Building Cultural Equity in Communities
October 25, 2022
An online discussion to support organizers of dance, music, and song groups
This Web Chat provided firsthand experiences from organizers who have used CDSS grants to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training for their groups. We heard about ways they have been applying what they’ve learned from these valuable workshops, and what’s next for their groups. We also included plenty of time for Q&A. Our special guests were:
- Cindy Culbert and Rich Dempsey: Country Dancers of Rochester (Rochester, NY)
- Janet Yeracaris and Vince O’Donnell: New England Folk Festival Association (New England region)
- Lauren Keeley: DanceFlurry Organization (Albany, NY)
- PowerPoint Slides
- Resources suggested by Web Chat guests:
- Articles and Reference Materials
- Addressing Racism as a Dance Community, from Portland Intown Contra Dance
- LGBTQ+ Definitions, from Trans Student Educational Resources
- LGBTQ+ Learning Resources, from Safe Zone Project
- “May We Have This Dance?” (history of Lindy Hop), from NPR’s Rough Translation, featuring
- Anti-racism resources, from Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein
- Training and Consultants
- Think Again Training and Consulting
- THRYVE Courses, from Crystal Rozelle-Bennett
- Move Together: Dancing Towards An Inclusive Community & Global Social Justice
- 5 Tips for Being an Ally, by Franchesca Ramsey
- How microaggressions are like mosquito bites, from Fusion Comedy
- Why this instrument explains Black American folk music, from Vox, featuring Jake Blount
- Articles and Reference Materials
Transcript of CDSS Web Chat: Building Cultural Equity in Communities
October 25, 2022
people, dance, community, questions, talking, events, group, feel, diversity, important, anti-racism, workshops, conversation, pandemic, culture, dancers, festival, hope, organization, NEFFA
Nicki Perez, Katy German, Linda Henry, Janet Yeracaris, Vince O’Donnell, Sarah Pilzer, Rich Dempsey, Cindy Culbert, Lauren Keeley
Linda Henry 00:02
Greetings from CDSS, and welcome to our Web Chat on Building Cultural Equity in Communities. I’m Linda Henry, Community Resources Manager. And we are very grateful for all of you who have joined this evening. We thank you for your interest in this very important topic. We need someone who is unmuted to mute themselves, there we go.
So this is a special Web Chat that will be featuring three different groups. All of them have received CDSS grants, so that they can offer workshops in diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, et cetera. So we’re hoping that your interest in this topic will be satisfied and that you will bring home inspiration and resources to your home community. We’ll start with some tech tips from Nicki Perez, our Gifts and Database Coordinator.
Nicki Perez 01:21
Hello! So we are recording this Web Chat to post later. So please turn off your video if you don’t want to be seen. Please remain muted. There are live captions for this video, you can turn them on or off by clicking the closed captions symbol that says live transcript at the bottom of your zoom screen. When we’re screen sharing the slideshow, you can adjust their size by dragging the vertical line between the videos and the slides. And the chat function is currently set to be delivered only to the CDSS hosts. So if you’re having technical difficulties, please send a message to Sarah Pilzer, and she will assist you as best she can.
Linda Henry 02:07
Thanks, Nikki. So here’s a glimpse of what’s in store. We’ll hear some comments from our Executive Director in a few minutes, and then we’ll hear from each of the three groups. And while you’re listening to what they have to share, if any questions come up, please jot them down so that you’ll be able to bring them to the Q&A. We’ll wrap things up by offering you lots of different resources to take home with you, and then say our farewells at the end. We’ve found that some people like to have a few minutes, maybe 10 or 15 minutes, at the end to stick around and have some informal socializing. So feel free to join in that optional opportunity to connect with other people. It’s also fine to just sign off at 8:30.
Next I’d like to introduce you to our first guests, Cindy Culbert and Rich Dempsey. As you can see, their group has been around for a long time.
Rich Dempsey 03:21
And comments from Katy.
Linda Henry 03:24
Oh, I’m sorry. We skipped right over the comments from Katy, because there was no slide. Yes, Katy…
Katy German 03:34
That’s fine. Thank you, Linda. No problem at all. And I’ll keep this really brief. I just want to say that we are so glad that you are here for this conversation today. Each and every one of you that came. We know this is not simple, straightforward, easy work. If it were simple, straightforward and easy…
Katy German 04:15
…So I’m gonna keep talking and hoping that it comes through… Showing up to things like this is a very important first step. Every thought, every conversation you have with your support group, with your organizer, fellow organizers. That’s also a step forward. When you start talking about cultural equity issues on your board level or your organizing team level, that’s also a step. We are all marching together. And CDSS is marching on this road with you too. We are committed to continue to learn and grow and open our eyes to the things that we have not been aware of. Each and every one of us have biases and things that we haven’t been aware of. So I just wanted to invite you all to just be relieved that you are not alone in this journey, that everyone or almost everyone on this call probably knows what it is to be in a very difficult conversation, to have trouble articulating why this work is important for your community. And so we’re just thrilled that you’re in this together. And we are especially excited to hear from our guests tonight.
CDSS has funds that are available for many things: new events to help support new ideas and initiatives that you have, publications, and as you’ll hear tonight, funds to support training on the local level. That could be training on diversity, equity, inclusion, cultural appropriation, anything around expanding the safety and access for everybody for these traditions we love. So if you’re here and you’re listening, I hope that you’re also considering applying for those funds and putting them to use in your community.
The last thing I want to say before I stop talking—and I didn’t ask Linda if I could do this ahead of time—This is Linda’s final Web Chat with us, because Linda Henry is retiring at the end of this year after an incredible career with CDSS over 30 years. So I just want to give a special shout out and a moment of appreciation—if you all could send a little jazz fingers or love to Linda for putting all these Web Chats together that have meant so much to us all. Okay, so that’s all I really need to say. And then I’m turning it back over to you.
Linda Henry 06:54
Thank you so much, Katy. I wasn’t expecting that. Okay, so let’s move right along to our first guests. I want to introduce you to Cindy Culbert and Rich Dempsey. This is a long-standing group, the Country Dancers of Rochester in Rochester, New York. This mentions that they both have various ways of being involved in this group, Rich as the current webmaster and sound tech. And I understand that Cindy was elected president of the group in 2020, during the pandemic when there weren’t even any dances happening. They’re both very devoted to this group. So I’ll turn it over to Cindy and Rich.
Cindy Culbert 07:49
Great, thank you. Hello everyone. Thanks for being here. Well, it is true I was elected for president of CDR during 2020. So we needed to really figure out what to do during that time while we couldn’t dance, and we just started looking at our dance a lot. And I think with the Black Lives Matter movement, we started looking at our very white pastime and hobby of contra dancing and English country dancing. And we formed an anti-racism study group, and we met once a month. We wanted to look at our own biases, to learn about the history of our folkways and our traditions, and to share that information with our community.
We looked a lot at what Dela Murphy was doing and Portland Intown Contra Dance. They have a great resources page, which I think is on the resources at the end of this talk. We looked at what CDSS was putting out. Phil Jamison’s book Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance was an important resource. But as we were talking, I felt like it was a bunch of older white people talking about what we might or might not be doing wrong. And we really couldn’t see that. From our perspective, we always felt like we were very warm and welcoming and friendly to everyone. But we thought we maybe needed a different perspective.
