Saturday, September 14, 2013

Can We Leave The Sexism Out When Talking About Misty Copeland?

I thought that Friday's WSJR segment with Gordon Deal was going to be about Misty Copeland bringing more diversity into the Ballet world, as his tweet announced. But the segment ended with sexist comments about Misty and other female dancer's bodies. How did that happen? 
Friday, The Wall Street Journal released this article about American Ballet Theatre Misty  Copeland, soloist ballerina being the face of Project Plié. This project is ABT's initiative to increase racial and ethnic representation in ballet and to diversify America's ballet companies.
Misty, a black woman who made it to the front rows of ABT where female dancers are mostly white, is a role model for youth who come from different racial and cultural backgrounds.  Her Dr. Pepper commercial was inspiring: 

So, given Misty's career, and the possibilities that ABT's diversity project opens up, why did the WSJR host have to focus on Misty and other female dancer's bodies and looks for the entire last segment. I felt that such focus was unfair, demeaning the hard work of female dancers, and entirely missing the point of the theme of the talk, which was about inclusion.
To quote Gordon: 
"This is gonna sound sexist, but I’m gonna say it anyway. She is unbelievably good looking, do good looks help?" 
Well Gordon, thanks for clarifying your position as sexist before you make a sexist comment. I understand your comment as saying that only through favoritism based on looks rather than work and commitment, a woman of color made it as a soloist for ABT. Further, I understand your comment to imply this: Had she not been "good looking" she would have not made it to the front rows. I hope I'm wrong. 
But more sad was Pia Catton's response to Gordon's comment. She might have been caught off guard, but it was a little upsetting that she went along with this, as her response just perpetuates an endless cycle of sexism ingrained both in men and women:
"Their costumes are beautiful, their bodies are beautiful, even if their faces don't appeal to you..."
 And, last but not least, here is Gordon, admitting how he checks out ladies in short skirts who have "dancer's calves":
"These ballet dancers! You can spot them in a crowd wearing a short skirt. Those calve muscles."
Maybe Gordon is a soccer coach and just doesn't get Ballet. But as a listener, I wanted to hear more about how underrepresented youth will be introduced to this art form, how it will give different audiences a chance to experience dance, and about Misty being a great role model because of her career and hard work, not because of her looks. Instead, I learned that dancers who wear skirts have calve muscles. Thumbs Down.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Just Because More Images Are On the Internet-Does NOT Mean we Are Numb to The Pain of Others

Yes, we are exposed to A LOT of information. I read pressing arguments about images not causing shock or magic anymore, and about images saturating us because we are exposed to thousands of them daily. Apparently the media is offering us too many images, and specially too many images of violence. The pressing issue is that saturation: seeing billions of images, might de-sensitize our affective or empathetic devices. But I am not sure about this argument. Who feels numb?  who ever felt nothing when looking at an image of humans in pain? 
To use the events of Vietnam as an example, when images of people grieving or suffering from violence got to the United States, they altered the humanitarian and political response to the war. 
This was one of the points of this week's New York Times article titled Images of the Vietnam War That Defined an Era and I agree. But the other two points were of this sort:  1) to cause nostalgia for the times when there was no internet and 2) to bring forward a complain that photojournalists have more competition. This complaint was backed up by argument 2a) that having access to billions of images saturates audiences. 
Regarding point 2 and 2a, Ralph Blumenthal wrote yesterday: 
In a digital world, the pre-eminence of Vietnam-era photography is unlikely ever to be duplicated, experts say.
Today’s war photographers produce work “every bit as good as anything out of Vietnam,” said Michael Kamber, a freelance photographer who covered Iraq for The New York Times and is the author of “Photojournalists at War.” “But when you put more stuff on the Internet, it competes with more stuff on the Internet.”
Back then, he said, “great photographs had tremendous staying power: you didn’t have access to billions of photos.”
So, sure, there is more competition now that there is more stuff in the internet. But most of us, audiences, can distinguish between good and bad images. And if this is about photojournalists being upset about competition, why not just be grateful that we get to see more images now, instead of less. Specially when some of these have the power to change us, to haunt us. 
If we live in a visual world, then images play an important role in framing and allocating what counts as humanity in a visual field. In times of war and violence, images that move us can show us who or what populations suffer, who grieves, who loses. Images can open up our field of perception so that we see more, empathize more, do more. 
Susan Sontag who wrote a lot about images, aesthetics, and beauty, warns us in her book On Photography that photographs, in their omnipresence, are deadening our responses to the suffering of others. It is understandable that many who grew up reading Sontag  agree with this claim, that images saturate us, that we are callous as a society. 
 But Sontag herself, displays a different view in her last book published before she died, Regarding the Pain of Others. Here, thankfully, she is not so sure about this anymore. Her conclusion:
"Let the atrocious images haunt us. Even if they are only tokens, and cannot possibly encompass most of the reality to which they refer, they still perform a vital function".
I think images can perform vital functions, and we need this distribution of images because images still have the capacity to move us. 
I already wrote about indifference in the media, and argued that those who enjoy certain privilege might afford to remain indifferent, to claim they are saturated. But if we are to understand that those populations pictured grieving are human, not just instrumentalized, objectified, targets of war, that they are vulnerable to political fronts, battles, death, injustice. If we are to understand that populations lost are not just numbers, that humanity needs to be framed in more egalitarian ways, then we have to apprehend images, if these images are to haunt us, if we are to be moved, if we are to respond actively.
So please keep taking photographs, keep going into places unreached and unheard about, keep opening up our limited visual field. Audiences can distinguish what is good and what is bad. If the New York Times refuses to accept your photographs, or review your art because they don't want competition, duh, use the internet to share them. Some are arguing for saturation, or having nostalgia for the pre-internet days. But others are showing us that life is precarious through their photographs, that an affective apprehension of grief or pain might be the first step to reach a better understanding of violence and war, to lessen this violence, this war. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Thank You Lusties, Good Bye Lusty Lady.

