Transcript, Episode 50: Holding Ourselves Accountable, Paris Opéra Diversity, and Tamisha Guy

[Jump to Tamisha Guy interview.]


Margaret Fuhrer:
Hi, dance friends and welcome to The Dance Edit Podcast. I’m Margaret Fuhrer.

Courtney Escoyne:
I’m Courtney Escoyne.

Cadence Neenan:
And I’m Cadence Neenan.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We are editors at Dance Media. And in today’s episode—which is actually our 50th episode, which is kind of bonkers—we will be talking about the findings of the Paris Opéra’s new diversity report and the ways the institution has promised to act on those findings. We’ll discuss the creative wilds of ballet TikTok, and how TikTok is becoming a space for dancers to have honest conversations about the problems they see in ballet. We’ll talk a little about the dancing that happened during The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime show, and the internet’s various reactions to that dancing. And then we’ll have our interview with Tamisha Guy, who is a standout dancer with Kyle Abraham’s AIM, and is also a thoughtful dance educator and creative. Tamisha talked about her plans to start financial literacy workshops for dancers, because that is a skill set that is so important for anyone embarking on a professional career, but that’s missing from a lot of dancers’ toolboxes. And then we also talked about how we can use this COVID time to make the dance world a better and more equitable and inclusive place for the next generation of dancers coming up. So we’re really excited for you to hear her perspective.

But before we get into all of that, we want to pause for a minute and discuss a conversation that’s been happening on Instagram involving our sister publication, Dance Magazine. We talk a lot on this podcast about the importance of dance institutions holding themselves accountable. And this is a moment where we need to apply that same standard to our own organization.

So here’s what happened in broad outline: On February 5th, dance artist and writer Bria Bacon—she’s @briabacon on Instagram—posted an open letter to Dance Magazine, critiquing its February issue, which, during Black History Month, had no Black visibility on its cover.

Shortly afterward, Dance Magazine posted a collage of past covers on its own Instagram account, not addressing Bria’s statement, but instead saying that the magazine “is committed to showcasing the breadth of diversity in the dance field and supporting anti-racism all year long.” Within hours, the magazine removed that post. But you can still see it reposted on Bria’s account, along with her response to Dance Magazine’s aborted response. And Bria has since posted another letter, this one addressed to Dance Magazine editor in chief Jennifer Stahl.

We’ll link to all of Bria’s statements in the episode description. But we also want to read her first letter in full. She said:

To Dance Magazine:

February is Black History Month: 28 days governmentally instated into American calendars to reflect, remind, commune, encourage, teach, and learn the importance of Black history, as it is synonymous with the chronological catalogue of this country. It is 28 days, handed to us dripping with tokenism and silencing, that we, Black-Americans, have reclaimed as a month of joy, education, and reparation. Yet, many American organizations and figureheads stall to acknowledge and honor Black people, Black spaces, and Black contributions that show up in every job field, on every screen, in every conversation. When fear of minimization takes hold, rarely is the time found inside insecurity to show gratitude and commemoration. Within spaces that we amass the most, like the arts, education, sports, Black invisibility finds its shining moments. Being that I am a performing artist, my gaze specifically engages with the arts and questions how its “leaders” can implement ceremonies, opportunities of recognition for Black makers. One of the largest publications in the dance field is Dance Magazine, yet February’s cover has found itself devoid of Black mention.

Upon seeing this month’s issue, I immediately felt unseen and consequently sought out my community to ground my reactions and discuss their own. On the one hand I was affirmed in knowing my feelings weren’t overstated and were collective; on the other, I was disheartened by our group expectation of Dance Magazine, which is the push for white bodies: what is the future of Black visibility? Moreover, will young Black girls and boys ever receive the representation in dance they need? If we show no concern for our children, then our hopes for the future subsequently deflate; do we not see that? Not only did this month’s cover decide to center whiteness during the one month slated for our shine, but it spotlighted a ballerina while in the role of “Odette” from Swan Lake, a ballet that took until 2014 to showcase a Black female lead (because ballet never intended to include Black bodies in the lane of “sophisticated dance”). Nowhere on the cover was there mention of the many spotlighted Black artists inside (like Myssi Robinson, whose article was written and photographed by Black women; Jaamil Olawale Kosoko; Tanisha Scott; Kia Smith) or a directive to read a Black (his/her/their)story, in general. Even though it comes without surprise, demands for awareness hold the power for change; I ask that Dance Magazine not let another February issue go out that is not beholden by melanin, honoring Black contribution, swollen with Black thought. There are too many brilliant Black makers in a variety of positions (i.e. theory, performance, critique, witness, dramaturgy, design, management) within this field to allow for twelve issues centering whiteness in a year’s span. Better can be done because what we have is unacceptable. In February, Blackness demands the spotlight.