Then I think around that time, I don’t remember if I saw it or somebody else saw that CDSS was giving out grants to do some of this work. So we decided to apply for one, and we got one. So we interviewed a bunch of different consultants, local and some not so local, but we ended up going with a local company called True Insights Consulting. And as we look back on it now, it was kind of a backwards relationship, because we weren’t dancing. Probably the first step would have been to attend a dance. But we were not dancing at the time, so we sort of went at it from the other direction. They looked at our website a lot, and they interviewed all of us. And they did a lot of research on their own about the history of contra dance and other related folk forms.
So just recently they have been able to attend an English country dance. And the feedback that I got was that, I think her exact words were “The best part was the friendliness of the group. No one really knew who we were at first, so we got to experience the welcoming culture towards newcomers firsthand.” And I sort of pushed back on the statement and said, “You know, we really want to know how other people feel going into this group. Those that don’t fit the demographic.” And she said “No, everybody was wonderful, it was very welcoming, and we didn’t feel out of place at all.” She said the only thing that felt out of place was they weren’t familiar at all with the form of music or anything. So that was the only thing that felt awkward to them, that they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t heard before. So that was really great. But it also leaves me feeling a little bit unsure how to proceed. So I’m very proud of our group.
So our consultants created several documents for us. The first one was a document going over our mission statement, our value statement, our vision, all that kind of stuff. They created a land acknowledgement for us. And we didn’t want to just put what they wrote up on our website. So we started using our anti-racism study group to go through line by line with a fine-tooth comb, every single word that they wrote and make sure that it was our voice and our words. I’m losing my thoughts…
Rich Dempsey 12:41
Our voice and our intent.
Cindy Culbert 12:43
Right, our intentions align with our aspirations. We consider it a very aspirational document. Because we hope that what it says is how we seem to the world. We want to make sure that we live up to its high expectations. So we’ve just finished working on this, and it’s taken quite a while. I think you’ll probably hear over and over again in this talk that this work is very slow going. And so this first part took a long time for us, and we’ve just finished working on it. We’ve sent it to some fresh eyes, a variety of different people that aren’t in the group, or that are new to our dance, or that don’t dance at all, to have them take a peek at it and see if they see anything glaring—you know, mistakes or whatever they might see from a different perspective that we’ve missed. So that’s exciting.
They also wrote a blog post for us, and our next step will be going through that with a fine-tooth comb. And that was about the diversity and the origins of folk dance in America. And then the last thing that they created for us was a list of ideas for developing diversity in our dances. And so our last part will be to go through that and pick out a few and see how we could put them into action. And so our next goal is disseminating the information that we have gathered. So one thing we’ve done after our restart, we asked all of our callers to use gender free language and teaching dances. And that’s been going very well. I think it was a good time. All of our dancers were just so anxious to dance, they didn’t really care how they were being taught anymore. It was just a relief to be dancing again. Like I said, we’re almost ready to put our reworked statements on the web that our consultants have drafted for us now and we’ve gone over. We’ve been going to lots of online events and CDSS camps, and those have been great to add to our knowledge base and talk to other people who are doing the same work.
We have hosted two online events. We had an American Studies scholar, not to be confused with CDSS’s Linda Henry, but her name is also Linda Henry. She gave a talk on Some Real American Music—John Lusk, Murphy Gribble, and Albert York. That was about some rural Black string musicians from Tennessee, who she had been doing her master’s work on. So that was really interesting. And then our own Lisa Brown gave a talk called Composed by an African, Ignatius Santos Country Dances about a free Black composer and choreographer in England. So those were both well-attended and well-received.
Then we started dancing in June, and we haven’t had any more online talks. We’ve found that working diversity, equity, inclusion, and access into our weekly dances feels a bit difficult. It feels like there isn’t enough time, like people just want to dance. And we haven’t really found a way to include it. So I’m interested in hearing what other groups might have found, what they might be going to do in regular dances. We have a weekend event that happens every year that we haven’t quite gotten back to yet. On Thanksgiving weekend, we’ll be doing a double dance this year. But I’m hoping that might be a place where we can incorporate some of our work, maybe with workshops or a collaboration. And then, let’s see what we’ve learned on this journey. Like I said before, it takes a long time, it’s difficult.
Cindy Culbert 17:08
It often feels like, and I think some other groups might speak to this, that maybe we didn’t all quite get on the same page of what we were thinking about for this work ahead of time enough. And it might have just been hard to do that without having already dived into the work. So we’re still sort of making sure that we’re all on the same page, and that we can get on the same page about what our goals are.
But I’ve always felt that contra dance and English country dance are great ways to build community, and that music and dance often break through so many barriers. But the more we delve into this work, sometimes the more complicated it seems, with the more you learn about the history of it, and the contributions of enslaved people, and the white washing that was done after that, and so many people wanting to leave the past behind the rural roots in the Great Migration. It just seems like you could really understand why African Americans might not want to participate in this kind of music and dance, and I wouldn’t blame them. So sometimes that can be disheartening, when you’re trying to figure out how to bring people together in something that’s really fun and that we love so much, but that has a difficult past.
But one thing that was encouraging with our consultants was how excited they were about the project and about learning the history and the sense of ownership even that they took from it and from just learning about the history of the banjo or calling or other things that they never thought about or knew about. And so that was encouraging. So we’re just hoping to have more outreach to look for ways to connect with other communities, too. And I feel strongly that we need to recognize that the pandemic is affecting our regular dances in a lot of ways. And that feels like it hinders some of our more ambitious plans in regards to things like this. So I feel like we need to give ourselves a little bit of a break, that we have a lot of things to deal with right now. And we can’t do everything at once.
Rich Dempsey 19:44
COVID has really brought a new dimension to the notion of accessibility, because disabilities show up in many ways, some that are less apparent. And one of those ways, for example, is to be immunocompromised. And then suddenly the unfortunate discussion around masks and vaccination is also an accessibility discussion. That’s something that’s come quite late to our discussion. And I think we haven’t really heard from enough people on that.
Cindy Culbert 20:39
Rich, did you have anything else to add to what I said?
Rich Dempsey 20:46
I think the main thing that I’ve come away with here is that this process is hard. And this process requires a lot of conversation. And we’re recognizing that we’ve got a lot more conversations to have. Indeed, one of the big things in terms of a next step is going to be broadening the conversation outside of the anti-racism study group to our regular weekly dancers.
The other thing I wanted to say was to give some credit to your predecessor, Cindy: Lisa Brown. It was her idea to start up the group, and she’s been a great participant. And I’m really very happy that she did. Great.
Linda Henry 21:46
You’ve got a couple more minutes. Anything else you want to say?
Cindy Culbert 21:52
No, I think I’d like to save those minutes for questions and answers at the end. Okay.
Linda Henry 22:01
Well, thank you both so much for all the thought that you’ve put into choosing things to share during this Web Chat. Okay, next slide. Our next guest is Lauren Keeley from the DanceFlurry Organization in the upstate New York Region. Lauren, as you can see here, wears a couple of different hats as the head of Media Management and the Community Culture Committee. So over to you, Lauren.
