How do we make the dance world safer for people of colour in Canada?
Kevin Ormsby, Seika Boye and Rachael McLaren on how we can fix a broken institution
This Is The Reset is a series of panel conversations that look to the future of Canadian art disciplines as we move past everything that has been 2020. Short versions of the panels aired as part of the final season of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists.
On this past season of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, we assembled panels of experts, artists and critics to look at what needs to change in their industries in a segment called This is The Reset. In this extended version of the panel, moderator Kevin Ormsby sits down with life-long dancer Rachael McLaren and University of Toronto professor Seika Boye, who researches Blackness and dancing in Canada. The question: how do we make dance, and Canadian dance institutions, safer for Black, Indigenous and POC artists?
"If we can't acknowledge racism in day-to-day life, we can't expect it to come into the way that our cultural institutions and dance institutions are run," says Boye, who pioneered research on Blackness and dancing in Canada. She curated an exhibition spanning 70 years of Black excellence in Canadian dancing.
"The very things that were being protested in the summer of 2020 — systemic racism; police violence; the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in prisons and detention centres; racial profiling in the workplace, schools, in the streets — these aren't left at the studio door. Those things enter with us," says Boye.
As a young Black dancer in Winnipeg, Rachael McLaren felt what she called "a resistance." Whether that resistance was to her or her body, she knew that in order to be a professional dancer, she would have to leave.
"I had never seen a dancer of colour, certainly one that reflected my background within the ranks of the Royal Ballet Company," she says. "I don't think that they saw me as a fit within their school or possibly even within their company. I was encouraged by my teachers to go to other schools and get other training that would probably be more suited to my body type or to my 'potential' as they saw it. And I had to unpack that. What did that mean for me when I knew that I needed to be on the stage and that I had the talent to be onstage?"
McLaren would eventually create a successful career for herself in New York with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The theatre was founded in 1958 by the legendary choreographer and dancer Alvin Ailey.
But why wasn't that career available to McLaren in Canada? And now, more than a decade later, why has so little changed at Canada's dance institutions?
Watch the full panel above, and watch the entire final season of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists on CBC Gem.