With the 2020 election right around the corner, many have taken to social media to rally around the need to vote. This is especially true for members of the dance community, many of whom are concerned about how the election will impact not only the future of their careers, but also their human rights.
The beauty of the dance community lies in the diversity of the people that make it up, those of all different sizes, races, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. Yet many of these intersectionalities are at risk—and so is the future of arts in general, due to COVID-19. It's because of these reasons that leading dancers find this election cycle to be one of the most important—if not the most important—in our lifetime.
Dance Spirit spoke with five dance stars about why they're voting this November, what issues they're most passionate about, and how you can get involved, even if you're too young to register.
"Especially with this administration, and how openly they have been trying throughout these past four years to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts, I think voting in this upcoming election is incredibly important," says Gaby Diaz.
The importance of arts funding has never been so vital: With Broadway shut down until next summer—and potentially longer—and seemingly every dance company across the country affected by the pandemic, art is at risk of not surviving the long term.
"Throughout this pandemic, what are people turning to?" Diaz asks. "People want to watch TV shows, we want to watch movies, we want new music—we are turning to the arts to help us get through this difficult time, so I think the arts are essential."
She adds, "Those of us who have the privilege and the opportunity to speak up need to amplify the voices of marginalized communities and actually help them. In the arts community, we see all kinds of people every day and we love it. It inspires us, it's part of our culture, and it's beautiful."
For James Whiteside, voting access is a topic he's particularly passionate about, after seeing both the amount of people who don't vote, and the large number who are impacted by voter suppression.
"I've been using Vote.org to get information, which is a fabulous resource where you can find out if you are registered and where you are registered—or if you're not registered," Whiteside says. "I'm a big fan of Fair Fight Action, which is Stacey Abrams' organization that fights voter suppression."
Like many other dancers, Whiteside is concerned about how the current administration will impact and change human rights laws should President Trump get reelected this November. The topic is front of mind for Whiteside, and it's why he's encouraging all to check their voter registration status and polling location, vote early if possible, and continue to educate themselves on both sides of the partisan divide.
"Remember that it's not about you, it's about everybody. Learn as much as you can on both sides of the issues, which means understanding not only what's happening in your Facebook and Instagram and TikTok feeds, because those are all going to be algorithmically biased. Getting a bipartisan or a nonpartisan view of the issues is vital."
Since the start of the pandemic, Barton Cowperthwaite has homed in further on his political advocacy, writing letters with Vote Forward to underrepresented voters and increasing outreach to not only encourage voting, but to help explain the vital importance of doing so.
"The message that's resonating with me right now is that voting is an act of coming together to empower leaders who accurately represent us," Cowperthwaite says "Voting is about making our voices heard so that the people who make policy decisions are making decisions based off of the widest breadth of our population. If not everybody votes, then our leaders won't accurately represent the population who empowers them."
An important issue to Cowperthwaite is the environment and the impact that climate change will have on our future. "Just on a level of being alive, that is probably the most important issue facing the human race right now."
He continues by stressing the importance of educating yourself on issues that may not directly impact you personally, but others around you, saying, "As dancers and artists, we need to be looking at issues like protections for gay rights, trans people, how the changing of the tax codes have reduced the incentive to give charitably, and, of course, the kind of complications in access to health care that we could be facing."
When it comes to researching topics up for debate, Cowperthwaite suggests going straight to candidate websites to learn more, and pulling information directly from the source rather than just on social media.
"There are just so many positions up for grabs right now other than just the presidency. And that information is available—you might just have to put in a little bit of footwork to uncover it."
For choreographer Jason Williams, the importance of voting is clear: "It's our duty as American citizens."
And when it comes to issues that Williams is most passionate about this election cycle, his human rights—and those of other Black, POC, and LGBTQ+ individuals—take center stage.
"Marginalized people—Black, gay, queer people—make up a lot of the entertainment industry, and especially the dance industry. Our whole lives are at stake, and many privileged people outside those identities just kind of turn a blind eye because they're not directly affected," Williams says.
With the recent momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as two Supreme Court justices calling the Marriage Equality act into question, it's never been more clear that the 2020 election is about more than just politics. Lives are at stake, and that's not something Williams takes lightly.
He stays politically engaged by researching, questioning, and turning to numerous news outlets for coverage, as well as following LGBTQIA and Black political leaders online to keep updated on hot-button topics. But Williams also stresses the importance of having difficult conversations on a regular basis with those who are different than yourself, and not just through social media. And that's something that anyone, regardless of age and whether or not they can vote, can do.
"My advice to young dancers is to have difficult conversations with your parents and friends. If you are at a studio and you have one Black or LGBTQIA friend, and you think that they might feel marginalized, just ask if there is anything that you can do as their friend. The more that we communicate, the more the more walls can come down, and we can all stand together and be unified as a country."
"The best way to start being politically engaged is always just to educate yourself," Liam advises. "You can spark up conversations with family and friends who can vote and educate them with what you have learned, asking what's important to them and seeing if they're registered to vote."
Because while you might not be able to vote now, you will be able to in the near future, and being prepared for when that day comes is essential.
Liam has been staying politically engaged by frequently signing petitions and fundraising for important causes by teaching dance classes. He often contacts his representatives, and volunteers to make calls and assist in any way he can.
"As younger people who can't vote yet, it's easy to feel like our voices are silenced. But I'm going to be voting in the 2024 election, so whatever is decided right now will affect me as an adult."
And Liam believes those within the dance community have a particularly great opportunity to advance the conversation or, as he puts it, "kick-ball-change the world."
"Art is a great way to help people rethink things," he adds. "There's so much that is available to young people nowadays, that it's almost silly not to be politically involved."