Lauren Keeley 22:45
Thanks, Linda. I hope everyone’s having a good experience. I really enjoyed listening to Cindy and Rich talking about their experience. It’s actually very similar to ours. We recognized at DanceFlurry, around 2020 right after the murder of George Floyd, that we have a lot of work to do. And there’s a lot of things that we never factored into, when we were creating the types of dances that we do. Like they mentioned, they’ve been very whitewashed over the years. So I think it’s important that we recognize and acknowledge those kinds of things and do better. When we know better, we do better. So we just keep moving forward. So if you ever start to feel down on yourself that like, Oh, my God, I can’t believe I did this for this long. And I did that for a long time. I’m a social worker by trade. And I feel like I should have known some of these things, or I should have been educated when I was in school. And there’s this whole systemic system that puts things into a certain perspective, and we don’t often see what we don’t see. So unless you’re living in that culture or that community, it’s not going to be in your face as much as it is when tragedy and Black Lives Matter struck.
So I think we’ve done a very good job of keeping the momentum going because that can also be difficult. It’s just, we want to pursue DEAI, because it’s diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion for our group. We have some people that have disabilities in our community, and so we add it in to respect theirs. Sometimes people just refer to DEI and assume accessibility is in there. But one of my points is that we always try to say DEAI if anyone hasn’t heard that one before.
Being a social worker, I have many different hats at my jobs and my personal life. So I spent a lot of time reflecting and analyzing and reading and watching some of the resources I’m going to be providing to CDSS. There’s a lot out there to educate yourself about, if you didn’t feel like you got the education you needed earlier about the DEAI issues. So when we talk about that, we’re talking about racial differences. We’re talking about LGBTQ communities, we’re talking about disabilities, which includes invisible disabilities, like medical conditions that cause immunocompromised or even mental disabilities like autism and ADHD. Some people personally consider themselves as having a disability by having something that’s neurodivergent, and it doesn’t need to be treated much differently. But we do want to recognize that everyone has a unique circumstance when they come into our community and try to participate in dance.
So my first point to make, if you haven’t done this work yet, or if you’re trying to figure out where to go, is to try to educate yourself first by just diving into reading about any of those topics, the accessibility, race, equity, even age. That can be a huge factor, because we have a lot of older dancers in our community at least. And sometimes we have heard that they feel like people who are younger don’t want to dance with them. So ageism still exists, and sexism still exists, and antisemitism still exists. There are so many ways to explore DEAI, and I’ve focused myself on the anti-racism part of things, and I’m trying to spread out into more of the other categories of what diversity means. Because it’s important to try to be as broad as possible when we talk about this. It’s not just black and white, literally Black and white. There are so many other communities that are not considered the dominant culture and therefore aren’t given their due rights.
So what we did at DanceFlurry, to focus on that for a minute, is we actually didn’t start the community culture committee right away. The tragedy with George Floyd happened, the murder happened, and then we had a change in our board. So I know that you guys were mentioning earlier that someone became a president in 2020. We had our president change right around June or July of 2020. And she restructured the committees that we had, combining some and creating a new one, which is the Community Culture Committee, to look at what kind of culture are we creating at DanceFlurry events—how are we making it a safe, inclusive, welcoming environment that people who come are going to want to be at, and that we can’t define that it’s safe for them.
We can say “I want this to be a safe event, I’m gonna do everything I can to make it safe.” But until someone shows up and they deem it safe, it’s an individualized thing. So I might think it’s safe for me, someone else might come in and say, “I don’t feel comfortable here, I don’t feel like I’m being asked to dance, I don’t feel like I know where to go or what to do.” And so it can be intimidating and scary, especially if you’re not a typical member of that community. So we try to refer to it as being a safer space. We do everything we can to increase the safety and make it feel as safe as possible. But it’s really on the participant who’s coming to determine for themselves that it is a safe space for them.
We did a lot of soul searching and a lot of research. And by December of 2020, we decided to have a consultant do a training for our entire board. We felt it was time, and our organizers tried it. We didn’t have any events going on either, because of COVID. So we thought it was important for our board and our organizers to get on the same page about what DEI meant. And we got a lot of background on anti-racism work, as well as cultural and systemic oppression. We got a lot of resources from them that we were reviewing over time. And we were lucky enough to be able to hold a web chat, a live web chat, in the following month, actually in January 2020.
I don’t know if this is common at CDSS, but we have a huge diversity of types of dances. So it’s not all contra dances or English country. We have a lot of swing, and we have some singing groups that joined us recently. And we actually just added an African drumming and dance class since this whole work happened. In January, we held a workshop called The Revolutionary History of Blues, Soul, and Funk that was based off of more of our swing dancer groups, just to educate about the history of swing and how that was so ingrained in Black culture, and that we really need to be acknowledging and respectful of that when we teach dance and teach about the history too. It’s not just about showing up and learning how to dance. It’s acknowledging that if we don’t give credit where it’s due, we are in some ways doing a little bit of cultural appropriation.
So being culturally respectful by saying we love this form of dance, we want to keep doing it. And still acknowledging that it was made on the backs of Black people, and that they chose not to continue it in a lot of ways. But we want to try to bring as many initiatives and swing to get Black people back into the dance through scholarships and other ways like the Frankie Manning Foundation, if anyone’s ever heard of that. They do different things for the Black community to try to get people back into dance.
Lauren Keeley 30:29
So we held a workshop, like a web chat, just to start that conversation. And we had a couple of blog posts that were dedicated to this end and the work of DanceFlurry and what our history has been like. Meanwhile, behind the scenes—people didn’t always know about this—but for about a year or year and a half, we spent some time with our committee. I took the committee over in February 2021 shortly after the web chat, and we did a lot of work on our culture of consent policy.
So it’s really talking about what kind of culture we want to create. What are some of the expectations and ways to be in our community that are safe and respectful to others? So part of the culture of consent, which is on our website, has an etiquette for different dances—generally not mandates, of course, but just general guidelines, like hey, if you’re coming to a dance, maybe not wearing a ton of perfume, because that can be offensive to some people’s smells and taste buds, and wearing deodorant if you choose to do so, and some basic hygiene stuff, but also how to ask someone to dance. People don’t always get to know that until they’ve been in the community often enough.
So we wrote some general guidelines like, what generally happens at a dance, but also trying to be respectful that someone coming in may want to do things their own way. And we just need to work that out and negotiate. It’s good to have what the etiquette for that dance is, so that someone doesn’t feel completely out of place, you know, that someone comes in and understands what’s the norm. But also it’s okay to break that norm and be your own person and do things differently.
The culture of consent, the biggest change since we had one before, was mostly around sexual incidents, making sure that people aren’t being too grabby or too inappropriate and how they danced without a person. That was the main reason for the culture of consent.
But the second aspect of it is we expanded it basically to include race, age, disability, LGBTQ, so that it’s consenting to any form of dance, any form of contact, and any form of discussion. If you were talking to someone and they started to commit a microaggression against you, being able to have some kind of process to be able to help someone through a difficult situation with another dancer, whether it’s because of a sexual incident or not.