Sincerely,
Bria Bacon


Dance Magazine issued an apology on Instagram on Tuesday. But we—and the “we” I’m using here is Dance Media, the parent organization that includes both Dance Magazine and The Dance Edit—we failed here. This was a failure. And I know that apologies like this always ring hollow. What I hope is that we—and now this is not some anonymous we, but we, the people talking to you on this podcast—I hope that we can live an apology through the content that we create. We need to actually live the principles written into the mission and values statement here at Dance Media, which says that we “aspire to be as diverse as the dance community itself, and to shine light on the injustices within and around it,” and “[to] strive for a culture of fairness, respect and inclusion.” That’s the work we need to do, and that we need to do better. So, Bria, I hear you, we hear you, and we thank you. Because it is not your job to hold us accountable, but the time and thought and labor you put into these posts helps us do that work better. Listeners, we encourage you to go read all of Bria’s posts—again, we’ll link to them in the episode description, or you can find them on her Instagram account @briabacon.

Okay. So bringing that spirit of doing better into the rest of the episode, we’re going to move on to our usual dance headline rundown. And this week it actually starts with some celebratory news.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yes. So United States Artists announced its class of 2021 follows, and we want to send a huge congratulation to dance recipients Ishmael Houston-Jones, JanpiStar, Emily Johnson, Cynthia Oliver, and Ni’Ja Whitson, who each receive a $50,000 unrestricted grant. And I also love that United States Artists provide some financial advising programs to fellows, unrestricted grants. Like, these can be such huge game changers, especially to individual artists, and helping them make the most of those funds is massively important all the time. But especially right now.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Such a great program and such an extraordinary list of dancers, congrats to all of them.

Cadence Neenan:
NAACP announced nominees for the 52nd annual NAACP Image Awards, a celebration of Black stories and excellence in entertainment. Among the nominees was the ever-iconic Debbie Allen in the Social Justice Impact category, alongside notables like April Ryan, LeBron James, Stacey Abrams, and Tamika Mallory. The awards will be held live on Saturday, March 27th. So be sure to tune in and cheer on Ms. Allen.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Debbie Allen—let’s give her all the awards, please.

Courtney Escoyne:
I second that emotion! And as we celebrate Black History Month, one program you should definitely add to your watch list: Next Thursday, February 18th, Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE will be performing at New York City’s Joyce Theater, a continuation of the company’s 35th anniversary celebrations. The livestream mixed bill includes an excerpt from Brown’s beloved masterpiece, Grace, as well as the more recent Mercy; a solo from One Shot, which was inspired by the life and work of noted Pittsburgh photographer, Charles “Teenie” Harris, and the “March” duet from Brown’s Lessons, set to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cadence Neenan:
“World of Dance” recently announced its new dance studio franchise program. But the marketing language used to announce the program struck a terrible chord with many members of the dance community. In the initial announcement, it was stated that the $16 billion dance industry is “on hold,” and that there is “no industry leader,” ignoring the hard work that many dance teachers and studio owners have put in this year and years prior. After a widespread social media outcry, including a call by many to boycott the brand, “World of Dance” took down this language from its site and issued a formal apology, crediting the remarkable work that community leaders have done both in the pandemic and, well, forever.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, that is a complicated story. We will link to Dance Teacher‘s piece about that, which gets further into the details.

Courtney Escoyne:
Indigenous dance artist Emily Johnson accused Jedediah Wheeler, the executive director of Montclair State University’s office of arts and cultural programming, of verbal abuse. This was in an open letter to the National Endowment for the Arts in which she stated that she had decided to forego “any funding and further entanglements with Peak Performances,” which had received a $25,000 grant from the NEA in support of a residency and project development that was under discussion when, Johnson says, Wheeler made comments that were “specifically aimed to demean and make lesser my work, my heritage and my ethics.” Professors and former employees of the school are rallying around Johnson, while the university has since released a statement in support of Wheeler. This is a very complex story. Politico did a great bit of reporting on it, which I believe Margaret is linking. And also her open letter is available to read on the internet.

Margaret Fuhrer:
We’ll link to both the letter and that Politico story, with all of its excellent reporting, in the episode description.

Cadence Neenan:
Dance Data Project released another eye-opening report, this one examining the leadership in 45 of the top company-affiliated ballet schools across the country. The data revealed that, as is often the case in the ballet world, while women make up the majority of faculty at all levels, men are overrepresented in top leadership roles. So while women have greater employment overall at these schools, they are disproportionately hired into untitled positions when compared with their male counterparts.

Courtney Escoyne:
And according to new survey data, four out of 10 Equity members in the UK feel that the Brexit deal will negatively impact their ability to find work in the industry. After creative workers were excluded from the list of occupations benefiting from a work permit, free travel into the EU, 31% of those surveyed reported seeing casting calls that required EU passports and 14% reported having been asked by their agent to confirm whether they have EU passports. In response, Equity is asking the UK government to amend the trade deal so that creative workers are included in the current arrangement or to create a separate creative visa. I have to say, after watching this unfold for the last several years, I’m completely unsurprised.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Yet another completely dismaying and completely unsurprising facet of this Brexit mess.

