Monday, January 5, 2015

Fly-by-Night's Scholarship - more than skin deep

We have been offering our scholarship to dancers of color for many years now and it is an inherent part of the company's vision. It is particularly important to me this year given the feelings that have been aroused by events in Ferguson and, here in NYC, on Staten Island with Eric Garner.

Racism is real in our country and it seems to rise when minorities make progress (Obama as President, Sotomayer on the Supreme Court, changes in immigration law, etc.). The first time I posted our scholarship online I received an venomous, anonymous letter in the mail. The letter was both threatening and shocking - someone took the time to get our address and spit out hate with pen and paper. I don't think it would be quite so jolting to me now - it is what one should expect.

PHOTO at left:
2014 Scholarship student Ashley Brown "hanging out" in class.

Events in my life stand out that have helped me to see racism more clearly. One particularly vivid surprise hit me years ago in the process of selling my used car to an African-American colleague. My co-worker took a test drive with the car through the streets of Harlem, commenting along the way about how she liked the car. As traffic increased we waited a long while to merge back onto the highway. Finally, when another  African-American woman slowed and allowed us in, my colleague said to me, "Oh good, I'm wasn't sure she would let us in with you in the car."

Her comment hit me deeply. "Ouch," I thought, "It would never occur to me to think (yet alone say) such a thing if the situation was reversed." On later reflection I began to understand that it would never occur to me because as a white woman I only occasionally experience the world that way.

I've always been aware that people of color can be discriminated against when looking for jobs or housing but the subtle, day-to-day racism in social situations is equally as damaging for us all.

It takes conscious efforts from ALL of us to work past these feelings. It is great to see people of all types of backgrounds at a protest march but it isn't enough if we all go home to our segregated lives.

To combat racism we need to find more ways to be in the same room together, doing meaningful things on a regular basis.

Photo above: 2012 Scholarship recipients Shawn Fisher and T David

This is why our scholarship program matters. The classes we offer are based on improvisation, allowing everyone to add their individual creative, physical input. But we also do verbal reflections and this is vital - it is a place for us to listen to one another.

We don't have to discuss racism to bridge our divides - what we need are more ways of connecting to our similarities in deep, meaningful, and creative, ways.

Our classes are, for me, a weekly reminder of the fact that we are all members of the human race.

PHOTO LEFT: Dancer Patrice Fyffe came to our scholarship audition and continued her studies with the company for over a year. Although she didn't receive a scholarship (it was a competitive year), she was offered a $5/class rate and later took on a workstudy position for free classes.


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