Understanding and Infusing Principles of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in School Programs- NYCB Teaching Artist Workshop

Last Friday, the New York City Ballet Education Department held a workshop for the teaching artists like mysef who work in the pubic schools of NYC. The workshop was intended to build organizational capacity for leanring through dialoge. Over the course of five hours, we considered implicit bias, systemic inequality, structures of power, and examined social identity through a lens of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Diversity Equity Inclusion

Some handouts from the Workshop

Or, more succinetly, as our facilitator, Tammy Borman, descried at the very beginning of the workshop, ‘attempting to put ten pounds of potatoes n a five pound bag’.

We watched vides, looked at images and graphs, had fulland small group discussions. But these aren’t check-mark conversations- the knd where you can say, ‘yes, I sat in front of a projector and acknowledged my own privileges and definitions, so that’s taken care of. Done!

The flaws in how society treats other human bengs are current yet also roted in lineage, learned, and biological. In other words- it’s complicated.

I have a major takeaway that I am continuing to question from the workshop that comes from this particular graphic on Equaltiy, Equity, and Justice.

If the world were a meritocracy, or a ‘survival of the fittest’ mode, there is no hope for little shorty on the end there to see the soccer game because of a biological disadvantage. Or maybe he/she was malnourished in the womb because of impoverished parents. There can be any number of reasons why people are pushed forward or held back in ife and success, and it is sometimes not entirely their fault.

So, if in education, we want to try to meet people where their needs are, it could be a good practice to work towards an equitable system.

It was suggested durng the discussion that only through equity do we move towards justice where we can eventually remove the barriers that form exclusivity and heirachies of power. In ths scenario, everyone gets to be thmselves and needs no outside assistance. Here’s where it becomes complicated to me…

See tall dude on the left? Tall dude has a great view of the game in a system of equality. It’s not his fault he was born taller than lil’ shortcake. In the system of Equity, he either gives up his stepstool or has it taken. His view is less-good than it is in version A. Can he still see? Yes. As comfortably? Probaby not.

So my question is- how do we convince the people with more comfort, opportunity, money, power, freedom to give some of that up to raise up those without those advantages? Because in my mind, if we try to beat those lucky persons into submission and take their treats away, they’re going to be mad and we will just further a distance and increase hostilities between people. How is it in tall dude’s advantage to not take more than he needs, to share with those who can’t see them game without his help?

Distrbution of wealth, goods, etc does make it easier to balance out the scales of justice but why will the advantaged people of the world care?

Ths is what I’m thinking about. How much do we all really need, to be comfortable and safe and happy, and how much is it our responsibility to self-reflect on any extras that we might have that would truly benefit someone else, and maybe then all of society.

I believe that human beings-in all of our creativity, skills, stories- are the gratest resource we have. The more support everyone has to be their best, to contribute to society, the better off we all are.

Some of the NYCB TA’s with Principal Dancer, Russell Janzen and Pianist Craig Baldwin

A rising tide raises all ships.

Here’s where it gets extra complicated though- do we only address obvious disparities or search out the often-invisible needs? It’s pretty clear when someone doesn’t have shoes, but what about someone who needs a hug?

I went into Butler University as a Dance Pedagogy major, pretty clear that I wanted to be a choreographer. If I was going to perform, I wanted to be versatile. I had huge confidence probems with body image and felt enormous¬† pressure to be ultra-thin in ballet class in a way that I didn’t think about as much in modern and jazz. I thought there might be more space in the professional modern dance world for a body lke mine than there was in the ballet world. I pretty much always hid in the back or the sides in ballet as a freshmen and sophomore, whereas in modern, I always wanted to be in the front. I felt deserving of attention in a way that I didn’t in ballet.

Trouble was, Butler is a ballet-centric program and a lot of my fellow dance majors were (and I think they’d agree so I’m not being unkind by saying this) TERRIBLE at modern. There was a girl in my class who honestly didn’t know what a contraction is. Perhaps in an effort to get everyone on an even playing field, my teacher paid more attention to this student than those of us who were a little further along in terms of obvious technical awareness and capability.

What my teacher couldn’t see is how badly I needed to feel acknowledged in the one class where I felt comfortable enough to stand in the front or go across the floor in the first group. I have incredibly strong memories of doing the combinations with absolutely zero corrections or compliments for classes on end. I remember it made me feel slightly better than she ignored another dancer who I thought was the best in class. It made this other dancer and I closer because we shared frustration. But maybe because I’m petty, it made me really dislike my teacher, really dislike the dancer who got all of the attention, and really dislike modern dance class.

I came in thinking this was going to be a confidence boost that I desperately needed and it ended up being one of my lease favorite classes. I didn’t take modern my junior or senior years. And the other dancer who I thought was so talented? She left Butler all together.

I don’t think even the best-intentioned teachers or societies can see the nuanced ways that people need help. I do think it will take a mix of societal shifts in equity of resources and individual efforts of people to acknowledge those individual, personal needs.

That’s me, teaching beginner ballet in Uganda

More teaching tips/ideas/questions:

I’m happy to be thinking about this in my teaching work, joining in at least part of this very complicated question.


One thought on “Understanding and Infusing Principles of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in School Programs- NYCB Teaching Artist Workshop

  1. Pingback: Navigating the Artist Path: An Interview with dancer Alison Clancy | BODIES NEVER LIE

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