Sharing the struggles and celebrating the triumphs of being African American in the ballet world and beyond.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

When in Rome...


Touring the world and being exposed to various cultures has significantly impacted the way I approach new and unfamiliar situations. As I reflect on my experiences adapting to different cultural norms and local environments around the world, I can’t help but think about the difficulty many people have in embracing differences in the world of classical dance. Some people only feel comfortable in their own backyard, insisting on a rigid adherence to traditional aesthetics and methods. It's a pity that some people have neither the will nor desire to engage in the kind of rich exploration that I was fortunate enough to undertake during my travels.

My visits to North Korea, Japan and even parts of Europe had some unique challenges. Simply things like being able to identify local foods or engage in friendly conversation due to language barriers were cause for frustration and discomfort at times. I encountered lifestyles, languages, cuisine, and traditions that were completely foreign to me. However, being surrounded by the unfamiliar was an opportunity to challenge my ability to adapt to my environment, and through this process, learn appreciation. My two years in Lausanne Switzerland is a perfect example. In Lausanne I had to change everything from the way I prepared food to the products I used in my hair. But instead of fighting my surroundings, I choose to embrace these differences and absorb the culture. It was only then that I began to truly feel comfortable. I eventually had a wonderful experience not only in Switzerland - which genuinely became home, but everywhere I traveled. As the idiom, 'when in Rome, do as the Romans' suggests,  I mingled with the local people and took the time to learn their culture and customs and I am so grateful I did.

Unfortunately, not all of us are so open to change. For many, change is a scary word. We should think about the psychological implications of change when we discuss the challenges of diversity, mulit-culturalism and change in the world of classical dance. As a dancer I have asked myself," how can I make others accept me as a ballet dancer if the image I represent is so very different from what most are accustom to?" I can say with great confidence that most people who have seen me perform appreciated both my talent and uniqueness. However, there has always been a stubborn minority in the classical world that is resistant to change. I wonder if these individuals feel that changing the image will change the art? This perception is sad and couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my experience, change doesn't need to be feared. Having not only experienced and  embraced change on so many occasions, I feel not only enriched but empowered to take on new and different experiences with an open mind, and without fear. We cannot force people to accept change. We can only continue to pour our unique selves into our passions as often as we can, and without reservation. I can only hope that through increased exposure to beautiful new images and ideas, the classical arts will reflect the diversity and richness of the world I have been so blessed to travel.  

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