A Grace Perspective: Our Hidden & Not So Hidden Biases Toward Contemporary Dance

With the start of the academic school year, it comes time for clubs and activities to start back up again. The dance ensemble is off to a great start with faculty and student-choreographed pieces in full swing. However, only a few new students auditioned for Dance Ensemble this fall, and at last year’s spring concert, the audience attendance was strikingly low. While these realities haven’t dampened the mood and work ethic of Dance Ensemble members, it is clear that there is an issue surrounding Dance Ensemble’s presence and recognition at the high school.

As a dancer and choreographer in last year’s concert, I can attest to the disheartening feeling of looking out into the audience and seeing the vast number of open seats in the bleachers. Due to last year’s small attendance, the returning members, as well as dance teacher Ms. Pommiss, have come together in order to figure out how to increase Dance Ensemble’s recognition and support.  As Ms. Pommiss noted, “We work way too hard not to be recognized.” Talya Gomez ‘20, a dance captain and choreographer, feels the same way as Ms. Pommiss and spoke about the reasoning for Dance Ensemble’s lack of recognition. She commented that it, “has to do with the fact that we do everything pretty much by ourselves. There is very little outside help, even when it comes to little things like a repair in the dance studio. I don’t feel we get the immediate attention that the rest of the arts get.”

The lack of recognition is partly due to the natural ebb and flow of a high school; as students come in and others graduate, there are bound to be differences in the culture at Grace. Also, Grace is a small high school that offers a lot of the same opportunities that large high schools provide. Students, as a result, struggle with choosing between a variety of activities because they want to be able to participate in a variety of their interests. The dance program has been flexible in allowing its members to participate in other activities, but athletics and theater programs are particularly time-consuming, making it nearly impossible for students to devote most of their time to dance. Ms. Pommiss commented that while Dance Ensemble had a “stronger foothold a couple of years ago,” with the growth of the high school, “[we] were struggling to carve a space for ourselves here.” She continued that, especially at such a multidisciplinary school like Grace, she doesn’t understand why dance isn’t more popular because it combines the arts and athletics.

The lack of popularity of dance at Grace is related to the way dance, especially contemporary dance, is viewed in society. “As a culture, we are not tuned into dance… many people are too quick to judge contemporary dance because they don’t understand it,” Ms. Pommiss stated. People all over the world have been to the musicals on Broadway, but have you ever been to the Joyce Theater, one of the most prominent contemporary performance spaces? Have you ever heard of the Joyce theater? Your answer to both questions is probably no, which is no fault of your own but goes to show the lack of recognition contemporary dance gets in the world as a whole. Anyone who dances or appreciates dance can agree that, as Ms. Pommiss said, there is something unique and compelling about “how dance brings empathy with non-verbal communication.”

Without trying to, the biases we have as a society toward contemporary dance have permeated into the culture at Grace. Talya added that, “a lot of the pieces we do are rooted in contemporary, which is not for everybody,” and she opened up that, “it wasn’t for me my first year, I was one of those people who hated dance.” However, Talya, as we all can, stepped past her initial hesitations of contemporary dance. We don’t all need to end up choreographing a contemporary piece like Talya ended up doing last year, but it’s essential to open up your mind.

The solution to this problem may seem simple: just have more performances at chapel or community meeting, but dance as an artform has limitations. We need more space. Talya remarked that, “the theater kids and Grace Notes have their room to perform, but Dance Ensemble, even though we have the dance studio, needs more room,” especially with the number of dancers and pieces that Dance Ensemble has. It is no easy task to rehearse a minimum of two pieces with twenty-two dancers in the dance studio all at the same time.

Like Ms. Pommiss stated, “We’re up against a lot when it comes to promoting dance.” This year, Dance Ensemble is working even harder to add performances to the calendar. In addition to the traditional performance in the spring, Dance Ensemble has created a piece for the pep rally, two pieces for a concert with the vocal program, as well as the instrumental program, and a video of a piece was shown earlier this year at the diversity dinner. All of these performances will hopefully give more opportunities for exposure.

As Ms. Pommiss said, “anything we can do to get people dancing would be of benefit to our community… understanding what people are going through, even if they don’t have words to explain that experience,” is something about dance that is unrecognized, yet invaluable. This doesn’t mean that the whole community has to join Dance Ensemble, though everyone is welcome; instead, take one Friday afternoon to come and see our spring concert. You truly won’t regret it.

One Reply to “A Grace Perspective: Our Hidden & Not So Hidden Biases Toward Contemporary Dance”

  1. Noelle Thurlow

    Great article! Dance is so important on may levels. How can we get more parents involved in dance at Grace?

    “…Dancing is not only performing…it is about telling stories…by telling stories you can change the world…”
    -Masabatha Tete

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