Lusty Lady is closing September 2. It was the first strip club to unionize, and it gets an A in featuring weirdness, freakiness, some queerness, and bodies of different types rather than porn star bodies. Workers who unionized secured hourly wages which prevented women from exhausting themselves hustling for tips, frequent breaks in between peep shows, and some paid vacation.
One complaint: Where are the colored ladies? A quick look at the current club's "lusties" here shows us a predominately white population of female workers, pressing the question of who gets selected or who chooses to work there, and what are the structural conditions of women who chose to work at lusty lady.  The documentary explaining how the workers unionized in 1996-97 shows us a segment of mostly white females auditioning at the club to make extra cash. 
Lili Burana writes about her experience working at the Lusty Lady in the 90's here, pointing to the same idea:
 The Lusty had many distinguishing characteristics—a cocky feminist underpinning that couldn't be found in any other strip club or peep show in the country, a dynamic, punky-queer dancer corps, and a sense of humor about its onanistic mission objective—in later years, they had an unofficial alligator mascot named "the Master Gator". On a more pragmatic level, management accepted that dancers had lives beyond their jobs, and that, in fact, dancing wasn't even the central point around which their lives were organized. (I met more than one of the alleged mythical "PhD candidate stripper" working here. They are real, if rare.)
Yes. Stripping shouldn't be the central point in anyone's life, and everyone has a life beyond their job. But how many times do we identify with what we do, even if it is just an automatic  job? Having the privilege and qualifications to remain less tied to a job means that one's identity and self worth will not be intrinsically ( and negatively in this case) linked to one's labor. Yet structural conditions such as race and poverty that define who chooses to strip, and who has no choice but to strip are not considered. 
The image of Lusty Lady workers, as viewed on the website and documentary, sends a message that most women who work there do it out of choice, to make extra cash, to have a more flexible schedule to attend graduate school etc.  Is this the case in other clubs also? Why not? I'm only hoping that other workers of the strip club industry from more diverse social classes and racial backgrounds do the same as the Lusties did: Unionize, demand paid time off, demand longer breaks, wages, and sexual harassment protection. Thank you lusties for your contribution to worker's/ women's rights. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Coney Island, End of Season

I went to Coney Island last night and families, children, couples, friends were celebrating the closing of a summer season.

Fireworks started at 9:30pm and exploded in the sky for thirty minutes, everyone was enthralled at the lights, the colors, the sparkles, utterances of Uh! and Ah from groups, laughter, a night sky with no stars and no other lights but that of fireworks, a cool breeze that smelled like salt and sweat and sand. Most families left by 10:30pm and the rest gathered near the water and later, leaving the sand full of traces of footsteps, grouped near the hot dog stands eating chili cheese fries and drinking beer from plastic cups. Saying farewell to the summer, gathered at the Coney Island station to take the Q, or N, or F back home, wherever home is, with all those characters together, all the colors, all the outfits, all the people of the Coney Island night disappearing into trains, some staying, sleeping in benches at the station.

