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9 Dancers Using Their Art to Advocate for Change

Dance and activism can go hand in hand in a number of ways. Over the past few months, many dancers have turned to their art not only to advocate in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but to highlight injustice within the dance world itself. Whether it's incorporating dance into protests, starting conversations with other members of the dance community, or expressing themselves through personal creative projects, dancers are finding ways to speak out.


Katie Traylor

A junior dance-science major at Texas A&M University, Traylor wasn't expecting to get over 5,000 views on Facebook, and over 1,200 on Instagram, when she posted a video of herself improvising to the song "Glory," by John Legend. But in the wake of growing protests over police brutality and racial injustice, her solo resonated. "I see dance as a very powerful form of art. Being able to express my feelings through dance during this time gives me the feeling of vulnerability, empowerment and the sense of being heard by my community," Traylor says. "Being able to train and continue to learn about the art of dance as a biracial female has let me gain a voice that I didn't know I had."

Kennedy George and Ava Holloway

Julia Rendleman/Reuters

Kennedy George and Ava Holloway weren't trying to go viral when they decided to have photos taken in front of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, VA, after the governor ordered it to be taken down. The statue, covered in multicolored graffiti, had become the site of many impromptu photo shoots as people celebrated its impending removal, and reflected on the historic moment. The two friends, both 14, have been dancing together for 11 years at Central Virginia Dance Academy. "I wanted to bring dance into it because it's just a part of me, and I bring it everywhere I go," says Kennedy. "Then it got way bigger and so many people started sharing the photo, and it made me appreciate dance even more."

Dressed in black tutus and pointe shoes while working with Richmond photographer Marcus Ingram, the girls caught the eye of other photographers as well, including photojournalist Julia Rendleman. When Rendleman posted an image of the two ballerinas, fists raised in strength, on her Instagram, it spread faster than anyone anticipated, even grabbing the attention of major news outlets.

Since the photo went viral in early June, the friends have been in the process of starting a nonprofit called Brown Ballerinas for Change, which aims to continue their activism and provide dance scholarships for underrepresented populations in ballet. Ava has also co-authored a children's book with her mother, Amanda Lynch, called My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams. "These pictures definitely have a deep meaning behind them, and the dance world is so supportive," Ava says. "It's overwhelming, but in the best way possible," adds Kennedy. "It makes you happy to see that people are actually inspired by you and you're making a change. It's the best feeling in the world."

Allison "Buttons" Bedell and Sheen Jamaal

When dancer Sheen Jamaal saw a video of protestors doing the Cupid Shuffle in New Jersey, inspiration struck to do something similar in New York. He immediately called his friend and collaborator Allison "Buttons" Bedell, and the seed for the Dance For George protest was planted. The event, on Sunday, June 7, drew around 400 people, who marched peacefully through NYC's Harlem neighborhood, danced to the Electric Slide as a group, and closed with nine minutes of kneeling in silence together, in tribute to George Floyd.

While the tone for the day was serious, the goal was to celebrate Black culture and the contributions of Black artists to the dance and entertainment industries. The mix of songs Jamaal put together included "Electric Boogie" (the song associated with the Electric Slide) and other classic songs by Black artists. He and Bedell point out that many people, when they dance to the Electric Slide at a party, don't even realize they're dancing to a song by a Black woman. "For me the event stands for strength more than anything," Jamaal says. "Finding a meaningful way to use art to effect social change—the way artists Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey and Martha Graham did before us—it just felt right."

Bedell cites the meaningfulness of watching a huge crowd of all ages and backgrounds moving together. "We get so wrapped up in choreography and learning and being perfect and all these things in the dance world, and I think sometimes you've got to remember that our craft is so expansive—it touches other things and it can bring everyone together," she says. Jamaal agrees. "Getting messages from people saying this protest made them feel like now they can use their voice, or it gave them the strength to power through personal situations—for me, that feeling outweighs everything," he says, "because it just shows that we're much stronger together than divided."

Jo'Artis Ratti

Though krumpers often participate in dance battles, their raw, energetic freestyling offers a positive release of frustration and aggression through nonviolent movement. For the youth in the communities where it originated, the dance acted as a response to police and gang violence, and a way to cope.

Dancer Jo'Artis Ratti, who goes by "Big Mijo" and is one of the co-founders of krump, used his art as a form of silent protest at a recent demonstration in Santa Monica, CA, when he danced in front of a line of police officers, with his friend Samantha Donohue dancing beside him. While Ratti looks defiant and strong, his movement is also full of vulnerability and pain. Though the officers were clearly uncomfortable at first, and Ratti had to explain that he was moving peacefully, one of them even ended up thanking him at the end of his dance. "There aren't a lot of masculine men who dance," Ratti told writer Sarah L. Kaufman at The Washington Post, "and that's what keeps me motivated to do it. To show people that you can let your guard down and be vulnerable through art."

J. Bouey and Melanie Greene

Through their podcast, The Dance Union, Melanie Greene and J. Bouey have been confronting racism in the dance world, and highlighting the experiences of Black artists, since 2018. Their episodes cover a variety of topics and issues, ranging from mental health and sexual harassment to advocating for fair pay. In early June, in response to a piece written by artist Nana Chinara called "An Open Letter to Arts Organizations Rampant With White Supremacy," they decided to organize an online townhall to continue the conversation and take steps toward direct action. That first meeting, "Town Hall for Collective Action: Dismantling White Supremacy Within Dance Institutions," had nearly a thousand attendees, either live on Zoom or watching on YouTube after the event. "The Town Hall's intention is to hold a space for our dance community to express their anger, witness the grief of our community, and synthesize that information into action," Greene and Bouey wrote on The Dance Union's Instagram in a post before the event. "We see this, and future town halls, as a space to stay connected with the current organizing work and to galvanize our dance community to take action." They've since hosted a second town hall, which covered topics in mental health, dance education and organizing demonstrations.

Amanda Morgan

Pacific Northwest Ballet corps member Amanda Morgan is the only Black ballerina in the company, and she's using her platform to speak out against racial injustice. At a Seattle protest in early June, she made a passionate speech that she later shared on Instagram, saying, "I will never stop talking about race until there is no longer a reason to. Society may have tried to silence the voices of the marginalized, but you will never silence me." She's kept the momentum going since then, calling on leaders in the ballet community to be more vocal in addressing injustice and inequality. She's spoken to outlets including Dance Magazine and the Seattle Times about her activism, and has continued to share thoughts and resources through social media. On Juneteenth, for instance, she shared a series of photos of Black artists and writers who have inspired her, from Josephine Baker and Arthur Mitchell to James Baldwin and Alice Walker. "Organizations need to think critically about: What are we showing as a ballet company? What are we saying, visually, and who are we leaving out? Whose story isn't being told?" Morgan told Dance Magazine. "We need to serve not just one community, but all communities."

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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