So our biggest endeavor was to create—we didn’t know what to call them at first, and I’m pretty sure we’re now calling them safer spaces ambassadors. So we hoped to create them in the next few months, when our dances did start up again, mostly this fall. We created the culture of consent, but then we just sat on it for a while and were waiting for dances to start up, because we couldn’t get ambassadors until we had dancers who were actually coming to dances.
The ambassador’s role is to be that welcoming, friendly face, that’s not always an organizer. The organizers could do it, but they also might have a lot on their plate from organizing a dance. So our next step now is to find people that are willing to just be at the dance as they normally would. And ask newer people to dance, engage in discussions with them, and also help navigate any issues that might come up, just something uncomfortable, something that they might need to be involved in so that we can catch and support our dancers, so that they can continue to come.
Because we’ve always heard stories, not not necessarily me in particular, but I’ve heard many people say, “Oh, I went to this dance, this happened, and I never went back to it again.” And we don’t want that to ever happen at our dances. We want to make sure that people who come have a good experience. And we ran tons of surveys trying to figure out any potential pitfalls that we’re already doing. But mostly, we just want to have a little bit of accountability, but also a lot of support and a welcoming, safe environment, a safer environment that we could try to make it.
So that’s our big thing. We did culture of consent and adding these new ambassador programs, which are going to be starting up in the next few months, to recruit people and train people, so that they know what they’re expected to do and how they would handle an issue and also how they would recognize that someone is feeling a little left out.
The other thing is we did—the second tier of things I would say—was a lot of community collaborations. We made a whole list, like an Excel document, that we shared among the whole group and the whole board actually, and added different companies and agencies and schools and churches and places that we would like to collaborate with, that have a different perspective even if they were similar to us. Also people that we’ve already partnered with and that we would want to continue relationships with.
So one thing that came out of that is that I was able to reach out to a local African dance drumming and dance instructor, Jordan Taylor Hill. We’ve been talking over the months during COVID about him doing his African drumming and dance through the DFO umbrella. But we weren’t promoting any dances yet. We were so COVID averse, and we didn’t want to have him jump on and then not get any benefit from us as far as publicity or websites or anything.
So we waited and we’re assessing things. And we were making sure that we were doing this for the right reasons. We weren’t just adding African drumming to be a token of that culture. We really wanted to acknowledge that this is something we think is beneficial for our community and for him as well. So we had a lot of discussions to make sure this was a mutually beneficial relationship and that everything was going to be lining up.
So once the events started to resume, we were able to add Jordan Taylor Hill and his drumming and dance class. They’ve been running every Monday—I mean, they were running for years before we added them on, but under DFO I would say since at least May. And that’s been great, because now we can say we have a little bit more diverse programming, and we’re trying to explore other forms of dance—like at one point we had a grant for Middle Eastern dance that was just a couple of weeks program—just trying to explore other dances that are already taking place that we can help support and promote and have accessible, so people like dance party participants can go to. And they can also come to dance and just have this great relationship with them.
So it’s important if you’re going to have diverse programming, either trying to bring people into your dance, trying to get out to the community to—like we’ve talked about—maybe partner with local churches or Black organizations. So we go to them. I don’t think we can always expect people to come to our event in our neighborhoods and our, you know, vibe. It might be sometimes we’re talking about trying to do outreach events where we go to the community, like their senior citizen home for the elderly.
We haven’t figured out which communities we want to target yet, but we’re figuring out where dances are already taking place, and how we can have a good partner. So we want to make sure we have lasting relationships, and we’re avoiding tokenism. And we just keep doing individual work and group work around anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion. We’re just trying to be more diverse and more understanding of the issues that are at play.
The other thing we mentioned is the DEAI section of things that just came out. I’m the media person, so I should know when this came out. I think it was October 7 or the beginning of October. One way that we’re trying to increase accessibility is actually through a very early version of carpooling. So we know that a lot of people come to our events through carpooling, and they link up with something now where they grab someone on the way. But a lot of people don’t know who to carpool with until they’ve actually come to a dance and integrated, and they feel comfortable asking someone to drive them. So what we’re doing is we’re going to not match and not background check and not try to assess everything. We’re basically just gonna say if you want to carpool and you don’t know who to carpool with, one event of ours is willing to offer this. They’re called the Sacred Harp singers. So it’s not a dance, it’s more of a sit-down singing.
Lauren Keeley 39:29
If people want a carpool, they will funnel their requests to the singers, and then the singers will reach out directly to the person that wants to carpool, and they can arrange their own arrangement—whether it’s a COVID procedure for like, I want the windows open, I want masks when we’re in the car, whatever they feel comfortable with. And that will hopefully get more people to our singing event.
We’re going to see how that works for a couple of months. It just started and we really haven’t gotten any requests yet. But we have to do a little bit of promotion and a little bit of outreach to the area right around the singing, and it’s going to start to expand—to get people that are really close to the city and just pick them up on the way and then go a little further out and a little further out and just see how that works. Because it might look different to carpool to a singing than it would to carpool to a contra dance, or to swing or to something else in a different neighborhood, different community, different type of event. So that’s how we’re working with accessibility things.
Linda Henry 40:31
That sounds great, Lauren, I think we’re gonna need to wrap it up.
Lauren Keeley 40:36
Okay, I think that was all I had.
Linda Henry 40:38
Oh, perfect. Nothing else you want to squeeze into the last minute? Wonderful job. It’s so great to see how much work has been happening through DanceFlurry. Okay, our last guests are Janet Yeracaris and Vince O’Donnell representing NEFFA—New England Folk Festival Association—in the New England region. So as you can see, they are both… Oh, I forgot to mention that Janet is currently the president of NEFFA, and Vince is on the board of directors. They have both been involved with NEFFA in various capacities for decades and have some great things to share with you. So take it away.
Janet Yeracaris 41:38
Thanks. It has been so interesting to listen to what other people have to say. I feel like going last I want to rewrite the script, but we’ll go on with what we’ve got. So NEFFA is really particularly interested to be on a panel with the DanceFlurry Organization, because NEFFA, as kind of a flagship event, is also a big festival. And people often compare NEFFA and the Flurry. So they are both big, massive festivals that happen at different times.
NEFFA also runs a weekly contra dance, and we run the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, which usually happens in January. And then we have the big festival, usually in April, and about 2-3,000 people come to this festival that includes a lot of different kinds of events—singing and workshops, a lot of contra dancing, but also Balkan dancing.
In the past, we’ve had dance performances which have offered us some kind of diversity. We do have a lot of people of color who perform, but they have never really been well-integrated into the festival. They come, they perform, they leave, and we really would like to include them. Every year, we get a lot of evaluations from the festival that say, “Can you do something about diversity? This is a very white place. Is there any way to do something about that?” It’s a question that’s been with us for many, many, many years. And it’s also the kind of thing that’s difficult to know how to do anything about. So things have come up, but we’ve never really tackled it.
