Most of my dance writing covers activism in some way; artistic directors who break boundaries by starting programs for differently abled dancers or female directors in a male dominated field. I cover abuse, bullying, and gender norms by studying those leaders who are trying to break old patterns and upend the norms. I research what needs changing and how artists can and do lead in a world that dismisses us. I rarely simply celebrate. However, when given this opportunity to write about the Los Angeles dance community, a moment of cautious celebration came to mind; the multiple generations of working dancers who populate this brilliant group of performers.
The image of a working commercial dancer is generally an extremely hot, young, often scantily clad human executing seemingly impossible feats behind Beyoncé, Jason Derulo, Megan Thee Stallion or Cher. Hair, eyelashes, midriffs, biceps, and booty all flashing! Our culturally diverse company landscape also looks like that of other leading dance centers. Artists with Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, Invertigo Dance Theatre, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ate9 and Diavolo Dance Theatre would fit into the companies in any dance hub as would their ballet based counterparts at Los Angeles Ballet and Barak Ballet and the politically active dancers of Contra-Tiempo. While there is great diversity of dance culture, the majority of these dancers are young.
However, there is an entire additional dance world unique to Los Angeles. Film, television and commercial work teems with work for dancers, dancers who are diverse culturally, physically and, in the biggest break from most stage and theater dancers, in age. These dancers often populate the background of a scene, functioning to move the story forward and create the world of the show. SInce these scenes serve the narrative, the dancers need to fit into them, as regular humans in regular places. For example, I have danced a western wedding jig, a square dance with politicians and a swing dance in an asylum. Musicals, both on television and film, are popular and, in contrast to many stage versions, the dancers in them also look like real people. Crazy Ex Girlfriend and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist use dancers throughout in traditional production numbers. The series finale of Transparent featured an entire chorus of multi-generational dancers as did The Prom and Debbie Allen’s Christmas on the Square. Finally, there is crossover into performance arenas that are generally populated by the younger dance crowd. Miley Cyrus hired older dancers for her video Younger Now. DaBaby had a chorus of Boomer dancers backing him up in his 2021 Grammy performance of Rockstar.
This multi-generational dance community is a gift. In addition to the ongoing industry issues regarding the lack of racial, gender, ability and body diversity, we have a severe problem of ageism. Our busy working older dancers fight it by highlighting the immense value of respecting, honoring, and including those who have come before. Artists can change outdated perceptions, leading by example. These amazing dancers are doing just that. Representation matters.
Nancy Dobbs Owen
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