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Adding Colour to Dance Health

Decision-making and leadership in dance health lacks cultural diversity By Dr. Blessyl Buan
  • Buan / Photo courtesy of Buan

In October 2020, Toronto-based chiropractor and dance artist Dr. Blessyl Buan published the BIPOC Dance Health Directory, an online resource linking BIPOC performing artists with BIPOC health professionals. The directory aims to provide a support system that addresses and validates the specific needs of BIPOC artists and performers, something Buan feels has been critically under-represented in dance communities. “The world needs to know that BIPOC dance health experts exist,” she says.

The BIPOC Dance Health Directory, Buan hopes, will address the need for visibility and cultural diversity in dance health today: “It will inspire opportunities for collaboration, provide a free resource for BIPOC dance artists and initiate important conversations that bring focus to the needs of a community that has been ignored in years past.”

Eventually, Buan wants to expand the directory beyond its current stage. “My big vision is that this directory will develop into an organization of individuals that will provide opportunities for education, mentorship, policy planning and even scholarships to improve access in the BIPOC dance health community,” she says.

Find the BIPOC Dance Health Directory here.

Continue reading about what inspired Buan to create the directory.

 

At a recent virtual course that I attended about considerations in dance health, where all attendees were muted and unseen, a dance health specialist was asked how dancers of colour can be supported at this time. She confidently answered that “Nothing can be done right now” and that it would take decades to see a shift. She then recommended that BIPOC youth go to school “to be a social worker or something.” My stomach dropped.

Suddenly, I felt like my decades of dancing, education and clinical practice, along with its impact on the dance community, became worthless. This one woman’s comment represented decades of feeling unseen. Yet this moment was the catalyst to finally act on an important issue that has bothered me for years: decision-making and leadership in dance health lack cultural diversity.

If you are curious, you can simply search for major dance health institutions and quickly discover the lack of representation. Through a consistent Eurocentric lens, the dance health industry has a narrow focus on who needs dance health. Until diversity is created in the areas of decision-making, education, funding and research, dance medicine and health will continue to be limited in its reach and its impact on a global scale. Furthermore, the BIPOC community will continue to be ignored.

After much reflection, I understood that the doctor’s response was completely irresponsible in its power to influence and perpetuate the idea that BIPOC leaders are absent. Her inability to reference resources was shocking and disappointing. Even more shocking was the apparent apathy to her comment. Looking at my own work, I became curious as to why my dance health network and social media feed were predominantly white. I shared my story on Instagram, and to my surprise, I discovered that this is a strong pain point in the BIPOC community.

Based on the response on social media, it was an easy decision to create the BIPOC Dance Health Directory. The directory invites BIPOC dance health leaders around the world to submit their listing and gives BIPOC dance artists a free resource to find a safe space to connect with professionals who genuinely understand the intersections of being a healer and dance artist and the culture that they identify with.

As of this writing, there are 10 health professionals included in the directory. Here is what some of them had to say about this work: 

Malek / Photo courtesy of Malek

 

“Diversity in the dance community is long overdue. It’s time for health panels to celebrate the diversity in colleagues to bring the best care to dancers from all backgrounds. Proper care starts with compassion and understanding. This resource will provide the first step towards that,” says Dr. Leada Malek, doctor of physical therapy. 

Andreys / Photo by M.Martinez Photo

 

“When a dancer is injured and they feel understood in all of their intersections as a dancer and in their identities, it creates a space for ease,” says Dr. Montserrat Andreys, chiropractor. 

Thompson / Photo courtesy of Thompson

 

“Fighting systemic racism in institutions starts with listening to the voices of those affected by it. By spotlighting the BIPOC dance community, we can begin to address the issues that affect BIPOC dancers in a meaningful way,” says Alex Thompson, physiotherapist. 

To create a shift in our current dance health culture, we need to take action. For clinic and education teams, take a look at your organization and honestly ask yourself if diversity exists within the programming that you offer. Is your impact intentionally inclusive? In the realm of dance health research, start asking questions in the context of how cultural and Indigenous dance practices can benefit from dance health interventions. Collaborate with culturally diverse companies and get educated. Instead of taking from the community, create relationships to build trust.

For my fellow BIPOC dance health specialists, it’s time to reflect on how we have contributed to this lack of diversity. Does your work reflect diversity? In what ways have you limited your reach by assimilating to the current systems of dance health? In what ways have you denied your culture and authenticity? In what ways have you invited diversity into your practice? How can you do better? At its root, dance is a vehicle to tell stories and heal generations. It honours the past, its traditions, and influences culture globally.

Now that we can acknowledge that there is indeed a gap in cultural diversity in dance health, we can begin to get excited about the limitless possibilities of growth that we can now explore and implement.

Dr. Blessyl Buan is a Toronto-based chiropractor, dance artist and mom of four.

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This article was originally published in the Winter 2021 issue.

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