Congratulations to Aubrie Owen, our 2020 Pointe Shoe Scholarship Recipient, and Elijah Hatch, our first Men’s Scholarship recipient.
This was the writing prompt:
Please write about how you think ballet and other art forms counteract negative events and attitudes in society.
Thoughts to consider:
How can dance encourage communication between groups that might otherwise be hostile toward each other?
How have you seen or felt dance create peace where there was tension, either in a personal experience, in a live performance, or online?
As an artist, how can you bring peace and positive communication to your classes, rehearsals, co-artists, and audience?
A small committee of readers helped choose the winning essays. You can read about them at the bottom of this page.
Tears streamed down my face. My beloved home state was in flames. My neighbors were turning against one another. My home, little old Minneapolis, now stood as a symbol of hatred and racism on global headlines. Just two weeks ago, a black man named George Floyd was brutally murdered by the police just minutes away from my home, which sent the United States — and eventually the world — reeling. Some responded with anger. Businesses were raided, buildings were in flames, trucks barrelled over citizens, and streets were filled with violence. Some used the tragedy as a call to action, taking to the streets to peacefully protest. However, the tragedy was only perpetuated when peaceful protesters were met with searing tear gas and powerful rubber bullets. All of this was so concerning and confusing to me. I simply could not stomach the amount of hatred that was circulating in the hearts of ordinary people who were doing awful things. I could see that all people on all sides of the issue were hurting. Why were people turning to violence and animosity rather than coming to a peaceful and rational resolution? I did not know what to think, what to do. There was so much suffering, so much fear. For almost a week, my state was given nightly curfews because simply leaving the house to do everyday tasks was not safe. Everyone was angry and afraid.
However, in the midst of the flames, the gunshots, the resentment, and the fear, there was dance. Dance is a precious constant, transcending all known boundaries to unite and sustain through the way that it highlights our shared humanity. In the midst of all the rioting, people around the nation turned to dance as a way to bring everything back into perspective and to bring peace into a time of unrest. Where I live in Minnesota, protesters knelt in reverence as a group of Aztec performers offered their gift of dance as a symbol of hope. In New Jersey, damage and disgust was paused when people united to dance the classic cupid shuffle, which spread wholesome happiness in a time of conflicting peril. In California, a man named Jo’Artis Ratti approached the police not to fight, but to dance krump. Ratti danced with passion and joy, stating, “Bro, I’m here for peace.” All around the country, rather than turning to hatred, people turned to dance. Through the power of dance, protesters and police were brought down to their lowest common denominator: their shared humanity. In a country that is increasingly divided, dance is a continual force for good as it reminds us all of the beauty and serenity of human connection through the passion and devotion artists portray.
Dance has the otherworldly ability to bring understanding in the most contentious times. Dance can transcend all languages, boundaries, stereotypes, and political parties to connect with any person in a way that is unique. I saw this in action when I participated in a choir helping teens of various disabilities. Some of these students were nonverbal or had difficulty communicating freely. But when we joined hands in a circle and moved our bodies to music, we were one. All walls were broken down, and we were able to communicate in a fresh and beautiful fluid way. Isn’t it incredible that sometimes the best way to communicate is by not speaking at all? Dance is able to defy all known obstacles and speak directly to the heart. There is no flattery, manipulation, or eloquence needed. All that is required is genuinity.
The aspect of dance that I love most is that it is up for personal interpretation. Each audience member takes a completely different meaning from watching the same dance, but what each of us sees is what is most meaningful to us. Based on our individual experiences, values, hopes, and dreams, we may be affected by a piece in a completely unique way. Dance is so personal in this way. It fosters connection and empathy, which are vital in breaking down boundaries between groups.
Finally, dance brings solace in the most troubling times. Dance can inspire us to push for positive change, or when we are not strong enough, it can give us the solace and strength to keep going. It is no secret that 2020 has been a difficult time for the entire globe. The effects of the global pandemic have been discouraging and isolating for all, making it difficult not to give up hope. A friend of mine (who is not even a dancer, yet she feels so touched by the power of dance) expressed this perfectly. She stated that “this whole situation has left me constantly angry and hopeless with the world. But seeing beautiful art like dance … that is exactly what I need to remind me of the goal.” I could not agree more. I have found that when the outside world has become an utter enigma, dance is always there for us to reconnect and to express. There is no age, class, gender, or race restriction on who can dance. Dancing is not pricey, dancing is not complicated. However, dancing is the cheapest form of therapy. It requires a body and a soul, nothing more, nothing less, and offers the most incredible adrenaline rush, awareness, and release. There is nothing quite like it. When the world needs healing most, dancing will always be there for us to find hope.
Dance is something we observe visually, but feel internally. It’s an emotion, but so is negativity. Often, we grab hold of what’s most familiar to us, and in this day and age, negativity is so easily recognized, and unfortunately, comfortable to a big portion of society; however, we as individuals strive to identify what blocks out this negative emotion so we can better feel peace. It may be writing in a journal, studying scripture, running, cooking, painting, or for me, dancing. The list is endless, but I’m grateful I was able to identify where I personally have been able to shun away negativity.