Cadence Neenan:
New York City Ballet announced the lineup for its upcoming 2021 digital season, including new works from choreographers Kyle Abraham and Justin Peck. The season is set to begin on February 22nd and will include performances, rehearsals, and conversations with the company and its dancers all filmed at the David H. Koch theater at Lincoln Center. The company’s returned to the Koch is another step towards the reopening of performing arts spaces to the public. Currently City Ballet is still planning to stage a live season in the fall conditions permitting.

Courtney Escoyne:
Did you guys see that Taylor Stanley is in the cast for the Kyle Abraham piece? And so as KJ Takahashi, I’m really excited.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s going to be good…

Cadence Neenan:
More Taylor Stanley always please.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Always and everywhere.

Courtney Escoyne:
Honestly, Taylor Stanley and Kyle Abraham, it’s just—that’s the duo. In more City Ballet-related news, Zeitgeist films has acquired North American distribution rights to In Balanchine’s Classroom, a film that’s been in the works for a while, looking at Balanchine students from the sixties and seventies and examining the legacy of his teaching, including some reportedly never-before-seen archival footage of him in class and rehearsal. They’re planning for a theatrical release this fall beginning with an exclusive engagement at New York City’s Film Forum before a wider release.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I’m wondering, when they say “examining the legacy of his teaching,” how deep that examining is going to go. And if it’s going to allow for any criticism. I’m very curious.

Courtney Escoyne:
I have the exact same curiosity, Margaret. We’ll see…

Cadence Neenan:
Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell was named artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago effective March 1st. Fisher-Harrell will serve as only the fourth person to lead Hubbard Street in its history. And she’ll be faced with the unique challenge of performing a sort of triage for the company, after the pandemic halved the company’s budget, forced staff layoffs, and catalyzed the closure of the Lou Conte Dance Studio. But Fisher-Harrell is focused on finding a way to reconnect Hubbard street with its audience and its upcoming 44th season.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, I mean, I delighted by this appointment. I’m also admittedly, a little concerned that they just hired a Black woman to essentially come in and clean up a massive mess. Like…that’s concerning.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. So, speaking of companies that, like Hubbard Street, are hoping to make a fresh start: in our next segment, let’s talk about the Paris Opéra. Because at the beginning of the week, the company published a 66-page report on diversity at the institution. It was focused on the Paris Opéra Ballet. And this is the report that was prompted by the open letter that five Black members of the ballet company circulated last summer, which called for urgent change at an institution with a terrible track record on race.

So unsurprisingly, the report found that the Opéra needs to do a lot more to promote diversity and inclusion. Following its release, Alexander Neef, who’s the Paris Opéra’s director, vowed to pursue many of its recommendations, including eliminating racial caricature in its ballet repertoire. And while this is an important milestone to note, it’s also all well-covered ground in the dance community generally, and also for us here on the podcast. Like, yes, of course you should not have blackface and yellowface in your ballets. But we did want to talk about a few especially interesting and surprising things from the report and from Neef’s response to it.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. So first off, shout out to Laura Cappelle who is a dance writer based in Paris, who essentially was reporting all of this on Twitter before doing written reporting, and keeping us all apprised. So again, as Margaret covered, eliminating blackface, brownface, and yellowface from the repertoire, opening choreographic commissions to diverse choreographers, these are things that seem absolutely common sense that are now actually being formally recommended to this company that is historically slow to change. But another thing that came up that was very interesting, that hasn’t necessarily gotten a lot of press, but I think is fascinating, is the suggestion that POB reach out to high-level non-white artists in France and abroad to hire them into the corps de ballet in order to create role models. There is an argument that it’s near impossible to imagine yourself as a person of color as being someone who could join the Paris Opéra, because there are so few Black artists and artists of color in the company.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And if implemented that would be a huge change, because the Paris Opéra Ballet has for a long time refused to budge on its competition-based system of entry.

Courtney Escoyne:
Which is incredibly insular.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah.

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah. You, you come up through the school and then even getting promoted within the company is done through this very rigid.

Margaret Fuhrer:
The Concours!

Courtney Escoyne:
Yeah, the Concours, which is a whole other thing to talk about. And another thing was talking about like loosening some of the rigid standards for admission into the school also instead of waiting for “diverse” students to come to the school, to instead step up outreach efforts do auditions outside of Paris. There is something Laura pointed out in her reporting for Pointe is that this might potentially rub the school director a little bit wrong who has long maintained that they are doing enough and doing plenty. So we’re curious to see what the implementation is going to look like because a lot of the report really did focus on essentially the school-to-company pipeline.

Cadence Neenan:
I thought another thing Laura mentioned was that, even within the company, this implementation may be challenging. Less than 300 of the Paris Opéra employees out of around 1500 signed the letter and manifesto last summer. And some even went so far as to publicize their reluctance on social media.

Margaret Fuhrer:
There’s a bigger-picture context here in that some people in France are seeing these changes as part of a larger-scale—oh, I hate this term, but “culture war,” that American theories on race and gender and post-colonialism are posing this kind of existential threat to French identity. And notably this isn’t just like Marine Le Pen saying this; Macron is on this bandwagon, like this he’s said these things. And my reaction to that is that I’m actually kind of tickled by the idea of, like, workness as an American cultural export. Like, some of that to offset the mercenary capitalist ideas and virulent strains of racism that we’re also pumping out into the world? Sure. You know what, I’m on board.

