Haha… me at the studio where I started… Hard to believe I started at a barre so low. Two hip surgeries… and twenty-one years later… still trying to balance…
In the world of ballet, we are forced to see the daily reminder of white privilege visually. It is something we feel strongly about, or it doesn’t phase us. I recently went back home to California, southern California. And, if you have ever been to a small place called Riverside County, you will be given a sliver of hope for the future of dance. Here back at home, I went to visit my very first studio. A studio that has always been gracious to me gave me a sense of purpose and belonging and gave me a friendship with the studio owner that still exists. I come back home, and I am watching kids who are 5-8 learn ballet, but this isn’t the regular class I see or even teach. This class is full of joy and passion and had every ethnicity represented. Yeah, in this little city, dance thrives as something that is accessible for all kids, all colors, and all socioeconomic statuses. Riverside, is this unique small pocket of the world, that for a long time was embarrassing to say you are from. Now, I am proud to say I come from here. I came from a city where ethnicity really doesn’t matter, and where the arts are continually growing and evolving.
On a recent trip to Atlanta, I met up with one of the first students I ever taught. He is now graduating with his master’s degree from Emory. We were talking about race in general, and how even in Atlanta race is a huge factor in everyday life, and when he talks about this little corner of the world we both call home, people are so dumbfounded.
Usually, I don’t like posting personal things on this blog, but this time around… it is essential to talk about where I come from and what A Ballet Education is doing. I didn’t grow up poor, far from it, but I didn’t come from a wealthy family either. I am one of twelve kids, most of us are adopted, and half of my siblings have severe special needs. Please don’t go googling them or adding them on Facebook… Why is this important?
Recently, A Ballet Education started their scholarship selection, and this year we were able to help six individuals around the US to continue their education in ballet at some of the most elite schools. I have to ask myself… Why does “elite” or “good” training cost so much? Even myself… charging for private lessons, my rate is on the higher side of ballet coaches. Sometimes, I justify it was self-worth. Sometimes, I feel guilty and am continually trying to help kids find scholarships. This year was a good year for me in ballet, and I am thankful, and humbled… I joke around with my friends back home saying, this Gay Asian Boy from the poor side is sitting around the world’s most magnificent theaters, coaching some of the most exceptional kids in the world. And I have to laugh.
Soooooo… Why is this so important?
I recently was watching a TED Talks video, and an Oprah video on ethnicity and the idea of ethnic tax and guilt. These videos were super inspiring, but they made a valid point, You are not responsible for your family, your culture or social injustices. By being just you, by making it, is already an accomplishment that matters. It isn’t about taking care of your family, or by helping your brothers and sisters. The list goes on. The more and more I critically thought about this concept, I realized… the same goes for this current generation of “white.” You are not responsible for all of the social injustices in this world, and you shouldn’t have to pay higher taxes because someone in your family did the wrong thing. And as dancers, you shouldn’t feel guilty that you got a job. You worked just as hard. We all did the same pliés, tendus, and god awful, painstakingly long Russian adagios to get where you are.
But here is what you can do… You can give back. You can hit the streets like Aisha Ash and just walk around in a tutu. You can volunteer to teach at the local YMCA; you can donate money smaller school in a less fortunate area. You can buy tickets to a ballet performance for someone at your studio who might not be able to afford to go. There are tons of ways to give back, but if time and money is something you don’t have… which I totally get…
You can be a person who understands that ballet is not the problem; tradition blinds the people running the institution of ballet. We can be aware, that not everyone’s journey to get to the barre is the same and isn’t equal. We can be mindful that the costs of ballet are inflating, so families around you might be struggling to keep their kid dancing. We can chip in and get a new pair of pointe shoes for the girl who can’t afford it. We can be inclusive of all bodies who want to learn the discipline and rigor of ballet. We can be accepting for those who have physical disabilities who just want to feel like a princess. We can be all these things. Things I learned in a little part of the world that isn’t known for dance and is probably known for crime more than anything.
And, if you come from a family that can afford ballet, there is nothing wrong with that either. Your family has had to work hard to get where they are. Humility, though, that is the key factor. You read all these dancers’ biographies, and autobiographies and they all have one thing in common: Humility.
Stay humble friends.