School starts this Monday for many kids, teenagers, and teachers (me). It has been a wonderful, furious summer.

Tom Waits couldn't have sounded better, singing to you, see you next season Coney Island.

Friday, August 30, 2013

On Miley Cyrus again, choosing anger over indifference.

So we all know what happened at the VMA's already, it's been days. Accessorizing at the expense of marginalized groups, objectifying the bodies of women of color (such an essential component of the music industry nowadays) this slapping, this sexism, this racism caused a lot of anger.

This is good news for those who care about social justice. I am sad about this spectacle, but I am glad there was anger.

I am not talking about the anger expressed by parent-council sections, or segments who where raging against Miley's "trashy" moves, her hyper-sexuality, her loss of innocence. This anger was  not directed against the racism, but rather against Miley’s failure to model how a white, privileged woman should act.

We also have those who were angry against the sexism of the performance, and yes, we could agree that the performance was very sexist, but this anger does not cover the whole field.

Those who expressed anger at the sexism and racism of the performance, those who realized that, hey, Miley is appropriating from negative rather than positive stereotypes of black culture and helping stabilize and perpetuate negative stereotypes of an already marginalized group, those, I would say, are expressing resistance, a good form of anger. We should be angry at this spectacle. Not at a twenty year old girl, yes at this spectacle.

Anger is not always a negative pathology. Bell Hooks who grew up in the south, who suffered from the consequences of racism and sexism most of her life, who was always told not to act angry, constantly makes this point in her book Killing Rage were she writes:

Confronting my rage, witnessing the way it moved me to grow and change, I understood intimately that it had the potential not only to destroy but also to construct. Then and now I understand rage to be a necessary aspect of resistance struggle. Rage can act as a cataliysist inspiring courageous action. ( 1995: 17)

When a white woman is used by the media to perform and perpetuate negative stereotypes of black women, of black culture, just to look edgy at the expense of  such group, we should be expressing our anger publicly. It is the least we can do for solidarity. Yes, there is so much more we can do for solidarity, but this is the least you can do. Do it. Get angry.

Part of colonizing teaches us to repress our rage, so acceptance of certain spectacles and indifference to certain spectacles becomes a form of complicity.  A commitment to justice is actually a great motive to get angry, regardless it was caused by a Miley Cyrus performance.  Growing up as a woman in a hyper sexualized, machista, latin american country, I know my own rage has helped me grow and change.  It had the potential not only to destroy but also to construct healthier meanings and healthier models in my own life.

So why is it so difficult to accept that many women got angry after Miley's performance?  Why all the feminist mocking? Is it because we live in a culture where anger expresses despair and is characteristic of oppressed, marginalized groups? Barbara Einrich in her book Bright Sided makes a point about the toxic positivity of contemporary life highlighting how failure becomes a consequence of a bad attitude, anger, acting negative etc. rather than a consequence of structural conditions. (2009:13) and following this line of thought, those who mock at other people's sensitivity, at their anger, might just be contributing to the ideology of the positive, the idea that getting angry is for losers with a bad attitude.

For those indifferent to the whole thing. For those who would rather keep a good attitude because they have the privilege to not get angry. For those who have a problem with the sensitivity or (excuse me) hyper-sensitivity expressed after Miley's performance by feminists. For those who feel somewhat superior to those who felt anger, for those who engage in "angry feminist" bashing on blogs, for those who think that it's all click baiting and that is all there is, and there is nothing more to it- that all we are is an eye ball clicking...Well, all I can assume is that you just don't get angry, that you have a good attitude, that your structural conditions of class, race, sex and privilege allow you to remain indifferent. Good for you. We will keep getting angry for the rest of us.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dance New Amsterdam is Closing, A Dancer's View

Tonight after taking dance class with Jennifer Archibald I was grabbing my bag ready to leave, in a hurry to shower. Before I could thank her for the class and say good bye, she stopped the music and announced to us that DNA was closing on Monday.

Of course it is closing on Monday. It is Labor Day

 Or I thought, until I saw her eyes get watery and seconds later watched her look up and cover her face with her hands.

