By Meghan Power
Reflecting on our dance upbringing, we understood the all-too-common feeling of being the only Black person, and sometimes the only person of color, in the studio. We also recognized that Black contemporary dancers are severely underrepresented in Mohkinstsis, not because they don’t exist (an assumption that we aim to debunk), but because of the Eurocentric history of racial discrimination and elitism that pervades professional dance structures.
“NAPPY Dance Collective, an emerging all-Black contemporary dance collective, is committed to emboldening the arts, the spaces they inhabit, and exposing them as capable environments for nurturing the pursuits of Black creatives. NAPPY is an acronym for Not A Political Playground Y’all. The history of the word “nappy” is tangled in Eurocentric beauty standards that were used to justify painting Black bodies as “lesser than” their white counterparts. The term has historically been used to negatively describe Afro-textured hair as dry, kinky, coarse, and dirty. We plan to confront and reclaim the term to describe that which is unique and beautiful and invite Black creatives to unapologetically embrace their multifaceted selves.”
The event, a 75-minute dance production, was held in Mohkinstsis’ GRAND Theatre. Originally it was a stand-alone event with two performances, April 29, 2022 (International Dance Day) and April 30th, but the event grew into an immersive community-based experience with the addition of a Black business market held in the lobby, featuring Black entrepreneurs and artisans, a curated gallery space, and a 30-minute artist talk featuring the creative team, and on closing night, a special pre-show concert and celebratory afterparty.
Both Cindy and Tiara acknowledge that funding for Black artists in Alberta and Canada is essential: “Throughout the planning process of our endeavor we made economic empowerment a priority. Black artists continue to be underpaid or not paid at all as opportunities are scarce for our demographic and we continue to see organizations evade conversations around reparations and equal pay,” says Cindy. “The tendency of contemporary dance to favor white artists proves its failure to acknowledge acts of resistance and reclamation that underpin social justice movements. Contemporary dance therefore cannot exist without BIPOC people revolutionizing the world.”
Tiara adds, “Change won’t happen overnight, but we believed that opening the space up to welcome Black bodies as capable movers, at all abilities to showcase and represent our multifaceted selves, will have a trickling effect, and encourage the next generation of artists to also pursue dance.”
Both Tiara and Cindy believe “BIPOC artists must transcend their designation as the “first” to breach racial barriers in their respective fields. We want Black creatives to know that they are more than just objects that lend legitimacy to companies that fail to live up to principles of diversity and inclusion. We are immensely proud of what we were able to accomplish with the funding we received and the support from our community. We are keeping sustainability at the forefront of our pursuits. We ask that institutions and funding bodies do the same.”