Cadence Neenan:
This is like a different point, but I did think it was interesting that there was no actual data as to the different races of dancers in the company available, I guess because racial statistics are strongly discouraged in France, which goes back to some of the reason that people are so resistant to the recommendations made in this report, I guess, because France is so very focused on this idea of égalité that it results in this colorblind societal ideal, where you just kind of erase all of those differences.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Which is sort of like a nineties way of seeing the world. Like, I feel like this is what a lot of us learned in school, growing up with this color blind approach. We don’t talk about race because “we’ve moved past it.” And obviously we have not.

Anyway, it’s encouraging that Neef immediately pledged to implement a lot of the recommendations made in the report. Very eager to see more of that work being done going forward.

So in our next segment, we’re going to talk about a very different corner of the ballet universe. Last week, the New York Times published a piece about ballet TikTok, where young dancers are finding a space to talk about the really deep-seated problems in ballet in a way that feels authentic and real. And full disclosure, I wrote this story. So I’m going to stop talking here in an effort to not completely take over this conversation, because obviously I have a lot to say about it.

Cadence Neenan:
I mean, I have to say I was so delighted, not only to see someone who is so near and dear to me writing this fabulous story for the Times, but also just by the content being covered in this, because I think I have seen this trend developing both in like ballet-meme Instagram circles, and now on TikTok, of Gen Z taking the ballet world to task in a way that is critical and intelligent and important and are all conversations that I wish had been occurring when I was a part of the dance world. But essentially if you’re not on ballet TikTok, first of all, join it. It’s fun and an excellent use of slash waste of your time.

Courtney Escoyne:
I see you looking at me Cadence, and the answer is no, I, I’m not going to cave to TikTok. I’m not going to do it!

Cadence Neenan:
Well, if you’re not familiar with the whole Tik Tok culture, I think something that we’re starting to see is Gen Z taking both kind of a self-deprecating perspective, but also a critical lens to a lot of institutions using humor to kind of analyze outdated institutions and the issues that come with them. And we are starting to see that on ballet TikTok, where young dancers are confronting issues that they see in the dance world, be it body image issues or issues of race and equity, or even issues of financial limitations on dancers, all of these different things, they are tackling in a way that is somehow both funny and critical. And it’s really amazing to see. And that’s why I just loved reading this article so much and seeing the conversations that are happening on the app, because they’re really important. I mean, I was, you know, I did use this discussion as an excuse to spend a good portion of my morning scrolling ballet TikTok. And it seems like this week, one thing that people are dancers are really talking about is the old dance teacher adage of “I can see your lunch” to young dancers, and I mean, excellent discussion point. Let’s talk about that. Let’s break that down and explain why it’s so wrong. But I think it’s just—I wish that when I was a young dancer and my ballet teacher told me to pull in my stomach, like roughly 20 times in one class, there had been a place for me to discuss that and have that conversation with my peers. And I love seeing it now on TikTok.

Courtney Escoyne:
What’s wonderful about it, right, is that it’s also so very clearly coming from a place of like loving this art form and caring about it, but also in loving it, not letting that blind you to what’s problematic about it, what’s harmful about it. And by, we’ve said it a lot here, like by being able to discuss that more openly, we can actually create a changing culture, we hope, going forward. And also humor is a wonderful way to actually go about having those conversations because it’s like, Oh yeah, it hurts. But also I’m laughing hysterically because I relate to this so much, but it’s like, it’s that in is there.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And dancers are so funny! I mean, a little backstory on this story: I first pitched the idea after just being endlessly frustrated, trying to watch “Tiny Pretty Things.” I mean, why can’t we just talk about ballet, about the way it actually feels to be a ballet dancer? Which is that mixture of like hilarity and despair. Essentially the right type of tone for a show is traumedy. Like that’s where we live as actual dancers. And I’m thinking about, where does that actually exist? And TikTok is the place where it exists. Anyway, we don’t need to talk too much about this. I did want to say one sort of fabulous bit of fallout from the piece, which was: Jennifer McCloskey, who’s the dancer behind @hardcorpsballet—

Courtney Escoyne:
I saw this!

Margaret Fuhrer:
—she had this amazing quote in the piece saying that she doesn’t come to TikTok to watch Isabella Boylston do eight pirouettes, she thinks that’s kind of boring and TikTok content is more creative. And she posted to her TikTok account, after the story came out, “me realizing I just shaded one of the preeminent ballet dancers of our generation,” and like hiding her face. And then Isabella commented on the post, “No worries, not the first bad review I’ve gotten in the New York Times.” Which is just like another reason to love ballet TikTok, that this type of discourse is happening.

