We have to talk about Ksenia.* But more than that, we need to address the ongoing conversation about race in the lindy hop world. I felt deeply disturbed and disappointed to learn that this individual has indulged in black face and brown face over the years, underwent direct counsel from concerned individuals, and chose to ignore it. My question for you, global dance community, is this: Why do we choose to continue to ignore actions like these and choose tolerance over the years? Why are individuals still learning dance from someone who chooses racist actions over change? Why is stagnancy and preservation encouraged in a community where we, as a whole, profess to value innovation and improvisation?
I don’t have an answer for you. I can only tell you this: I will not be reviewing the online course I was once so excited about from this instructor and cancelled back in February. No more attention will be directed into any means of praise or even criticism in that direction. Instead, let’s re-direct: What will we, as diverse communities across the globe, choose for ourselves now?
Recently, in the last few years, two very different movies came out which I believe represent two of the many roads lindy hop and the swing dance culture at large can take — namely, Black Panther or La La Land. (Obviously, this is not a binary situation or choice, but I think this does represent major perspectives currently in play). While not a dance movie in the slightest, Black Panther, an afrocentric triumph, demonstrates what social ails exist and solutions which might be proposed. King T’Challa feels, at times, proud, tormented, and resolute. A complex character, he welcomes the audience into a similar fold about the inner mechanisms of what a true community entails — do we engage in civil war due to differing beliefs in purpose, do we compromise and make peace…or is there even a we right now? What is brilliant about Black Panther is that the story allows for multiple narratives to exist, to create, and even to destroy. (That’s all I’ll say without giving away any spoilers). Should you as a dancer so choose, you can allow multiple narratives in, to thrive given the proper growth and appreciation, to weed out the toxicity.
On the other hand, we have La La Land. Now, don’t get me wrong, many of the themes present in this particular movie resonate with me as a dancer and as a dreamer. However, the movie also presents a unique parallel to how communities, like Hollywood or subcultures like swing-dancing, write out POC voices. The lead actors are white except, surprise, the antagonist who just so happens to be John Legend, an amazing African-American musician and artist. Still, he is pigeon-holed into a less-than, supporting role to a melanin-deprived cast. Many of the POC are sidelined as extras in the Broadway dance and song numbers. I was both excited and disappointed to see many from the lindy hop and hip hop communities represented but not highlighted on the margins. Nostalgia is weaponized to selectively “colorblind” or, rather, white-out history. It’s absolutely unexcusable and, to be honest, incredibly heartbreaking. For Old and New Hollywood alike, there is no place, apparently, for minority culture voices.
I will be the first to acknowledge that life holds within itself a fair amount of moral gray areas. However, I hold this to be true: you do not use an identity as an insult, as a joke, or as a weapon against someone. That is inexcusable and abhorrent. Period. My issue with the lindy hop and swing dance subculture right now is not that we don’t know. I think recent conversations at Lindy Focus, at least, have shown an overwhelming willingness to learn and hope to understand. Awareness, if anything.
What am I going to do? What are you going to do about it? What will we choose to do, or what will we choose to let happen?
If there is a “we,” and I sincerely hope there still is, what will happen to “us?”
I for one am feeling a bit exhausted at…fighting assumptions. I walked to my car after an event to croakings from an older man about, “THAT Chinese girl!” nevermind that I never talked to him the entire night. I had to endure this both on the dance floor and to my car as I was walking to the parking lot alone. Strange heckling. Strange days of cultural encounter.
I hope for change here. If not, I’m making one…perhaps away from people who are not ready to accept who I am. Perhaps to a community who does already.
*It should be noted that the first link was taken down which I’m not sure what to think of. However, in the one now linked, you can see some representation of minstrelism. As well as here.
Update: Ksenia’s response on Yehoodi. Thoughts?