these forms. We must seek as much knowledge and as many perspectives as possible to pay homage to our dancesters. We must do this to honorably move forward in the dance field. Valuing and honoring all forms of dance as equals.

Caitlin E. Mahon, MFA

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