Courtney Escoyne:
Bless Bella.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Bless her. Bless everybody involved. All right. So in the last part of our round table conversation, we’re going to talk about The Weeknd’s Super Bowl halftime show. Because for performance that involved relatively little like dance-y dancing, it elicited a pretty wide range of responses from dance people. Some thought its pedestrian quality and the elegant way that it incorporated masks was kind of brilliant. Others were frustrated by the fact that, of course we could only get a large scale dance anything right now in the context of a professional sporting event. It was almost like a Rorschach test. Like, what you saw in that Super Bowl show was a reflection of what you were feeling more broadly about the dance world or the world world.

Courtney Escoyne:
Well, and something that, that struck me watching the choreography was I definitely had the thought of like, am I watching a case of limitations fostering creativity? Cause a lot of the choreography, especially in the opening section where like only the top half of the dancers’ bodies were visible, it was very gestural. I had the thought like, Oh, you could so easily rehearse this on Zoom. And like, in a lot of ways it’s like reflecting a lot of Zoom choreography. You see like everyone’s just faces next to each other in a grid. It was definitely interesting. And it definitely felt like something that was a product of this really, really weird moment that we’re in. And I say moment, like we’re not 10 months into it.

Cadence Neenan:
It’s 11 at this point.

Courtney Escoyne:
Oh God.

Cadence Neenan:
I mean, I have to say for me, I was a little underwhelmed by this. I felt like there were missed opportunities. Like for me, honestly, a big missed opportunity—and I’m going to mention TikTok again, so Courtney, you can quietly roll your eyes, but I just feel like—

Margaret Fuhrer:
“Blinding Lights”!

Cadence Neenan:
Why would you not use the “Blinding Lights” TikTok choreography? I loved Doja Cat incorporating the “Say So” choreo into the music video and into her performance at I think the VMAs, and it just felt like really you’re going to do “Blinding Lights,” you have all the dancers there and just miss that chance…

Courtney Escoyne:
For the record, I have no issue with TikTok. I just know it will take over my life if I get one.

Margaret Fuhrer:
That’s noted. That’s noted on the record. I, you know, what’s funny Cadence is that I had that same feeling. I was like, they’re going to do it. They’re about to do it. They’re going to do it. They’re going to do the “Blinding Lights” challenge. But my response was, Oh, that’s sort of brilliant, kind of taking us right up to the edge. Everyone who knows what it is, understands that there’s almost a reference happening, but not actually going there. I don’t know. I love that kind of play.

Cadence Neenan:
I’m a Leo, so I like things to be direct. And I would’ve liked the choreo.

Courtney Escoyne:
I do have to say the thing that really got me though, was seeing all the memes and even a couple of reposted TikToks that were essentially like, there are 25,000 people watching the Super Bowl live—do the arts know?Do they do they know that this is happening? And I felt that in my soul. It hurt a little.

Margaret Fuhrer:
I felt that too. I will say though, my biggest overall takeaway was I kept thinking about how many dancers were getting paid for this performance. And I had this feeling that Charm La’Donna who choreographed it, who’s also brilliant—I just pictured her saying, all right, how can I get as many dancers paid as possible and make it work, given the limitations that we have in terms of rehearsal, time and space? So I hope they all made really good money.

Courtney Escoyne:
And I hope they are all still safe and healthy. I think we all have some concerns.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yes. Well, at least they were aggressively masked. That was another, kind of elegant solution.

All right. We are way over time. So we’re going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we’ll have our interview with Tanisha Guy. Stay tuned.

[pause]


TAMISHA GUY INTERVIEW


Margaret Fuhrer:
Welcome back, dance friends. We are here today with Tamisha Guy. Hi Tamisha, thanks for joining us.

Tamisha Guy:
Hello! Thank you for having me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Tamisha is a dancer in Kyle Abraham’s AIM, and an adjunct professor at SUNY Purchase. She dances and teaches all over the world. But actually I’m going to stop there, because Tamisha, I’m hoping you can get us started by telling our listeners a little bit more about yourself and your relationship with dance.

Tamisha Guy:
Yeah, sure. So my name is Tamisha Guy. I am originally from Trinidad, and I moved to New York in 1998 with my family, and I didn’t really know much about dance, honestly. I was more of a track and field girl. I did gymnastics as well. But my family and I moved to New York in 1998 and I sort of fell into dance, I like to say. I started to train at Ballet Tech, the New York City public school for dance. And then I went to LaGuardia High School, and then SUNY Purchase College, where I majored in dance and arts management. And then after graduation, I started dancing with the Martha Graham Dance Company, just for a short period of time. And then I started with AIM by Kyle Abraham, where I’m still a current member.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And actually as we speak, you are finishing up a residency with AIM at Kaatsbaan, right?

Tamisha Guy:
Yes we are.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Can you talk a little about that residency—what the company has been working on, and what it’s all been like?

Tamisha Guy:
Yeah, sure. So we’ve been here for 21 days so far, so 21 out of the 28 days that we’re going to be here on this residency. And it’s just a time for us to get together and to work a bit more closely just within guidelines and protocol that we set forth for this engagement. But it’s been really great just to be in space with my colleagues to be able to touch the dancers again. And of course we did a lot of testing prior to coming here, and we’ve been getting tested every week as well as we’ve been here. So we’re being very careful, but just being able to work on pieces that we may have started to work on prior to COVID and just getting back into it has been really nice, and diving even deeper into it has been really great as well.

