Project Next Generation Findings Inform the Development of UBW Choreographic Center

In 2013-2014, UBW — with support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and Mertz Gilmore Foundation led by consultants, Dana Whitco and Lizzy Cooper Davis — began formally investigating the experiences of women choreographers of color; barriers of entry in the field for this group; and ways the dance community could better support, foster, and build audiences for these artists. PNG research engaged mostly black women with an eye towards understanding and developing programming to address the experiences of women choreographers of color more broadly.

Project Next Generation (PNG) research included interviews, small group conversations and House Parties in cities including Philadelphia, PA, New Orleans, LA and Oakland, CA and concluded with a convening of 40 choreographers, ranging from ages 25 - 60.

The premise of the PNG research was to explore why black women and women choreographers of color are not adequately represented in the field of dance, what the real and perceived barriers were to advancing and sustaining oneself in this field and what UBW could do as a trusted resource and advocate to improve working environments and shift this paradigm.

Key findings included:

  • Gender and racial privilege are prevalent in the dance field and are both related to and reflective of national issues and conversations around race and the racial wealth gap.
  • Much of what is true for all choreographers, especially female choreographers, is true for women choreographers of color; but in such instances, the existing gaps are even wider in terms of funding, developmental support, administrative infrastructure, presenter engagement, criticism and scholarship.
  • Education and networking matter in terms of who is emerging and receiving support in the dance field, while also correlating with geography and economy
  • Formal training programs often sever Black women from their artistic lineage. “Balanchine and Graham rep are mandatory, while West African classes, if available, are electives.  How will we ever value Black traditions if they are always viewed as supplements?”
  • Emerging women choreographers of color are not interested in “adapting to a system that does not recognize us,” and therefore struggle to imagine prioritizing relationships with presenters whose audiences and programming do not reflect the way they work. Choreographers also fear they will not have agency in how their work is presented and contextualized.
  • There is an immediate need and desire for more mentorship across the board, from artistic to the business aspects of producing work.
  • Women choreographers of color acknowledge “getting work out” is possible only through formal and informal collaboration across the industry, but feel isolated in many ways from their peers, mentors and potential collaborators.
  • Orientation toward narrative dance-making, in particular narrative form addressing difficult issues, often marginalizes women choreographers of color.

These findings helped with the early formation of the vision for a UBW Choreographic Center that seeks to support the leadership and strengthen leadership and vision in individual choreographers with a primary focus on women choreographers of color and works to bring about systemic change in the field of dance. 

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