Open letter calls on dance industry to address racial disparities

Open letter calls on dance industry to address racial disparities

The International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) announced the digital campaign “Can You Hear Me Now?” Thursday, with the aim of “acknowledging and dismantling long-standing racial disparities within the American dance community.”

The nonprofit group launched the initiative with an open letter addressed “Dear White American Dance Community.” In the statement, organizers urge white institutions to go beyond declarations of support to include Black voices at all levels of the field. As of Friday, over 148 artists, administrators, educators, organizations and individuals have signed.

“After having read a number of solidarity statements issued by many of the White and large budget dance institutions from across the country, all we heard were empty and shallow promises,” Denise Saunders Thompson, president and CEO of IABD, said. “This was the time for many of my colleagues, who said they were about ‘the work’ in the many conversations that we had, to stand up and lean into all of the IDEA’s (inclusion, diversity, equity, access) to which they had committed.”

The letter outlines wide-ranging diversity issues within the industry through a series of direct-addresses to individual sectors — including the dance community in general, ballet companies, critics, agents, curators, managers, presenters, producers, education programs, hiring practices and dance marketing. Each section is punctuated with the phrase: “Lasting change is not possible without system change.”

“We are looking for your action plans,” Thompson said. “Statements are an act of silence.”

The move comes as arts and culture organizations across the country face internal and external reckonings. In the letter, the signatories express support for the recently released statement “Dear White American Theater,” which called out issues of race, diversity and white privilege within the industry. Similarly, the address — signed by over 300 Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) theater-makers — demanded changes throughout the field.

The IABD also announced plans to release “The Black Report,” documenting the “organizational and financial health of a representative sample of Black-led dance companies across the United States.” The study, conducted by the IABD, will be made available in the coming weeks.