So yeah, we’re getting into the thick of it. We’re coming down to the final few days here, but we’ve been rehearsing each day. And yeah, it’s just been a lot of dancing, a lot of conversations as well, checking in to sort of see where we are just considering all of the happenings in the world. But it’s been definitely, I think, a great experience I would say for me, just to be in space with my colleagues and Kyle and just sort of feeling what a creative process is and can be again.

Margaret Fuhrer:
And we actually had Kyle on the podcast back in November, and he was talking about specifically, Untitled, the D’Angelo piece that you’re working on. It was great to hear his perspective as a choreographer; can you talk a little about that process from your dancer’s perspective, because—is that one of the dances you’ve been working on?

Tamisha Guy:
Yeah, yeah. So we’re actually working on, I believe, three works while we’re here. So Untitled Love, which is set to D’Angelo’s music; we’re working on a newer work; and then another newer work as well. So a lot of dance is happening here, but in terms of working on Untitled, it’s a piece I think we’ve been working on now for a little over two years. So we’ve sort of been in the midst of this piece for a really long time. And I think now that we’ve been given this time at Kaatsbaan, there’s been a lot of sort of reworkings and things, sort of taking things out, and just digging even deeper into what we want the piece to say and what we sort of want to continue to develop. And the piece is about Black love. So I think in this season as well, it’s been really beautiful to sort of be focused on that, and sort of talking about Black love and all of its beauty. Yeah, so it’s been nice. A lot of smiling, a lot of laughs for sure. Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You were referencing the time that you’ve been at Kaatsbaan has been such an eventful time in the world at large, and especially in the United States. I know you’ve had discussions about that with your fellow company members, but has that seeped into the work itself at all?

Tamisha Guy:
I would say at the moment, not so much. I think within AIM, we’re super collaborative, so we have the freedom to sort of bring our own life experiences into the work. And I would say it’s very hard to sort of see what’s happening in the world and not sort of feel any of that while you’re in the studio, dancing with people that sort of may share in the same experiences as you. So I would say personally, I’ve been definitely thinking about the happenings in the world and trying to let that sort of be an inspiration or a guide. And it’s been challenging at times, because I think everything is not all sort of dandy in the world right now. But just being able to sort of be in a space and have that freedom to express and to explore has been really beautiful.

But I’m sure once sort of COVID is behind us and as we dive into other processes, that some things are going to seep in there, because I feel like as artists, we have to talk about what’s going on in the world. We have to talk about that in out art. And I think I can definitely see that happening in the future.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah, because no art exists in a bubble, even a beautiful COVID bubble.

Tamisha Guy:
Exactly.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So in addition to the work you’ve been doing with AIM, you’ve also been collaborating with artists all over the world during quarantine. You’ve been so busy. Can you talk a little about some of the highlights of that work and the dance projects that you have cooking right now?

Tamisha Guy:
Sure. So I like to say, although this time has been super tumultuous, I think it’s definitely afforded me the opportunity to reach out to artists and collaborators that I’ve been wanting to work with. So I’ve been really just fortunate to work with a good friend of mine, Damani Pompey, who I met in high school, and he’s now a movement director, he basically does it all. And I approached him to sort of come up with a project that talks about how we relate to nature as human beings. And he came up with a project called Crust, and it’s sort of exploring those ideas. So we actually recorded it maybe two or three weeks ago and I’m really excited to sort of share it and to see it as well, because I think being in the process is sort of like focused on how everything looks, but I’m excited to sort of see how the film comes together. So that’s one of the projects that I’ve been working on.

And I also collaborated with Room to Room, which is a project by Ana Maria Locati and Catarina Camalo. And the product is bringing artists together from all over the world, sort of pairing people together to collaborate on a project. And I worked with Keelan Whitmore, who is a former Alonzo Kings LINES dancer. And it was just a beautiful experience. We worked over Zoom, we had multiple rehearsals, and we hadn’t known each other prior to this sort of project. So it was nice to sort of get to know an artist that I hadn’t known before and we sort of had a number of similarities. So it was nice to just sort of have that connection with someone. And that product, we also recorded three weeks or so ago. So I’m also excited to sort of see that come together, and that was all recorded in my home and my family’s home. So yeah, I’m excited. I’m just excited to see it come together, and both works are really personal to me. So yeah, I look forward to seeing them.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s so interesting how during the pandemic… It’s like all this work that people are making is sort of fundamentally abstract, in that most of the time we’re apart from each other and working on Zoom. But then it’s also incredibly personal, because we’re in our home spaces and so much of it comes from you being in that environment. Yeah. It’s fascinating to see that all unfold.

Tamisha Guy:
Exactly. Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So you’re also, as we mentioned, a professor at SUNY Purchase, and you also teach at Gibney. What drew you to teaching specifically, and how would you describe your teaching philosophy?

