Restorative Justice In The Practice of Dance



When “I” is Replaced by “We,” Illness Becomes Wellness!

-Malcom X

This concept of “I” promotes investment of individualism and divest in the concept of “we” and the conception of community. It is with grave intention that this blog is written from the “We” perspective. “We” are a group of professional dance artists that include educators, performers, choreographers, scholars, community organizers, and social justice advocates deeply concerned about the history, development, current state, and future of Dance in Florida. We are interested in community building, community sustainability, community ecology, and building a community that supports anti-racist practices, uncovering racist ideologies, and encourages the dismantling of systemic oppressive institutions. FBDAO is writing innovative narratives that encourage, empower, and promote the humanity of Dance from the perspective of Black people as a viable and sustainable art form that celebrates, heightens, and authenticates the essence of the all encompassing African Diasporic philosophy as a supportive and sustainable way of life. We are interested and invested in Radical Restorative Justice in the artistic and educational practice of Dance.

Restorative and Transformative Justice principles and practices are rooted in the communities' ability to access our self-determination, self-care, exploration and holistic approaches that restore and transform harm in Black communities without a punitive approach. Restorative and transformative justice originates out of Black, Brown and Indigenous cultural principles. Safety and wellness should belong in the hands of the community. We all should be invested in each other’s protection and care.

In dance, Restorative Justice intersects with African Diasporic Dance practices to strengthen, sustain, and mobilize the vernacular of the moving body through embodied experiences, social encounters, inclusion, innovation, performance, education, leadership, and practiced based research. The intersectionality of Restorative Justice in Dance space revolves around three primary ideas: 1) Decolonization - dismantling hegemonic leadership that promotes white superiority; 2) Equity - encouraging diversity from an African centered perspective; 3) Education - offering rigorous African Diasporic forms of learning in the context of dance performance, training, history, cultural relativity, and philosophical inquiry as multi-dimensional required course work. This paradigm shift requires significant components:

  • White and white passing Latin-X dance institutions need to acknowledge the negation of the African centered dance forms. Appropriation, denial, and ignoring diverse ways of knowing (embodied knowledge) can incite harm and marginalize the credibility of knowledge, skill, understanding, promote the avoidance, and neglection of Black Bodies in dance spaces and cause intentional and unintentional marginalization.

  • White and white passing Latin-X people must acknowledge their racism, subconscious bias, and work towards anti-racist practices in their personal and professional lives. African centered knowledge based systems are at the core of humanity.

  • The removal of the all white and white passing Latin-X faculty and staff in cultural institutions that provide funding, fiscal sponsorship and support for Dance Artists. This will eradicate systemic oppression and suppression as a means of white privilege and control. White dance spaces must cultivate, educate, and edify themselves on the history and complexity of Black people.

  • Build sustainable communities that engage in authentic diversity, transformation, Black liberation and are deeply committed to the upliftment of Black people as leaders, organizers, developers, and policy makers.

History


The contemporization of Restorative Justice originated in the 1970’s as a concept of intercession, invention, and reconciliation—an alternative to the court process. Restorative Justice echoed the sentiments and ancient practices of African and Indigenous Native American societies. The Elders of communities gathered (most of the time under a sacred tree) to collectively deconstruct, discuss, dialogue with person(s) who have caused and experience harm, and to excavate the source of harm(s) and provide suggested solutions that bring about reciprocity, respect, integrity, and equitable resolutions. We have always practiced Restorative Justice in our communities. This is the legacy of Black Radical tradition.



Community (Dis)Engagement


Restorative Justice is extremely important to Dance Artists and Dance Institutions in Florida, particularly here in South Florida. Amongst Black dance artists, Restorative Justice grounds the community in a reflective practice that acknowledges and values humanity as core of innovative citizenship by broadening perspectives, attitudes, and recognizing the value of the Black leadership, scholarship, aesthetic, and artistic excellence. The fact that there are very few institutions in South Florida that have Black Executive Director leadership and Black board members reflect the level of inequity that disproportionately marginalizes and minimalizes support, specifically financial support, for Black dance artists. Many times, white lead institutions are co-opting Black spaces, infiltrating their communities, erasing, and invisibilizing their contributions, histories, and legacies. Restoration and decolonization are desperately needed to generate, fuel, ignite, move, advance, change the systemic levels of inequity, inequality, lack of diversity, and exclusion of Black Dance artists within the Florida Arts community. White people must reflect, research, and right the wrongs that have consistently and systematically attempted to destroy and demolish Blackness and indigeneity.


Dance as an Art form is an essential part of our life. South Florida is a dancing community and the corporality of the body is expressed in every corner and in all significant events within our culture. For instance, the Bahamian Junkanoo, Caribbean Carnival, and Calle Ocho are clear examples of connections and continuities relative to the African Diaspora that contributes to and sustains the billion dollar tourist industry in South Florida. As a community, we are valued and visited by millions because of the richness of and attraction to Black dance. These Black dance forms and embodied experiences are deeply rooted and connected to the people of the African Diaspora. The profound beauty, boldness, and brilliance of African Diasporic Dance forms which are radical forms of expressionism are shamefully negated and neglected when it comes to funding.