Sorry, this is hard. We got the call today I taught here for ten years.  Hundreds of people are losing their jobs. 

I stood there, still sweaty, a circle of dancers around her, one dancer from the international student program already crying, others hugging each other. I am heartbroken.

 Some people move here for job purposes, to find love, start music careers, to write more, to dance more, to escape something, to look for better, to look for different. Most of my anticipation about coming to NYC was that I would find a dance studio that would allow me to grow. And since I moved here 3 years ago, I spent a good amount of time trying out different classes every evening after work, searching for a studio that would train not only professional dancers in modern and contemporary technique, but also aspiring and emerging dancers who started as adults, like me.

I loved DNA from the start. Like a good partner, a good relationship, this studio provided me with a non-competitive, yet serious environment that allowed me to find a voice, forget about my work day, explore my own form, and develop momentum, flow, while dancing with a community of people who loved the same thing I did.  It was always about catching those fleeting moments when a choreography allowed me to express something, to leave something else behind, to say something with the body.

I enjoyed the artistic commitment of my fellow classmates and teachers coupled with a less competitive environment than studios such as STEPS or BDC. I was not expected to have perfect turn out or amazing flexibility and extensions. I got to work with what I had, teachers motivated students to tell a story with the body, to actually be artists, to explore movement, and to top it off, I encountered amazing dancers and teachers with no need to sustain huge egos. Like with any good relationship, my experience at DNA allowed me to mature as a dancer, to grow, to leave the fear of looking uncoordinated, ungraceful, behind and to take risks with my choices.
But, the facts are that DNA filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 28 of this year. And I think I ignored this because I assumed it would be around forever, that a fundraiser would help, that the only extra ten dollars I had would help contribute, that others would add their ten dollars and contribute too.

Terese Loeb Kreuzer wrote for the Downtown Express in June

New York City’s landlord/tenant court has given the non-profit organization until the end of September to come up with a financial plan that would enable it to keep its doors open at 280 Broadway (...)Although DNA continued to pay rent through those months, it was $131,000 in arrears and was saddled with interest on a debt it incurred while it renovated the space it occupies in a landmarked building that dates from 1845.

On my way out of the studio tonight, I asked at the front desk and they informed me that mostly everyone just found out today, via an e-mail, that the studio was closing on Monday.

Unless we can get someone to donate fifty thousand dollars, I guess it is over.

So, that’s it?
Just like that?
I feel homeless.

Where am I going to go now? To find teachers of the level of Max Stone, Diane McCarthey, Laurie Devito (forgive me I am forgetting many) teachers who taught at DNA for years, who developed a technique, educated hundreds of students, created companies, created choreographies, mentored other dancers who later became teachers.  Or the younger teachers who brought all the wit and energy and always have new ideas for us to try out, Megan Bascom, Kendra Portier, Benny Simon, Julia Ehrstrand, or the guest artists who teach every week, and these are just a few whom I got to learn from, absorb from, and now? I guess we dancers will have to hustle.
Those who love or got attached to their teachers might have to figure out where and when they are teaching next, and try to take their class in different studios around the city (if this is your case, I suggest to follow a teacher's Facebook notifications or through their website for weekly updates on locations) others might have to find a different studio to call home. But I cannot think too far ahead, all I know is that a community is being kicked out, just like that. Although the economical consequences will impact  hundreds who work there, the emotional consequences of this closure-seeing dancers upset after class and later in the hallways, the faces of disappointment, the tears, seems just as bad.
I could go on writing about how this is impacting an amazing creative community, how we need way more public funding for the arts and for individual artists, how recession is a bitch, how teachers will actually plan on re allocating their classes in different studios, and I will expand on this. But for now, until Monday, I do not want to say good bye to DNA. Who has some change, say some fifty thousand dollars you could spare us please?

1) Here are some links on the subject:

Updates on bankruptcy and closure

2) I want to apologize for not giving credit to these images. I picked them up from websites which did not include the name of the photographer and it is not my intention to steal from artists ( although I did). Any info on these images is greatly appreciated.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Crónicas del Trabajo

No sé a donde fui todo este tiempo. Agosto, Septiembre, Octubre, Noviembre, Diciembre que ya casi termina. Todo este tiempo con la idea fija de que tengo 90 chicos de ojos marrones y distintas edades. Que me han adoptado 90 chicos que de alguna forma me pertenecen. Algunos de ellos vienen con valijas repletas de infancias prolongadas y otros con miradas de adultos y peluches sin ojos, con manos gastadas en cuerpos pequeños.

