Contemporary Dance and Whiteness

Independent Dance was a partner on Contemporary Dance and Whiteness, a two-year research project led by Royona Mitra (Brunel University), Arabella Stanger (University of Sussex) and Simon Ellis (C-DaRE, Coventry University), exploring how race and racism mark the cultures, institutions and aesthetics underpinning contemporary dance in the UK.

Contemporary dance is anecdotally described as a white field of practice. Although there is a growing body of arts research that examines whiteness as racial privilege, there is little that investigates the phenomenon of whiteness in British contemporary dance.

The project’s aim was to explore racism in contemporary dance and to critique whiteness as part of a commitment to the field’s anti-racist futures. It examined whiteness as a structure of racism that exists in the relationships between personal prejudice, cultural norms, and the lived conditions of inequality and racial violence. As a project team we want to walk a fine line in understanding and critiquing the default presence of whiteness in the field of contemporary dance while centering practices of liberation and solidarity through which whiteness is to be dismantled.

The research included a number of conversations/interviews with dance artists, administrators and a wider group of people invested in exploring questions of race and race privilege in the dance industry. The ideas and experiences discussed in those conversations – along with reading available literature – was shared through the following outcomes: a journal article, an academic presentation, a public workshop, a public presentation, a video essay and a dedicated website.

This video essay uses edited extracts reflecting what interviewees raised in conversation.

ID’s participation

As part of the project, the researchers interviewed ID staff about the organisation and its context and problematics in relation to race in contemporary dance and somatic practices.
The project continues to raise and delineate complex and challenging issues and complexities for ID, which we try to surface and address in our processes – from planning and programming to administration, governance, recruitment and evaluation. It is a constant learning process.

In 2019, ID received an anonymous donation of £5,000. We decided that we would invest this generous gift to implement recommendations that came out of this project and specifically work to tackle the issues we and our fellow artists identify. We will continue to work with the researchers and with other artists to put this into action.

Activities at ID

ID hosted a one-day workshop in 2019, led by the project team and Cristina Fernandes Rosa and built around the large body of work by artists and scholars of colour who centre Black, Brown and Indigenous perspectives in their anti-racist work. The day included activities, discussions and reflections to grapple with complex issues about the role of dance in racism, white supremacy, solidarity and justice.

Also in 2019, as part of Crossing Borders, we hosted a discussion titled Anti-Racist Contemporary Dance; a public conversation with Alexandrina Hemsley, Rob Jones, Seeta Patel and Rajni Shah, and facilitated by Royona Mitra. This panel centred artists of colour and their reparative and militant anti-racist dance practices.
Listen to the recording of the talk here

Seeta Patel, Royona Mitra, Alexandrina Hemsley and Rob Jones (Rajni Shah via audio)
speaking at Anti-Racist Contemporary Dance discussion at Crossing Borders 2019

Contemporary Dance and Whiteness was funded by the British Academy through their partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.