Examples of Systemic Racism in

Dance Performance/Practice/Administration


As we move towards ending global white supremacy and eradicating systems of oppression, it has become clear that conversations need to be held with those who have ordained themselves as allies and those that are unclear on how they are reproducing white supremacy. It is important that we identify whiteness and white supremacy for what it is, “a vast repository of techniques, strategies, logics, and tactics and a combination of causal and conjunctural historical events” (De Jesús and Pierre 2019, 4). These historical events are manifested in our current social, educational, cultural, political, and economic paradigms. Unfortunately, there is still a misunderstanding and misrecognition of white supremacy which is understood as something “ignorant, poor or [what] uneducated white people do” ((De Jesús and Pierre 2019, 4).


It is far more sophisticated and inclusive. It is a global “system of power benefiting all white” and white presenting people. Many well-meaning whites believe that if they are not explicitly racist (through action and language), then this ideology excludes them. To be clear, a white well-meaning individual is capable of reproducing white supremacy and its various manifestations. To be clearer, “whiteness is reinforced in the everyday policies, hiring practices, searches, labor division,” (De Jesús and Pierre 2019, 4) curriculum design, publication, committee reviews, membership and board constructs etc. This is epistemological apartheid. Epistemological apartheid, “restricts knowledge production to imperialist racial and national spaces,” (De Jesús and Pierre 2019, 8) is grounded in white supremacy and exists within and throughout the arts/dance community in Florida. How are you engaging with these concepts to avoid falling into the trap of reproducing white supremacy? South Florida is capitalizing off of the corporeality of the Black bodies, Black Stories, Black spaces. For instance:


  • Little Haiti Cultural Center is home to a predominately white and white passing Latin-x dance company. Black Artists who utilize the facility are forced to operate within substandard facilities. The lighting capabilities are outdated, limited and non-existent in the context of dance. The dance floor is unsafe and not conducive for the rigor and physicality of dance. It was constructed without spring suspension. The Little Haiti Cultural Arts Center has never received an update since its construction in 2006.

  • The Carrie P. Meek Senior and Cultural Arts Center inside of Charles Hadley Park, located in Liberty City, is another dance space that has completely deteriorated and received no upgrades since its grand opening in 2004. The dance and performance space is not even mentioned on the website which is managed and directed by the City of Miami Parks and Recreation Department.

  • The South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center, sits in the center of a diverse Black Community in Cutler Bay (a suburb south of the city of Miami), does not offer residencies to Black Artists additionally they also are home to a white and white passing Latin-x dance company. There are countless Black Dance Artists that have applied for a residency at the SMDCAC and have been denied.

  • The Historic Lyric Theatre in Overtown (Miami) lacks the necessary space to house a Black Dance Company. Black Dance companies come to South Florida and are presented at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center.

  • The African Heritage Cultural Arts Center located in Liberty City (hub for Black Artists) does not have adequate performance spaces for dance. The one dance studio that it does have is in dire need of an upgrade and is finally receiving an upgrade after 45 years of existence.

  • Black Door Dance Ensemble, Miami’s premiere Black Dance Company was forced to close in 2004 because of a lack of funding, support and facility.



The vibrant intellect, talent, exceptional skill, and the sublime genius of our local professional Black dance artists should include full access to State of the Art facilities, policy, and decision making in addition to staffing practices. Where is the level of accountability within these systemic practices of institutional oppression? This systemic practice of institutional racism, oppression, suppression, and anti-black rhetoric is a 400+ year old problem. The fact that the call in and call out is occurring at this moment is a result of complete exhaustion of the community at large continuously addressing these concerns.

Perhaps it would be more effective to provide a more familiar point of reference in terms of European dance; take into account that in 1645 as King Louis XIV was appropriating Hindu cultural dance forms for Eurocentric ballet, Black people where brutally massacred, captured, kidnapped, and killed by the British, being mutilated, castrated, beaten, whipped, raped, chained, sold, enslaved, and dehumanized to build the United States of America. What the hell! This practice and concept of systemic racism is rooted in the fiber of America. The problem has only gotten worse with the current political administration. As dance makers, educators, scholars, performers, and choreographers, we are dramatically affected by the racist tones and practices that exist in our educational institutions, performance spaces, and creative circles. Dancers educators are asked to shift curriculum so that it reflects Eurocentric values. Dancers are dehumanized and ridiculed because of their hair styles. Black professional choreographers receive less funding than their white counterparts for commissioned work. The 400+ years of hegemonic rule is over!

A New Day


A paradigm shift is absolutely necessary and a new political movement has begun. Dance spaces must be decolonized by dismantling institutional systems of oppression and racism. How does this relate to dance? Dance carries the history and culture of an entire group of people. The dancing Black Body excavates philosophy, history, culture, memory, story, and sounds of ancestral legacies. Acknowledging and celebrating the Black Dancing Body as a repository of information provides a reflective and contemplative optic of the culture of America. See! Acknowledge! Accept! Celebrate! Transform! Heighten! Liberate!

We invite you to consider the following questions and reflect upon paradigm shifts that re-imagine equity and equality in narratives, policies and outcomes for the Black artists within the state of Florida:

Black people have been invisibilized and dehumanized for 400+ years. How are governmental and private Artistic Institutions being held accountable for systems of oppression where the Black people and our humanity do not fully exist?


How can self identifying white people and white passing Latin-X individuals focus on the construct of whiteness and commit to unpacking the detrimental effects inside of their own context?


How can these same individuals utilize resources that will help them to tangibly embody anti-racist practices in their daily life?


Beliso De Jesús, Aisha M. and Jemima Pierre. 2019. “Special Section” Anthropology of White Supremacy.” American Anthropologist 000, no. 0: 1-11.

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