The Marginalisation Of Black Dance Artists In The UK

Image: FKA Twigs ‘Pendulum’

Image: FKA Twigs ‘Pendulum’

In October 2018, in a fit of frustration about the lack of opportunity for black dancers and choreographers in the UK in comparison to the relative progress of theatre practitioners over the past year, I wrote a thread about it on Twitter.

The tweet began to spread, and Dancing Times magazine asked me to write about it for their December issue, so I’ve included two excerpts below.

Black dance students in higher education rarely see other black people (well, apart from the security and cleaning staff). It’s unlikely anyone on their audition board, curriculum, teaching faculty, guest choreographers or examiners will be black. When they graduate, they’re unlikely to come across black programmers, artistic directors or critics.

Aside from Ballet Black at the Barbican next spring with a new work inspired by the South African miners strike and Jonzi D’s behemoth Breakin’ Convention weekend, most black artists programmed in 2019 at the capital’s major dance venues are crammed into a mixed bill or small festival. The legions of loyal fans in attendance will generally be the only time you’ll see more than a handful of black people in those spaces (well, apart from the security and cleaning staff).

These moments are precious opportunities to showcase different perspectives. Perspectives informed by the black experience, and just as importantly, the experiences of black people which have nothing to do with their race. There is so much yet to be said.

When Black artists are accepted it’s usually when they can sell their own tickets: a development that has led to the entrepreneurial digital native generation finding alternative routes to success. Twenty-three-year- old choreographer Sherrie Silver’s millions of Youtube views mean she can tour the world. FKA Twigs has made contemporary dance exciting to a new generation of young black women. Black-run dance studios are creating viral dances hundreds of people learn, re-create and upload. Instagram choreographers are securing sponsorships and selling out workshop holidays in Europe, Africa and beyond.

Young black people are also trying to change the industry from the outside. Producer Tobi Kyeremateng has launched the Black Ticket Project, using Patreon to crowdfund free tickets for young black audiences. Journalist Bridget Minamore created Critics of Colour, a mentoring scheme to make writing about theatre, dance and opera more accessible.

They are not worried about funding, ageing audiences or diversity targets, as is the case for many traditional organisations who could stand to learn something. If the dance world wishes to remain relevant and exciting to contemporary audiences, it has to present artists and ideas that resemble them. It’s time to stop the superficial inclusion that shunts black artists to the sidelines, and bring them in to the centre.