Also NEFFA is an all-volunteer organization, and the number of people who come together to make that festival happen is a vast and sprawling number. And so there are a lot of people who are stakeholders in folk music and its culture who feel a level of ownership about it. So how to tackle any sort of major changes is kind of a conundrum.
We’re often not organizing any particular events in the summer. That’s often when we have what we call retreat meetings, where we consider some issue that’s a longer term thing. And in August of 2020 we were faced with both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement and other kinds of things. I just wanted to tackle this issue of diversity. We keep hearing about diversity. Can we just do something about that? It wasn’t particularly a grand notion. We didn’t go into it with big ambitions, but we just wanted to talk about what we should do about this question of diversity, particularly at the festival and all of our events and all the things that people have already said about contra dancing and English dancing. It’s a very white-person undertaking and is there anything to be done about that?
We formed a task force. This is what NEFFA does. We form a task force and we work on it. So that happened in August of 2020. People met, discussed, gathered resources, and did various things. We ended up hiring Nicole Singer who a lot of you may know. She’s in the trad singing community and has done a lot of anti-racism sort of leadership work, so we knew her. We did four workshops with her, which were both conceptual and practical. We opened up the conversations about race and started framing assumptions in a different way.
She laid out possible scenarios, how issues might come up at NEFFA events. We started learning to recognize microaggressions and appropriate language. We did some role playing and ran through intervention strategies, like as a leader, as a participant, what can you do if something happens? The CDSS grant supported those workshops with Nicole.
So the very first one was like anti-racism 101 and really got our feet wet. These were open to all the NEFFA organizers. There’s a list of about 50 or 60 people who are key organizers in NEFFA, many of whom are on the board, but not all of them. The board has about 25 people. And we invited that whole group to participate just voluntarily.
Each of those four workshops had 15 or 20 people and not always the same people. Then the recordings were available later for other people. So we got started, and that all happened in 2021. We did want to do more after that, so we hired some consultants. I’m pretty sure somebody at CDSS recommended Think Again consultants, and they’re fabulous. We really highly recommend them, and they do work nationwide. They have been conducting an assessment for us. They’ve been reviewing documents, talking with the organizers, getting to know NEFFA’s culture and practices. A lot of the process that Cindy was describing at the beginning sounds very similar. And we’re just about at the point where they’re going to give us a report, tell us where we are, and recommend some next steps. Then we’ll have to figure out what to do after this.
As other people have said already, this has been a long and slow process. I mean, in fairness, we have also had the pandemic, we’ve mounted online festivals, which I think have been pretty great the last few years, but those are their own kind of work, figuring out how to deal with a pandemic. And we’re also facing a change of venue when the festival is back hopefully in April 2023.
So there’s been a lot to deal with, and we’ve been working on this as we’re able. But it has been more than two years that we’ve been on this road. NEFFA is not inclined to be radical and crazy and just jump in and change everything anyway. So evolution, not revolution is a motto that goes way back.
We have not yet actually gotten to the point of issuing statements or articulating policy changes. We haven’t gotten to a lot of those practical steps, and I’m sure there are some among us who are impatient to get going on that. But I feel like we’re really taking a very deep and thoughtful approach to this and examining our purpose as an organization. We’re going back to some founding principles, thinking about our goals, trying to incorporate new ideas and really think about what we are doing. Why are we doing it? How do we fit into this whole world? What do we want to bring to the local community? All of those things.
And Vince, I’m gonna let you talk a little more in depth about that process and what you think. Vince is going to talk more about the heart and soul, the philosophy. So I’ll pass the mic over and let you have a go, Vince.
Vince O’Donnell 48:51
Thanks, Janet. And hello, everybody. First, I just want to thank CDSS for having this discussion and supporting the local activities that we’re talking about here tonight. And I’ve already learned a lot tonight, just from the other speakers, and I hope that some of the Q&A will be that way, too. We are in early days, even though we’ve been doing this now since 2020. At that point, I was not actually involved in our process for diversity and inclusion and equity. But when I heard about it, I was pretty interested in it, because it’s important to me personally.
We have a community and our events are intended to support that sense of community. But I think we’ve realized we need to ask questions like who has access to that sense of belonging? Who’s in leadership and how do people become leaders? What does social capital mean? In the group? And are we excluding people, even if unintentionally? or other reasons that people just don’t see value in what we do? Is that correlated with cultural racial kinds of things?
So we’re just starting to ask these questions. And I really very much appreciate the work that our consultants have been doing to help us see the kinds of questions that are realistic to try to take on. Because I think just sitting around talking about commitment to social justice is a great thing, but I would venture that almost everybody I know in this community, in fact, I don’t know a single person who’s the exception, would say that they are personally committed to social justice, accessibility, racial justice.
So just talking about it, because you think it’s important is not enough to me. You need some structure for it. And the work that Nicole did with us really helped people see that right now. Even before you get into issues about who’s not in this community, there are issues about what is happening in real time in our events that consist of things like microaggressions, or other kinds of things that turn people off. And there were some surprising examples that we worked with, and we learned a lot from that.
And I think that in working with Think Again, the thing they’re helping us see is that this is a step-by-step process. It’s not a recipe either. If you’re committed to these ideas, then you need to spend some time looking inward. And as they say, what are the questions that are relevant for us to work on together as a group. So I think this is a work in progress.
There is no previous process or priority. Within NEFFA, for that matter, for most other dance and folk art organizations I know about, there was really no previous process or priority to examine broader social issues like racism or gender or gender identity or expression. People have been focused on the content that brought them together in the first place.
Vince O’Donnell 52:36
I’ll just share my personal view of this, and what I’ve tried to bring to the conversations that we have. I’ve been involved for decades in the work I do—I would call it related to social justice. And it goes back to the civil rights movement of the 60s. You know, I think an important lesson from that is that it was hard work and sometimes dangerous to get this country to make overt discrimination illegal, and to provide resources to address inequality, especially income inequality, and that’s rooted in the history of racism.
But in recent years, people have mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement, and I think in other things too. We’ve been reminded that just avoiding obvious discrimination isn’t enough. We need to do proactive work to deal with persistent underlying racism and other forms of social inequity. And I think it’s important for us to say how that way of looking at things affects our dance community. I think it’s just an example I was thinking of recently in our community, and in NEFFA and others in the morris dance community. There’s been a lot of work to understand issues and to work with the LGBTQ community to create a safe or (thank you, Lauren) safer, welcoming and supportive community for all.
That is ongoing work, and it’s by no means finished, but it is going on. It’s happening. People were having the conversations, and I’m thinking, how transferable is that experience to other issues such as racism? How transferable is that learning?
I’m not assuming there’s a direct correspondence, and I don’t assume that we’ve identified every relevant equity and diversity issue that we’re working on. We’ve identified a lot of things in this conversation tonight. But that internal conversation about equity and fairness with the LGBTQ community that’s been with existing community members, people who are already here, their leaders and their members. And crossing racial barriers requires acknowledging and understanding why and how African Americans, indigenous peoples, and other groups are underrepresented in this community. And I think we need to understand what are the barriers to having that conversation?
