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Even if they're old-time feminists proud of having fought the good fight for female access to male-only spaces during the 1970s; now they are equally determined to resist men in women's spaces (even if it's only a dance class run in a building with equal opportunity policies). And that when you point out that they are hypocrites, they can get abusive.

This is a really tough issue, and I was not aware of how much it was until last month, when I met my sister's Indian dance instructor, who only allows women in her dance group, and more specifically, women "of color".

Putting aside for now the issue of excluding men, she explained that there was an experience shared by women of color that white women simply could not relate to, and whose presence would consequently impede the dynamic and experience that she sought to foster in the community.  I hesitate to paraphrase what she said, because there was a lot of it, and it was very complex, and I have a faulty memory.  If I misrepresent it, then I sincerely apologize to her and her dance community.  But among other things, she gave me examples of racism, alienation and "exotification" that she has experienced as a person of color in the U.S., and persuaded me that she was correct: white people, generally speaking, simply would not be able to relate and participate with people of color in this community of dancers.  Nevertheless, I pointed out to her that while she was very likely correct that admitting white women would have not allowed her to have the sort of environment or atmosphere that she was looking for, it was nevertheless discrimination (i.e. against white people).  By which I did not mean I thought she was wrong to have this discrimination, but it was a fact that she should acknowledge as a prerequisite to communicating to would-be white participants why unfortunately they could not join (and there were many).

It was a very difficult conversation, but very important for me to hear.  Usually, I am very uncomfortable with groups that discriminate based on any criterion, especially gender, race, nationality, religion, etc.  However, my sister's dance teacher persuaded, tentatively, me that sometimes -- as frustrating and even infuriating and painful as it may be to those discriminated against -- sometimes people should be allowed to associate -- and exclude -- based on such criteria.

I still feel ambivalent about the issue, but that is where she left me.

I just looked her up and found her dance group's website (Ananya Dance Theatre), on which some of the goals of her group are listed as follows:

To share the labor of creating a safe space where issues that drive apart communities of color can be discussed and worked through using primarily artistic means;

To create a network of support that validates the artistic practices and creativity of a group of women of color who have traditionally had difficulty in finding that support;

To unearth and share the histories of women of color from different communities in order to participate in each others' cultures and histories with respect;

To work collectively through the metaphors of movement towards a shared future where we can realize cooperation and alliances among communities of color;

She also has a fairly extensive artist statement, of which here are two paragraphs:

The identity of the company as a group of women of color, diverse in race, age, nationality, ability, sexual orientation, but uniformly committed to artistic excellence and social justice, is vital to me and to the success of my choreographic work. Dancing together, creating art together, makes spaces for interactions among women who might not otherwise meet and decide to collectively shape a vision of the future together. It is also important to celebrate the diversity of women's bodies, and to shift the choreography to adjust to the realities of women's bodies, such as pregnancies.

Over the last few years my choreographic trajectory has shifted its course. Earlier, I had focused much of my work to creating dances of protest and resistance. I now seek to connect that struggle to a search for beauty, understood as a powerful philosophical force that can generate well-being and healing in the universe. This has taken me back deep into my own cultural context to understand the ideas surrounding beauty. I have come to realize that in Indian, and particularly Bengali cultural practice, which constitutes my roots, beauty is functional even as it is ritualized, manifested in the structure of the water pots and the vessels that are used everyday, in the designs village women draw every morning on the walls of their mud huts, for instance.

(My bold throughout the quotes.)

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Mon Jul 23rd, 2007 at 07:08:13 AM EST

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