Tamisha Guy:
Sure. So I didn’t start teaching until I joined AIM. So in AIM, we often have opportunities to teach master classes when we go on tour. And once I joined the company and I probably was like a year in, I started teaching company classes when we traveled, and I just really took a liking to it. I love just motivating people, and it sort of offered that for me. And also I love just seeing dancers, participants, whomever takes my classes—I just love seeing them sort of “get it,” whatever “it” is, and it doesn’t have to be getting the step, but just the feeling that sort of comes out of that realization of them actually feeling something that I shared with them. So that sort of is what started the fire in me to teach. And I’ve been teaching, I think, throughout my years here at AIM. And I wanted to sort of find my own voice in teaching, because usually when we’re teaching the AIM master classes, it has that sort of Kyle aesthetic in there.

So I was really eager and interested in sort of finding my own voice and teaching what qualities I wanted to sort of pull out of the participants and what I sort of wanted to be my own choreographic voice in a sense. So I started just sort of reaching out to places just to teach classes and a number of places also reached out to me. So that’s sort of how it started. And now I think I’m getting more comfortable with teaching and with deepening my exchange with students. I think that’s what’s really important to me is just that exchange, like learning from the students and them also learning from me, because I think that teaching isn’t one-sided, and I’m learning just as much from my students as I believe and I hope that they are learning from me as well.

Margaret Fuhrer:
You talked about finding your voice as a teacher. How would you describe that voice? I know it’s always evolving, but how would you describe it?

Tamisha Guy:
Yeah. So for me, I love to say that once I’m teaching, I’m sort of giving the structure. So I’m giving you the skeleton of the phrase, the movement phrase, and then I just encourage students to sort of approach each step with clarity and confidence. That is honestly like my spiel, and once I’m sort of talking to them, I share just certain textures and qualities that they can sort of tap into and explore. But I think it’s also less about the students trying to move in the way that I move, but trying to also find their own unique voice within my movement.

Margaret Fuhrer:
One of the reasons I was really eager to have you on the podcast is because the teaching that you do extends beyond the dance studio. And I’m really intrigued—you have this idea to put together budgeting and financial planning workshops for dancers. Can you talk about what inspired that and what you’re envisioning?

Tamisha Guy:
Yes. So I started teaching at Purchase fall of 2020, and I had conversations with the students just asking them what they needed in this time. I think it had to go beyond just me teaching a class to them. So I think I was really interested in having conversations and asking them what they felt could be of benefit to them in this season with COVID and outside of just movement. And I’m teaching the senior class, so I also had in mind that they are now preparing to graduate. So what do you need to feel safe and secure in the professional world? And that was something that was really important to me to ask of them or to ask them.

And I just started having conversations. I asked them questions about budgeting. It’s like, “Do you know the basics of budgeting?” “No.” “Okay, do you know about taxes?” “No.” “Okay.” So then I knew of someone that sort of taught a budgeting for dancers workshop. So I brought that person in to teach the dancers a workshop, and then my mom is luckily an accountant and is a genius with finances. So I brought her in to teach a tax seminar to the students as well. And that was sort of the initial reasoning for me wanting to offer this to the students and now sort of wanting to curate a program where that is offered to pre-professional and professional dancers, because I think even dancers who are well into their career, they may not have this knowledge as well. So I’m still sort of thinking of how to curate it, but I definitely want it to be a program that fosters dance and also gives you knowledge on sort of financial literacy, and helping dancers feel more secure in their finances, because I think the mindset of the starving artist has sort of never sat well with me. And if I can help my community in any way, I definitely want to do that and work towards that.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. This idea that the artist suffers for their art, and that means financially too—no, let’s stop that.

Tamisha Guy:
No, no. Please.

Margaret Fuhrer:
It’s a theme that we come back to periodically on this podcast, because dancers, even in wonderful college programs—like SUNY Purchase has an incredible dance program and they get this fantastic artistic education. But even in that kind of dance program, yeah, there’s this big hole where it’s like, how do you craft a sustainable career? And that includes budgeting, that includes doing your taxes. Yeah.

Tamisha Guy:
Exactly. It does.

Margaret Fuhrer:
So you yourself are juggling all these different projects right now, but at least from the outside, it seems like you’re navigating this previously unthinkable pandemic scenario very gracefully. Has the pandemic changed the way you think about your dance career at all?

Tamisha Guy:
Yeah. So I’d like to say that I think COVID sort of ignited this effluence of consciousness and awareness, and it’s sort of pushing us all to live a bit more intentionally. And I think prior to COVID, I would categorize myself as a very aware person. I like to be present, and just sort of be in each moment as they arise. And I think it’s just helped me to deepen into that even more, to deepen into that awareness. And I think I’m approaching my dance career with a bit more care and awareness, and I think it sort of boils down to knowing that my career is in my hands in a sense. It’s like I can choose to take this path, I can choose to take another path, but at the end of the day, it’s sort of up to me how I want it to go. And I think that awareness has definitely come to be a bit more in this season, just knowing that I have and I am in control of where I want to go in my career. So I’m grateful for this sort of awakening for sure. And although it’s been tumultuous as I’ve shared, I think there’s a blessing within it all still.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. It seems like it’s forced all of us as individuals to be a lot more thoughtful, and we’re seeing signs that that might also be true for institutions. I’m really hopeful that that’s also going to be true, especially in the dance world, that institutions will get to rethink their processes. And that kind of ties into my next question for you, which is—just to get your perspective on this—what dance floor problems have you personally seen the pandemic lay bare? And then on the other side of that, how have you seen this challenge unify or strengthen the dance community?