I think one of those barriers is not knowing people. And I think it’s kind of an important thing for us to think about that. And so I look forward to continuing this work to help us define those questions. And I’m not pretending that I have the right questions in my head. I’m just hoping that the work we’re doing will help to frame that. So maybe to start with, we have to, I think, acknowledge that equity and inclusion, those things haven’t been the central driving force that created this community and created its cohesion. We have some work to do to institutionalize this work, and to understand how it’s relevant to support and make stronger who we are as an inclusive community that is true to its original purpose.
I’ll finish with this. NEFFA started in 1944 just before the end of World War II, and it was an effort to bring together many cultures. That was a pretty powerful time to do that. And I think that original purpose is still relevant. I just think that now we have the opportunity to broaden our focus, and bring together even more people in that same spirit. So I’m looking forward to continuing the journey together. And I’ll stop there. We’ll probably have a lot of other things to talk about. Janet, do you want to pick up on any other threads?
Linda Henry 56:53
I think that’s a great place to stop.
Janet Yeracaris 56:55
Sounds great. Yeah. Thanks, Vince.
Linda Henry 56:59
It’s very valuable to hear what you both have to say, so thank you very much. Next slide, please. So here’s a long list of resources that these people you’ve just heard from have suggested. This will appear on the CDSS website in the PowerPoint, and these links will be live at that point. This will be available within the next few days on our website. So take a quick look. See if there’s anything that jumps out at you.
Linda Henry 57:47
And I think we’ll move on from here. So next Sarah will be moderating our Q&A. Sarah…
Sarah Pilzer 58:02
Thank you, Linda. So we already have a few questions that were sent in by chat. Please go ahead and continue sending messages to the hosts and co-hosts via chat, and we will read them out for the panel to answer. I’m going to go ahead and bring everybody back onto spotlight, so we can have the whole panel with us. One moment while I do that.
Vince O’Donnell 58:36
Questions here? Yes, go ahead. Hi. I don’t see anything in the chat.
Sarah Pilzer 58:41
They’re going to hosts and co-hosts only.
Vince O’Donnell 58:47
Yeah, so great.
Janet Yeracaris 58:49
We were never co-hosts so we’re not seeing it.
Vince O’Donnell 58:50
Sarah Pilzer 58:52
Hold on a sec. Let me make sure I get everybody here. Alright, that’s all of us. So our first question came specifically for the Rochester folks. But if there are other folks who want to speak to this question, feel free to jump in.
If you’ve had visitors who were perhaps outside your usual demographic, and they felt welcome, did you find that they came back? So if you’ve been doing outreach, are you getting new people to come? How many of those folks are returning after their first time?
Cindy Culbert 59:37
Well, the one I was talking about was one of our consultants who came. It was part of the contract for them to come to a dance to then give us their impression. So the first students came to us just a few weeks ago, and I don’t believe that they have been back yet. In the past, we have had them I think pre-pandemic. We have had a few people outside our normal demographic that have come, and some of them have come for a while, but then sometimes they leave. You know, when somebody leaves, it’s hard to track them down again and say, “Why have you left?” But I think after the pandemic, some of them haven’t come back. And I think one of them I know took up swing dancing with his partner. So he’s been doing that instead. And so we’ve had a few situations like that. But no, we haven’t been doing this long enough and doing enough outreach yet to see any firm results.
Rich Dempsey 1:00:53
One of the things that really hooked me on doing this work, though, was on reflection to realize that some years ago we had a fair number of LGBTQ dancers in our community. And they gradually just fell away. I’ve been wondering, okay, so what is it? What’s been going on there that perhaps has caused them to leave? And that had pushed me towards broadening the notion of the anti-racism study, to the notion of diversity.
The other thing that happened in the before times was that our contra dance location was a predominantly Black neighborhood. And yet, all of the dancers who came every week were white. This took place in a church, and a number of the neighborhood kids discovered that, oh, hey, we’ve got snacks at the break. They would come for the snacks, and when we started introducing the ideas that well, okay, if you’re a minor, you really ought to be coming with an adult. And if you’re going to eat a snack, well the snacks are for dancers, so you better be dancing. And when we put those two requirements on, then they just disappeared. And so that’s something that’s eaten at me for a while here. Is there something around how we handled that messaging that turned into a message, “Oh, you’re Black, you’re not welcome here.” And certainly that was a message that we did not want to send and we regret.
Sarah Pilzer 1:03:21
Another question for the Rochester folks though, again, others feel free to chime in, specifically around gender-free calling: is it required or just suggested for your callers?
Cindy Culbert 1:03:37
I’d say it was requested, not required. Yes, strongly requested. Some of them are very interested and doing fabulously well. And I think one might be joining this Web Chat. David Smukler has been working on positional calling, which I thought wouldn’t be possible with contra, but he has done it and fabulously well. Other callers tried it in the beginning, and we’ve noticed they’ve been slipping a little bit in keeping up with it, but nobody has refused. Everybody has tried and are still trying to make it more natural in their own minds.
I think it’s probably the most difficult for the callers. The dancers seem to get used to it pretty quickly, but we didn’t require it. We strongly requested it and encouraged it, and then we’ve been having pretty good luck.
Rich Dempsey 1:04:45
We have observed also that as a result of using the gender-free calling, as we phrased it, although I question whether larks and robins is truly gender-free. But in changing those terms, that’s also given quite a few of the dancers permission to change roles. And I think just the act of seeing this role changing happening is itself something that is helping to change our culture and bring the message across just by actions.
Janet Yeracaris 1:05:28
I will also say I’m pretty sure that the Thursday night NEFFA contra dance does require gender-free calling. And I’m pretty sure we’re coming out of this pandemic with that expectation that all the callers will come in that way. This is something that I feel like NEFFA and the Boston community generally has really been successful with. The gender diversity here… I feel like that’s a big, big rainbow world here. So it’s good. That is something that’s been very interesting. And I know it’s a subject of great debate nationwide. But I feel like the Boston area, like New England, has been on the cutting edge of that one, the bleeding edge, if you will.
Vince O’Donnell 1:06:10
And also, I think our commitment to gender-free calling doesn’t solve all the questions of how to do that. You know, it’s positional calling, there’s larks and robins, and there’s probably other things. And we still honestly have within the community a variety of opinions about the best way to do that, even with people who accept the basic premise that, yeah, we should find a way to do this.
Sarah Pilzer 1:06:38
Yeah. All of you that have been working with consulting firms. There’s a question about whether the consulting firms would be willing to let you share their findings and recommendations with other dance groups… if there’s plans to release any of that.
Janet Yeracaris 1:07:02
I guess my question would be why? I mean what would the purpose be? It does seem very individual, like that sort of an assessment is a very deep dive into a particular organization. And if it’s for the benefit of, for example NEFFA. If the point of releasing that information would be for people who are interested in NEFFA to be more engaged in it. I don’t know how the consultants would feel about that, and I would have to ask. Also I don’t know how many people I’d have to get permission from. It’s sort of an interesting thing. But this is a weird place between an undertaking that might not want to be entirely public, and the real strong need for transparency. It’s a really interesting question.
