There are people whom I admire and then there are people for whom every moment I spend with them, I want to soak up every possible molecule of being in their presence. Tai Jimenez is one of those people. Her dance class can only be described as a spiritual experience, because the focus is never on just the steps, but the intent and purpose of every step.
And that is what ballet should be all about. It should be a artistic and introspective life-long practice, just like yoga or meditation, because it is a beautiful and thoughtful practice. In reality, this is just about the polar opposite of how things tend to go down: even in the small beans non-professional no-name classes I go to, bitches be fightin’ for the barre, and everyone is feeling extra fat in their tights today. It’s a hierarchy of competition and insecurity that dissuades people and stifles creativity, even though the medium is so ripe for creation. Not always, of course, but often enough that it’s always a shadow chasing close behind the joy of movement. On a larger scale, this feeling works in tandem with existing institutions that reward people of a certain build, skin color, class, and attitude, not always for the best results.
(This is often how I feel about the tech industry and academia as well.)
Anyway. Tai, who also writes, posts a great response on her blog to Peter Martin, the chairman of the School of American Ballet (SAB), when he asks her to join a new “diversity initiative” for the SAB. As the all-too-frequent token girl / token minority in many lab settings past, present, and future, to whom all the “women in tech”, “minority”, “gender”, and “diversity” inquiries are directed, I can relate to her frustration. Her response is gold:
“I have been giving the matter of whether or not to join the Diversity Committee some thought. With all due respect, if the School of American Ballet is serious about diversifying, they can start by hiring me as a ballet teacher. I am great.
This is not about me, and it is about me. Please tell Peter Martins that true diversity means the whole structure has to change. Is he ready for that?”
In a follow-up blogpost, she explains:
“My approach to teaching ballet is too different from theirs. They want to create dancers. I want to create an ecstatic moment of dancing. They teach one to master a certain style and technique. I teach dance as a tool for self-mastery. They teach people how to squeeze themselves into a certain look. I teach people how to love themselves as they are and to dance from there. They promote an ideal. I expose the myth. They teach competition. I foster community. They teach hierarchy. I restore sovereignty of self. They pick favorites. I acknowledge everyone’s medicine and stir it up good.
And sometimes, I play hip-hop. SAB ain’t ready for this jelly.”
Read her original posts here and here. And, if you’re in the Cambridge/Boston area, definitely, definitely take a class with Tai! She teaches at Harvard (the classes are open registration) and I believe Jeanette Neil’s.