Tamisha Guy:
So I think there’s been this huge shift. And I think as artists, we’ve sort of been on this productivity train where it’s just been going nonstop and we haven’t had time to sort of really assess what we are doing. It’s like I go to rehearsal, I rehearse for a number of hours a day, I go home, I cook, I sleep, I do it all over again. And I think this time has sort of forced us all to slow down and to sort of take a look at our lives and take a look at, I think, the areas that need improving, and not only within our own personal lives, but in the institutions that we work for. I think the shift has been beautiful to see, because I think a lot of dancers are now advocating more for themselves and for others, I think to have more equity within these institutions, to have better working conditions, to have safer working conditions, and to have more benefits. So it’s been beautiful to see that. And I think in terms of community, I feel that we’re just all as artists just coming together in support of one another.

And I just pray and I’m hopeful as well that that sort of energy stays with us once COVID is a memory. I’m just praying that it definitely stays with us, because I think there’s this, as I shared, this sort of new awareness here, and thoughtfulness, that we’re sort of moving through the world with, I think as artists. And even in the way that we communicate with each other, I’m seeing a difference in as well.

So I would just encourage artists to continue using your voice. I think people who are running these institutions, I think they’ve seen the value in having artists of course be a part of their institutions, because you need the institution, you need the artists in order to have things moving forward. But I hope there’s this new appreciation for just what both parties are bringing to the table, but moreso what the artists have brought to the table and continue to bring to the table.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. Hopefully artists are figuring out what their voices are and how to use them effectively, and that institutions are hopefully starting to hear those voices.

Tamisha Guy:
Right, right, right. Yeah.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Well, there do seem to be some glimmers of hope on the pandemic front. What are you most looking forward to, dance-wise and otherwise, once the pandemic is behind us? Hopefully soon…

Tamisha Guy:
Hopefully soon! I’m going to utter those same words. I think I’m looking forward to I think a community that I feel more proud of for younger artists to be a part of. And I am proud in this present moment of the community that I’m a part of for sure, but I think there’s more work that we need to do to ensure that younger artists are entering a safer and more equitable community. And I think personally, I am just eager to start this workshop for artists with dance and financial literacy. So I’m definitely going to be working towards that. And I also have some other entrepreneurial ventures that I’m looking into as well. So just continuing to grow and to be more aware, more present in my life. And I’m just looking forward to a time where we may not have to do a bubble residency and get away from New York for a long period of time and sort of be able to be where we are and share a space safely with one another. Yeah, I think I’m just remaining hopeful. I think that is what I’m holding onto and that’s what’s definitely helped me in this season to sort of maintain my peace.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Talking about making a better future for these students who are coming up: I don’t mean to project onto you, but—I’ve been watching “On Pointe,” the documentary about young students at the School of American Ballet. And I remember thinking watching it, I hope we can fix dance so it doesn’t break you, because you’re so wonderful right now. Do you feel those same feelings watching your students too?

Tamisha Guy:
I feel that completely, completely. And I often get emotional, because I just want it to be better, simply put, because they deserve it.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Yeah. And it’s our job to fix it. And it does seem like at least we know that, and at least we’re taking steps in that direction, especially with this COVID kick in the butt.

Tamisha Guy:
Yes.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Tamisha.

Tamisha Guy:
Thank you so much.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Before we sign off, where can listeners go to find out more about these two projects that you have about to premiere, and then also about the other work that you’re doing?

Tamisha Guy:
Yes. So I will have those projects on my website soon. And my website is tamishaguy.com. You can also find me on social media, on Instagram, @tamishaguy, just everything is “tamishaguy” if you want to get in contact with me.

Margaret Fuhrer:
Great. And we’ll include links to all of those in our episode description, just to make things easier for people too.

Thank you so much, Tamisha, and stay warm! We’re in the middle of the snowpocalypse as we record. I hope you survive okay up there at Kaatsbaan.

Tamisha Guy:
Thank you so much. I’m wishing you a beautiful day and a great week.

[pause]

Margaret Fuhrer:
One more big thanks to Tamisha, who is back in New York City now. She actually just posted a beautiful series of snapshots and videos from the AIM residency on her Instagram. Be sure to take a look at that. And stay tuned for more information on her financial planning workshops—we will keep you posted on those. They sound fantastic.

Thanks everyone for joining us. We will be back next week for more discussion of the news that’s moving the dance world. Keep learning, keep advocating, and keep dancing.

Courtney Escoyne:
Mind how you go, friends.

Cadence Neenan:
Bye everyone.