Vince O’Donnell 1:07:56
I think, I don’t know. I do think you just hit on something important. The balance between introspection, honest introspection, at something that’s difficult, and transparency. I don’t know, it seems to me that the client gets to decide whether the report is made public or part of it is made public more than the consultant. I don’t remember what our contract says about that. But I hope that as time goes on, we will come up with some kind of transparency about this, even though at the very beginning we’re still looking at, as I said, how to define what the right questions are. I think there’ll be some evolution in the direction of sharing a lot. It’s my hope anyway, with other groups and hope that they would do that too. So we can learn from each other.
Janet Yeracaris 1:08:57
And certainly on a small scale, if there’s particular interest on the part of a particular group or whatever. Certainly those conversations like this one are part of the point of this, right?
Katy German 1:09:09
I think I want to interject this as Katy. I just want to interject here that this is something we’ve been trying to find a balance in the contra, English, folk music, dance, song community. There has been very much open source, free sharing, you know, learn from everybody else. And that’s something that makes our community very special. And it’s a very wonderful, powerful thing that we have.
But we have to learn how to balance that with making sure that we’re honoring the labor that’s done. And the people that are creating the workshops are doing the deep dive into our organizations. I think Janet what you said about it being a very personalized endeavor and dive into an organization. I think we have to be careful about assuming that what was said about one organization will directly apply to another organization. Also, when you’re just sharing out the output or the outcome, you’re missing some of the context of the process. And I think the process of working with experts and consultants on this is a very rich and valuable thing. And that’s important labor and it should be compensated.
So I think we are all in that area. How do we balance that acknowledgement and recognition of the labor that is with this culture of openness, sharing, and everybody in everything together. So if you’re interested in hearing more, I think reaching out one-to-one and talking about your experiences with other people is a very good thing. Like you said, Vince, that the more we do that, the better. But I think really having a personal engagement with a consultant is going to be different than just looking at someone else’s output and assuming it applies directly to your local group.
Rich Dempsey 1:11:06
In addition, when we talk about the initial training sessions that the consultants did, as you say, Katy, respecting their labor, but also that material and pulling that together. That’s their intellectual property, and that’s something that we need to respect.
Sarah Pilzer 1:11:30
Thank you for this interesting question and great responses. This came up during Lauren’s section, this idea that we talked a little bit already. But the idea of a safer space, and how sometimes what is safe for some people feels unsafe for others. Would you be able to speak a little bit more to that?
Lauren Keeley 1:11:56
This had come up a couple times. Because you can’t do a blanket thing like, “Oh, if we just do this, everyone will be safe.” Sometimes people are just different, and they need to have the flexibility to be themselves. So that’s where we came up with the etiquette of like it’s always toeing that line. We don’t want to be prescriptive, like “You have to do these things to come to our dance.” It’s not a code of conduct, we’ve made sure not to call it that.
Because you’ve got to think of people who are neurodivergent, or have disabilities, or have other special needs, or that are just outside of what we would consider the norm. They’re going to need to be, I would say, accommodated, but also just respected, right? Let’s treat them with dignity and respect. And don’t assume that just because we’re doing this for everybody else, that they’re going to feel safe there. They might feel there’s statements being made, or there might be something going on, like some simple things as far as the lighting. Sometimes people get really triggered by flashing lights. And if you’re doing it, I don’t know if it’s called electro contra, we’ve done that once or twice. So some people may not attend that, because of the lighting or flashing lights.
Other people may just have other triggers that we won’t pick up on. And unless we have someone like an ambassador, which is what we’re hoping to do, and having the conversations around “What do you need to be successful at this dance, and how can we best support you at this dance? Or this event?” We would never know those things without those conversations. So I think it’s just a matter of balancing the general—this is what we’re hoping to offer—but also just individualizing it when you can.
Sarah Pilzer 1:13:49
This is a question for anyone really. Are there musicians that you know of who are either playing contra dances to expand it to other dance events or include racially diverse members of the band? So basically, have you been able to hire folks of color or other diversity? Do you have any suggestions on that?
Vince O’Donnell 1:14:21
I would say there are several musicians of color who are part of the scene not right in the New England area that I can think of immediately. But I think the way you bring other musicians into your experience is by being in their experience, too. And so my own personal feeling about this is that I have in the past played a lot with musicians of color with different kinds of music focusing on jazz songs. And not being in that world anymore, I don’t have contact with those musicians. But I would think it would be my responsibility to make those contacts, not just for folks to come to us. I think we have to go to each other and take ownership of that. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.
Janet Yeracaris 1:15:27
Lauren said that too, that we need to go into other communities and not not just try to get people to come to us.
Sarah Pilzer 1:15:38
Okay, let’s see. So here’s a more open-ended one, I think, a tricky question. So I’m gonna up the challenge level here a little bit. How can we open these conversations to folks that we want to include, who maybe aren’t already part of the conversation, or aren’t interested in having these conversations just number one?
Cindy Culbert 1:16:14
So one thing I enjoyed from CDSS camps this summer was that both I attended had a session that dealt with topics along these lines. I’m thinking this wouldn’t work at a regular dance or something. But like the special event where they had nothing else scheduled at the same time, like, you know, we’re all gonna come together as a community and talk about this important thing, or listen to this presentation, to learn more and broaden our horizons. That felt like it really gave importance that there was nothing else to compete with this—like this is so important, it’s going to be the only thing that we have going on right now.
And so people could, of course, choose not to come. But also somehow the expectation was put out there that everybody really should come. We all need to learn about this stuff. And just listen if you don’t have anything to contribute. But also depending what the thing was, there was time for contributions and sharing of ideas and stuff. But it definitely seemed like you had to do it not at a local evening dance or something. But like in a weekend that you could have something short about whatever you wanted, whether it’s a collaboration with another group, maybe learning another dance and then having those dancers join us in our dance, or a presentation or something. It just seemed like a really nice way to say this is an important thing. And we’re all going to do it together. So yay, CDSS.
Janet Yeracaris 1:17:59
I think another thing that’s part of our experience along this journey was that when we did these first workshops, we framed it as anti-racism workshops. And we’ve shifted our language now to be more about diversity and inclusion, which feels like a broader sort of framework. And I think tackling the word anti-racism is really important. Just because there’s so much systemic racism, I think it’s an important concept for people to be grappling with. But I feel like when we hit the NEFFA board with anti-racism workshops, we lost some people right off the bat, because they were like, “We’re not racist. We’re not coming, and we want no part of this, because you’ve insulted us.” So I do think that language matters.
And I think that we love the community things that we do, and we love what it does for us. All of us, at some point, walked into a room and we’re like, “Oh, my people,” and we felt like we belonged. And we want everybody to have that experience.
I’m all over stuff like figuring out some way to get people in the door for an experience for a banjo concert for whatever, and then start talking about the history or start talking about whatever. My little naive, optimistic brain is like, I hope we can get to a point where every individual person is just their own person, and can show up wherever they want to and feel safe and do the things that they like to do, and not have it all be loaded all the time. But I really do think that for outreach, you want to think very carefully about the language and about what you invite people to and how you approach it.
And anyway, was there a point, did I actually say something? I’m just sharing little clusters of thoughts around that idea. Sorry, Vince, do you have something you wanted to say?