Just like negativity is so easily recognized, the power and influence of dance can be as well. It holds so much more than just one counteracting emotion to negativity. It holds more because it offers more. I will give you an example. Just a few months ago I returned home from serving a mission in England for my church. This mission of mine involved no dancing, it was primarily focused on service and bringing others unto Jesus Christ. However, I soon learned more about dance than I ever thought I would. People recognized me as a dancer, random people on the streets. I would ask them how they knew I was a dancer. The most common answer received was, “You hold yourself like one.” And then they would pause, and then add something along the lines of, “I don’t know, you just seem like one.” It was so interesting, they recognized it, but they couldn’t put their finger on it. It was through these small experiences with individuals I knew and didn’t know, that I learned there was an energy dance offers, something people gravitate towards because they recognize it, and feel peace when they are around it, even if they don’t completely understand it.
I began to explore this energy, realizing I didn’t have to be on stage to portray it. It was so interesting to me that people recognized me as a dancer, but they couldn’t quite say why, all they could really express was that they could sense it. They often would express how they recognized it using movement with their body, such as their hands, or just a slight tilt in the head. It was outstanding to see how they reacted to it, how they reacted to it in their own way; because it is so personal. I believe we all have a form of artistry in us. While it was a different reaction from all of these individuals that I knew, and from some who I would just pass on the streets, the same emotions were there, and that was peace, a sense of joy, and harmony. It warded off all negativity, and brought familiarity to them and to me, like our souls found a connection. And while this scenario with people lasted sometimes only 5-10 seconds, I found that a lot could happen within that time. I witnessed in just a short amount of time individuals’ souls find a peaceful place, even under trying circumstances. This was nothing observed from the outside, it was all on the inside; somewhat sensed. I never danced for these people, I didn’t have to, because they could feel it internally. We didn’t have to have a verbal conversation, because it was felt within. They knew before ever asking me.
We are all different. We all see things differently, and feel things differently. Nevertheless, when a group of people can be gathered to witness something as simple as dancing, this can bring great peace, because we are all having a personal experience, while observing the same experience. My take away will be different from someone else’s, but our feeling will be rooted in that same familiar feeling of peace, joy, and harmony. And that brings people’s souls together. It elevates mood when unity is being accomplished. Dancing unites souls. Not opinions, not facts; nothing on the outside, but on the inside.
It brings a smile to my face when I witness anyone live their life with purpose, almost like it’s in everyone’s potential. The same goes for when I see someone dance with purpose, almost like we all have it in us somewhere. We all have that spark to offer the world. I began ballroom in September 2010, that was the beginning of dance for me. Over the years, though, I had people telling me to try out ballet, so I did, and since March 2016, I haven’t looked back on ballroom. Since then I have learned so much more about dance by changing my whole perspective. I have come to understand that while dance offers peace, joy, and harmony to the soul, it also invites negativity in, as negativity is always welcome to those who invite it. Since being in ballet, I have noticed a lot of self-degrading from dancers. It seems that what they all offer to others they have forgotten to offer to themselves. Instead, they beat themselves up over it; making fun of themselves to perhaps receive even the smallest bit of complement. I’m guilty of this too at times. They let negativity defeat them and stunt their potential. The beauty leaves when this happens.
Peace, joy, and harmony have difficulty entering a soul that only accepts beatings, because that’s not what they offer. They offer so much more than that. It is that same smile we get after the movie ends, the end credits come on, and everyone dances in the living room. It is that familiar feeling that all of those people in England felt from me. It is a shield to block out negativity to those who will use it. This is what is offered.
As an artist, I have found there is a fine line between negativity and self-reflection. If you are to mess up in a movement, you can either beat yourself up and allow negativity to flood your soul, or you can acknowledge where you are at, reflect on it, and do better the next time; allowing opportunity to flood your soul. It’s a choice we make on how we’re going to treat others, and it’s a choice we make on how we’re going to treat ourselves. I have learned I can’t convince people of this choice; they get to make it themselves. All I can do is be an example, strive to spread that energy of peace, joy, and harmony; and see people not as they are, but as they can become. People can sense that. They can feel when they are valued, they might not be able to put their finger on it, but they can feel it. And it’s something I strive to offer in the studio, on the street, at rehearsals, and on the stage. It’s a positive energy. Dance offers this energy. It is the antidote to a negative emotion, but only by choice.
It is evident to me that the joy of dance isn’t just experienced on stage. The stage is simply just a place for nourishment. Dance is, as I said, observed visually, but it is felt internally, on stage or off. It’s a habitual energy that follows us around creating charisma. It’s a seed we plant. Our sunlight is when we offer our light to others. I didn’t have to dance for the people of England to spark peace, happiness, and harmony. I just had to take what I let grow on stage into my day to day life. I let dance become a part of me, and I let it become a part of other’s, even if it was only for 5-10 seconds. A soul sparked by a familiar emotion won’t forget easily. Negative or positive. Dance has the impact of positivity, to the dancer, and to the audience. And the audience isn’t just the population of people in the theatre, it is everyone you come in contact with. It was everyone I came in contact with, and it will continue to be, because it’s what I choose to hold onto. It’s my peace, joy, and harmony.