I am Jane Chan, a choreographer and dance artist of East Asian heritage who works within the intersections of choreography, storytelling, performance, teaching, producing, project management and change instigation.
As a person of colour, first-generation immigrant in the UK and a dance artist with a diverse training portfolio, intersectionality is no stranger. I know I cannot possibly fight every single battle that is thrown my way so instead, I choose the battles that I cannot put aside. With the battles I do choose to fight, I always remind myself that they are meant to be long, time-consuming, labourious, uncomfortable and messy all at once. That said, I know that if I want to make things right, I have to start by making changes within myself today and be able to carry this on into the next few decades; and this includes creating a presence for myself at events. I hope I can contribute to the arts and culture sector by leaving a legacy for our next generations through my being, presence and practices aimed at dismantling, re-distributing and reconstructing the hierarchy of power alongside other people of colour and marginalised communities.
I am an avid instigator of change within organisations. As bodies of colour, we often find ourselves in situations where we feel it is our responsibility to raise awareness regarding racial issues and right the wrong. However, in my opinion, issues regarding race is only one facet of a much bigger issue, that is, white middle-class cis males and sometimes white cis females, continue to be regarded as the default whilst anyone who is not, is excluded from this whiteness.
It is also important to acknowledge the intersectionality that many people embody. The many layers of hurdles that a person of colour, non cis-gendered body is required to go through in order to make a presence, hold space, raise concerns and make their voice heard entails great amount of emotional and mental labour which are often unaccounted for. It is taxing and causes fatigue.
Promises and words are all well and good but sadly, speaking from experience, I am often left feeling suspicious of the underlying intentions of various organisations. Actions, as we know speak much louder than words. Buzz words mean nothing and they will certainly not fool the laser-sharp senses of people of colour. We see through the fluff. Unless arts and cultural institutions and organisations are truly committed to being at the forefront of change for the better, nothing will really change, particularly those have unrivalled reputation for platforming and uplifting global arts for its selected artists, companies and audiences and therefore hold the power to change the conversation surrounding orientalism, fetishisation and othering in the arts. Let’s not forget that the arts are for everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion or socio-economic background. These institutions should be held accountable for their cultural responsibilities to respectfully represent all cultures.
I appreciate a lot of work has been done by independent artists, but their time and resources are relatively scarce compared to that of an institution. I am by no means demeaning any of the work that individual artists do, in fact I applaud them, however, without the institutions owning up to their responsibilities, we as communities of the arts and culture sector will not be able to move forward as a whole. We will be left behind and soon become irrelevant.
For allies who wish to support people of colour, may I urge you to do a tally of people of colour in every room or space you walk into. Keep a record of this and you will soon realise how white spaces are, especially spaces linked to power. This is of course the first step of raising awareness of the status quo. I would also suggest as a general rule that arts organisations have their artistic director and CEO as two separate roles. When these roles are combined, the ultimate power of an organisation would be held by one person which in my opinion upholds the status quo than disrupt it. These roles should be mutually exclusive with fixed terms where applications take the form of open call, not by appointment nor invitation. Moreover, conversations regarding equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be conducted and maintained at all levels of an organisation on an on-going basis, with people of colour forming an integral part of the dialogue. There are of course many other things that allies, organisations and institutes can do, but this would be very specific consultation work that this article will not be able to cover.
We all need to join forces in doing and being better regardless of whether you are an independent artist or an employee of an organisation. Let us all celebrate small steps. However small a step, it is still a step forward.
To conclude, I want to take this time to share a thought from Zhou’s article:
we hear diversity and inclusion a lot but being inclusive, the power still lies within the person or organisation who is being inclusive, for example, I invite you to dance, I decide the music, venue, genres, context, rules.
In another words, those with privilege and power needs to actively give up some of the power and make space for those who hold less. And if this statement makes you uncomfortable, ‘then it’s clear your interest in this idea of diversity and inclusion is only when it serves you, not for the benefit of others’. (Zhou, 2019)
Jane Chan is a choreographer and dance artist trained in Chinese classical, Chinese folk, contemporary, ballet, wing chun and kathak who works in the intersections of choreography, dance, performance, teaching and change instigation. Also, a member of Amina Khayyam Dance Company since 2014, one of the artists of colour steering group at Chisenhale Dance Space, the London Correspondent for dancejournal/hk, one of the Overture 2019/20 cohort for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, a mentor for Arts Emergency and the founder of Passion Project, a teaching initiative that aims to share the joy and benefits of movement and dance to non-dance professionals, immigrant women group, older adults with and without dementia.