Mis niños de quinto grado se sientan en sus bancos todas las mañanas en la clase. Sacan el cuaderno y el libro de lectura. Llevan camisetas de fútbol los niños y camisas blancas de princesas aztecas las niñas.
Mi trabajo es de profesora, de “seño,” pero me he sentido madre de más de uno. Como cualquier madre, muchas tardes siento que hoy les he fallado a estos niños.
Me pregunto por qué no me hacen caso, por qué corren por los pasillos de la escuela, por qué no siempre quieren aprender. Olvido mi propia infancia.
Salgo de esa escuela con el bolso cargado de libros y papeles que vuelven el paso mas lento. Me frustro cuando se olvidan partes en los exámenes, me alejo de ellos cuando me piden mucha atención y me les acerco cuando me ignoran. Pierdo la paciencia con sus padres, que me los mandan con hambre a la mañana y asustados. El episodio mas reciente fue cuando el padre de uno se quedo dormido con el cigarillo prendido, y casi quema la casa.
Les enseño estudios sociales y  español, que es un idioma que se pierde y que se olvida acá en el Norte.

Aveces a mis chicos ya no les interesa hablar en el idioma de sus padres y se adhieren mas al idioma de los países civilizados. Tal vez se adhieren a las promesas del american dream donde todo es posible if you work hard enough. El sueño de ver la nieve caer sobre países civilizados. Así le decía mi mamá a este país, cuando nosotros vivíamos en el sur. Desde ese sur “paredón y después“ como cantaba Piazolla en sus tangos, a la nieve la mirábamos en las películas.  La nieve que cae infinita y lentamente, silenciosamente hoy a la noche, mientras escribo esto en mi cuarto pequeño de Nueva York.

Les decía, tengo un estudiante cuyo padre se duerme con cigarrillos prendidos.  A mi estudiante le gustan las rancheras, por que es la música que escucha su mamá en la casa, pero ya no habla español. No me habla en ingles tampoco. Los sobresaltos del lenguaje.

A veces me lo quiero llevar a casa a ese niño, envuelto en una sabana blanca.

El esfuerzo de avanzar, de escuchar, de esperar, de comprender los balbuceos y los gritos de recreo, de tener, de pertenecer. del amor. De la lengua. todo. siempre. requiere una pausa.

Así es la vida acá en el Norte.

Tengo doce días de pausa en espera de la Noche buena. Cae la nieve lenta y silenciosamente en Nueva York. Entonces hay lugar, otra vez, para los recuerdos del sur. Memorias de la Navidad en Buenos Aires, donde es verano en Diciembre. Las contradicciones de las fiestas en el sur donde es verano. Arboles sintéticos decorados con esferas brillantes. Muñecos de Santa Claus de plástico en los techos, los fuegos artificiales alumbrando la noche. El pollo con papas y mayonesa. Todo en un contexto de humedad y calor. La marea del río de La Plata que baja en el Verano, dejando metros y metros de arena precediendo el agua.

Hoy que encontré tiempo volví a recordar al puerto de Olivos y la playa de mi infancia. Rescaté esos momentos cuando mi mamá me llevaba a mi y a mi hermana a caminar por el puerto y por la playa, antes de entrar a la escuela. Cuando podíamos sentirnos dueñas de la playa antes del mediodía. Y en ese entonces, sentirse dueñas de la playa era como sentirnos dueñas del universo, lo que es sentirse arena y rio, y alga y pez, y puerto, y perro vagabundo, y viento húmedo, y nube.

Después con el tiempo esa playa cerró, y la arena bajo mis pies se empezó a contaminar cómo el agua del río, hasta que el municipio tuvo que cerrarla, o dejársela a los militares.

Otro recuerdo: Cuando yo nací, no había guita, dinero, no había un mango en mi casa. Y mi mamá que me tuvo en el hospital Británico de Buenos Aires, apenas se pudo levantar de la camilla, me envolvió en una sábana blanca y se fue conmigo, sin pagar la cuenta del hospital. Por que los médicos cobran demasiado, y dar a luz, nacer, debería ser gratis, como el aire.

Arrebato de sábanas blancas. La silenciosa nieve.
Allá lejos y hace tiempo, acá en el norte, todavía las memorias del sur.