Q & A session about the dance department’s upcoming Listen Up! event featuring Nyama McCarthy-Brown
The final Listen Up! event of the semester will be held on Thursday, April 8 at 11 a.m. via Zoom.
Nyama McCarthy-Brown will speak on dismantling racism in the dance classroom and beyond. McCarthy-Brown is a renowned dancer, educator, choreographer, scholar and activist. Her work has provided significant frameworks for dance in education at this seminal moment regarding race in the United States. Here is a quick take on the last Listen Up! event from Kori Wakamatsu from the Department of Dance. Wakamatsu will moderate the discussion.
Q: Where do you think the problems lie when it comes to racism, bias and microaggressions in the dance world and dance communities?
I think like most things, it is multifaceted. I can’t really point to just one thing. I think people can read this in the articles Nyama McCarthy-Brown provided –– but for sure, a lot of this has grown out of colonization and tradition.
I think what we see in the dance classroom is really a great reflection of what’s going on in our world today. There’s no escaping it, so it’s not as if you step into the dance classroom and things go away. People still enter the space with those biases and assumptions. The idea that white dance forms are maybe what we see as at the top of the hierarchy, while other dance forms and people are not as valued. Nyama McCarthy-Brown is such a great champion of saying that’s not true. That it’s not a hierarchy.
There’s value in the dance forms that we have systematically decided to elevate, but it does not negate other dance forms and it does not mean that others enter the space at zero.
Our students are bringing themselves, their past experiences, all of that into the classroom. What I admire about McCarthy-Brown’s work is that she recognizes that people are coming with knowledge. It might not be the knowledge we know or have traditionally valued in higher education, but it is knowledge that should be recognized and is worthy of study and affirmation.
Q: What steps has BYU Department of Dance taken to dismantle racism and what steps do you think still need to be taken?
We have a lot of work to do. I hope the few things that I highlight don’t make it sound as though we think we’ve arrived because I know we haven’t. I, myself, am in contemporary dance –– a dance form that is currently being questioned, as in, “Why are you so special and important?” It’s complex to dismantle the structures that give contemporary dance power while simultaneously advocating for the genre I love dearly.
I think what we can still do is value each individual. I think we can and should take a serious look at what traditions we have perpetuated and why. What can we hold on to and what can we change? The “Race, Equity, and Belonging” report launched a lot of important discussions, but we can’t lose the momentum. We can’t let words and intentions fail our actions and chance for change.
I think we can empower certain dance forms, create a sense of belonging, and an invitation that you belong here and you can succeed here.
As far as what we’ve done –– I think one thing that has been an incredible tradition at BYU is the cultural dance area. We’ve had performing groups such as Living Legends, which builds upon lineage and ancestry. I think that is incredible. I will acknowledge there’s a lot of questions around some of the studies of cultural dance forms and there are many things regarding appropriation and representation that we still need to negotiate and figure out, but I think that has been an important part of our dance identity at BYU.
One thing we’re currently working on right now is really looking at credit hours. Our BA Redesign Committee is headed by Keely Song Glenn and I think they are tackling these questions really well.
Why did the dance department feel the need to tackle this topic for this Listen Up! Series?
I first want to acknowledge the CFAC’s vision. The college was forward thinking in launching the series and I think our students and faculty have been so blessed with the guests that they brought in so far.
My specialty is dance education and so I kept submitting Nyama McCarthy-Brown’s name. In the field specifically of dance education, looking at the educational side of things, she is a national leader. She is definitely at the forefront of recent Civil Rights awareness issues. We like to tout that we have a very distinguished dance education degree program. I think it’s very fitting and such an honor to have her speak to us and offer her perspective.
Q: You published your article ‘Asian American Perspectives: From Microaggressions to Microprogressions, How Small Choices Can Make a Big Difference in the Dance Classroom’ for the Journal of Dance Education back in September. Have you seen any progression or improvements within BYU’s dance department since then?
We’re working diligently on the parity of our curriculum. It’s a slow working cog, speaking of how to make things change. I think especially with the movements about Stop Asian Hate, I’m disheartened. I think it’s fair to say that we have a lot of work to do.
I mentioned this briefly in my article, that Asian Americans are invisible. I think that was a theme that has really shown itself since the incident in Atlanta and I know a lot of faculty are feeling that way. I think the few students that I’ve spoken to are feeling that way and so I’m hopeful. I don’t think I can say we’ve done a lot since September or since 2020, but I am hopeful that these have started the important conversations to get us to take action.
Have you ever met or worked with McCarthy-Brown before now?
Yes. I’ve been super lucky. Both of us are our longtime members of the National Dance Education Organization. I was a quiet attendee in a few of her presentations in the past and I’ve definitely admired her from afar.
This past summer of 2020, she and I were asked to sit on a committee as new members of an editorial board, which was a huge shock to me. I couldn’t believe the names of the people on this committee and so just over the past year I’ve gotten to know her a little bit more. That’s been exciting for me that I knew her before we invited her to our campus.
What do you think bringing in a guest artist like McCarthy-Brown does to help the dance department?
I think first and foremost, it helps our students see the dance world, but then also just the world beyond our walls. BYU can feel like a special bubble. I think it’s so important to keep our students connected to what’s going on in the field and in the world and hearing new perspectives.
I think beyond our students, I’m hopeful that faculty will gain greater insight that will spark those important conversations that we need. I’m hoping a small portion of this is ambassadorial work –– helping the guests see a little glimpse of our church.
I am hoping that students and faculty will gain so much from McCarthy-Brown, but also that a little bit of symbiosis that can happen. That we can be good ambassadors, good spokespeople for the university, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and for dance at large.
There are two ways to attend the Listen Up! event: To view and participate (pre-read articles and submit questions), students can watch via Zoom. Students can submit questions for the discussion here. To view only, students can watch here.