Welcome to I was there también...
a dance blog
Posted October 26, 2022
By Michelle Manzanales
Dance has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My sister used to take classes at our neighborhood studio, and as soon as I turned 3, I had to sign up too (or so I’ve been told). I fell in love with the art form (like so many others) and have had such wonderful opportunities along my dance journey. My career in the field has allowed me to travel the world, give back to the community, and live my life immersed in dance. Today, I am based in NYC and work as a dance educator, administrator, and choreographer.
For those of us in the field, I imagine we all have our stories and could share how dance has shaped us, how it makes us feel, and why it means so much to us. We also most likely have a parallel story of the struggles of making a life and a living while doing this thing we love. Along my journey, I have seen the dance world through many different lenses. As a school director and educator, I am reminded daily through my students, the faculty I work with, and colleagues of the importance of dance as a source of joy, expression, support, and empowerment, as well as how it is a platform for communication, growth, exploration, and community. I have also come to see the many challenges such as funding scarcity, a need for audience building, and the work it takes to “make it” in the various avenues us dance lovers decide to take whether it be performing, choreographing, teaching, administrating, fundraising, advocating, directing, etc.
Having recently celebrated 45 years in the dance world, I unfortunately find myself worried (more often than I’d like to be) about the future of dance. Us dance folks can’t imagine a world without it in our lives, but yet everyday we see less support in funding for arts in schools, professional companies folding, and overall enrollment in dance programs straining.
When the pandemic crept into our lives in March of 2020, I was trudging along on the hamster wheel of my work when the universe decided to put us all on a collective “timeout.” First was the disbelief, followed by a heaping helping of denial of what was happening. And then the realization that no, this isn’t going to be gone in 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks…Things we thought could never get canceled, were canceled…things we never thought would change, changed…
But, we did as dancers do (afterall, we are some of the best problem solvers in the world, the great improvisationalists), we fiercely jumped into action to ensure our community would carry on. But even still, the world was now different. For me, this pause has been one of the pandemic’s most unexpected and complicated gifts…it became the catalyst for the re-evaluation of my “why”. Now as dance educators, assessment and reflection is in our bones, but this was different….a deeper pause.
My Covid reboot/rejuvenation/re-evaluation, has yielded bountiful epiphanies, closed some chapters, and also forged new paths. One such gift is the actualization of the Latinx Dance Educators Alliance with my co-chingona, Kiri Avelar. We’d had preliminary whispers and rants about wanting a space for us (leaving conferences ruffled, thinking “there is no space for us here”), amalgamating resources we had collected over time (things that we had had to struggle to find because the Latinx voice/presence in the literature isn’t the mainstream), and finding like minded folks to ally, grow, and dream alongside (another gift from the pandemic, a reignited sense of unidad).. But, the pandemic gave us the time to go deeper y mira…aquí estamos.
Another gift from the pandemic is this blog, I was there también. Writers are so critical to the ecology of the dance world. They serve as the translators, and with that, they hold a lot of power. Especially the dance critics, those handful of people that determine, to a certain extent, our ultimate value to the public who are deciding if they will go see our performances, or if they will write us a check in support, or if they will book us at their venue.
I remember ranting to Kiri about a review I had read (pre-pandemic). It was brutal and felt like I was listening to a shock jock on morning radio who was going for the jugular of this poor soul. I remember saying to her something like (caution, going into rant mode)…
”I get it, they are a critic, their job is to ‘critique,’ pero I was there too, and they didn’t offer their readers much more than insults about this artist and their personal distaste for the work. What about the overall theme, what about this element, what about that? Don’t decide for people what they should value. How could they give this person such a scathing review when just last week they gave a ‘big name’ choreographer nothing but rainbows and heart shaped confetti when quite frankly, I didn’t think the work was all that…it had its merits, yes, but it wasn’t the most profound thing ever like the review propped it up to be.
Give some critical analysis so people can decide for themselves. It’s like listening to a kid on the playground yelling to everyone that they don’t like Juan, so you better not like Juan either!
And, if you dance critics keep doing things like this and ultimately contributing to the closing down of shows/extinguishing of people’s opportunities, what are you gonna have left to write about? What will be left for you to review. You are part of this dance ecology, without the artists, you don’t exist! It is possible to critique without writing like you have a personal vendetta against the artists. You can offer your opinion while still supporting the dance ecology and inspiring curiosity and support for building dance audiences. Es posible!
And why are there so few reviewers anyway? Can we please develop more writers, and ones that come from diverse ethnicities, experiences, genre expertises, ages, gender identities, sexual identities, etc. so it’s not just the people who know ballet that get the opportunity to write about our field?...”
The rant continued (nothing like a good rant between amigxs), but I think you get the point. Bottom line, we need more voices out there offering their viewpoints. We need more writers for those other people like me who have read reviews and were like, wait a minute… I was there también, and I have something more to say about this!
Calling all writers and non-writers alike...
Now, let me set the record straight, I do not proclaim to be a writer. I mean, there is a reason I choreograph and teach dance for a living. My favorite language is movement. But, I go back to what I was saying before…what can I do, what action can I take to create a positive impact on our field and its future? And, it is with this in mind that I have started this blog. A place for us to write, to respond, to rant, to contribute to the narrative, to the written dance history of the time. We cannot stay silent. Inspired by words of my dear colleague and friend, Sandra Rivera...
"Sometimes you need to make a noise in order to hear yourself." -Sandra Rivera
So I am calling out to all of you, let’s get to writing. If not us, who? If not now, when?
Let's Make Some Noise!
I was there también... is a blog imagined by Michelle Manzanales, a platform for the Latinx community to share their viewpoints on all things dance and further visibilize our voces in the field.
Please note that LXDEA is a free-resource site, and this is a non-compensated opportunity. Writers of all experience levels are welcomed and encouraged to contribute to the blog. Interested parties should e-mail pitches with the subject line, I was there también… to firstname.lastname@example.org.