Vince O’Donnell 1:20:03
I was talking to someone, I won’t say the name because I’m afraid I might distort my replay. But I was talking with someone who’s very active and a fantastic caller who’s really deeply committed to having this be an inclusive community. And we were talking about this issue of communicating with people who don’t think this is a big deal. And the advice they gave was to talk to somebody for whom it is a big deal, and ask them why they care about it, and how the issue affects them. Just have a conversation with another human being. And you might come away with a different understanding of why this is important to some people.
Lauren Keeley 1:21:01
I would second that to events that like—can you guys hear me at all? Yeah—There’s two demographics I think we’re talking about… people that are in the community that maybe don’t want to engage. And we also have people outside of our community that we want to engage with. So I’m thinking of the opposite right now, of when I had to have conversations with our West African drumming instructor. I acknowledged, “I don’t know how I’m doing this, I don’t know what to say, I may say the wrong things, I want to be transparent and open with you.” But I’m doing my internal work, doing my unconscious bias work, just learning more about where my thought process was, and coming right out with it and saying, “We don’t want to treat you this way. But we also don’t know what we’re doing to try to make it an inclusive and supportive space for you.”
So it’s okay to say that you don’t know something and it would be better to acknowledge that this is hard, and we’re not sure we’re doing this right. But if you don’t bring up race, and you don’t bring up the challenges, it’s very apparent to people of color that we might be coming to you for a certain reason, right. There might be a hidden agenda. And if you don’t acknowledge that, then there’s always this weird subtext of what might be going on. So I think it was much better for me to just say to our instructor that we’re mostly a white organization. We want to bring in more diversity, we don’t want to tokenize you, and this is how we want to try to pursue a relationship with you that is mutually beneficial.
Sarah Pilzer 1:22:39
It answers all of this. This is for the NEFFA folks. You mentioned having performances by people of different backgrounds and that you’ve tried to integrate them more into the festival. Could you share any more details about things you have tried, and why or why not that hasn’t worked so well for you? It’s fine if you can’t.
Janet Yeracaris 1:23:02
I think it’s a little difficult to say exactly why. Part of it is never at an event we’re running. I’ve worked 14 different venues for 25 hours of festival over the course of a weekend, and there’s a lot going on. And all the performers volunteer, none of the performers get paid. And that’s an equity issue right there. I mean it’s sort of interesting to anybody we could talk about that. That’s another question that nobody has asked yet. So you know, I’ll just try not to talk about that.
But we have for many, many years have had a dance performance component of the festival. So there are dance performance groups who go on a stage and everybody else sits in the dark and watches. And for those we have had the Filipino group and a Mexican group and Middle Eastern, you know, we’ve had a variety of things. We also get the Lithuanians and the Poles, and a whole bunch of white people from another part of the world, but it’s like they’re still sort of European traditions. But Indian dancers and you know, a lot of things. And that’s where a lot of the color has come into the festival.
But what happens is, I think for the dance performers, they need to get there, they need to do whatever blocking, access, change costumes, figure out the backstage, you know, it’s complicated for them. And they’ve just never really integrated with the festival. They show up, they do their pretty complicated performance thing. And then in general, they leave, maybe they go to the cafeteria and get Lithuanian cake and then they leave. You know, we’ve tried for years to… I mean, they get free admission to the entire festival, which we think is a good thing. But they don’t go off to try shape note singing and we’ve never really worked out how to include them, and we’ve talked about it. So that’s sort of a non-answer.
Sarah Pilzer 1:25:17
That’s the honest truth. Yeah.
Janet Yeracaris 1:25:19
Yeah. We’ve tried.
Katy German 1:25:23
I think a lot of people have had similar situations if they’ve set up cultural exchanges, or if they’re in a position where they’re around other groups. And I think the truth is, we also don’t always become avid supporters of what they do or go to their communities. So I think observing what we are and aren’t doing is a good thing, but just giving a little bit of time, and grace and space. It’s a hard thing for anybody to go back to a space that they’re not sure is really theirs yet, you know. But I think every time we reach out, it matters. And I think every time we have an opportunity to let someone experience this, there’s always a chance they’ll be like oh wow, this is cool. I want to do more or, or vice versa. If you were up doing the Diwali dances with the South Indian dance group, and you’re like, oh, my gosh, this is so much fun. I have to do more of this. That’s a win. That’s a win for them, too. So I think anything we can do to knit cross-welcoming experiences is a community thing.
Linda Henry 1:26:51
Okay Sarah, I think that’s going to be a good stopping place, so we can wrap up by 8:30. So thanks to all who sent in questions and all who answered. Okay, we have just a few minutes to run through some resources for our participants to take home. Nikki, next slide. These are upcoming online programs, so just take a quick look. Katy, do you want to chime in about the town hall meeting?
Katy German 1:27:30
Yeah, we’re going to send more information out to everybody soon. But a few weeks ago, we sent out an eblast with an update on the cultural equity work that the CDSS staff and board has been doing and some of the conversations we’ve had and what we’re working on next. So that was a lot to digest. We know a lot of people have questions. So we want to have a town hall meeting for people to join and ask questions, and get more information and clarity about what we’ve been doing. Especially members. Since we’re a member-supported organization, we want to make sure that our members have a chance to really engage and ask questions. So yes, there’ll be more information coming out about that in the next weeks, but everyone’s welcome to join. And we’ll give people a chance to submit questions ahead of time too, so Gaye and I and the other board members and staff members who attend can hopefully be ready with answers.
Linda Henry 1:28:26
Great. Okay, we’re gonna whip through this. Nicki, next one. Yes, so everyone on this Web Chat, please take it to heart that any of you are welcome to apply for our grants from CDSS. I will be the one processing your application and answering any questions. So take a look quickly at this list of all the different reasons that CDSS will offer grants. And there’s a link there for lots more information. Next slide. Quick glance at COVID resources available on our website, reentry resources, Events Calendar, a section that shows input from groups that have resumed. This is maybe becoming less and less of an issue. Next slide. And a variety of other resources through CDSS.
Katy German 1:29:36
Yeah, so we have the Online Resource Portal which has grown and grown. It’s a little bit clunky right now, but very soon, December 1 I think, is when we are going to unveil our new Resource Portal. It has much easier search capabilities, and it will be so much easier to find resources you’re looking for, or things that cross different subjects. We’ve been working really hard this year to build a more accessible system, and we’re really excited! So stay tuned, it’s coming soon.
Linda Henry 1:30:20
The last circle on the slide is one-on-one support. This is an opportunity for any of you who are experiencing any challenges in your community to contact us. Next slide.
This is an opportunity for us to let you know how you can help us. These Web Chats have been happening for over four years now, and they are being offered free of charge. They would not be happening without memberships and donations. So please consider becoming a Member and/or giving a donation of any amount. Thanks. Next slide.
For follow up, you’ll be receiving an email from me tomorrow. We’re always very interested to have feedback from our participants to help us improve future Web Chats. So stay tuned for that. And also, please remember that we are here and available for supporting you. We need to hear from you about the things that you need, so we can be creating new resources. So please use that email right there: firstname.lastname@example.org. Use it freely. Okay, next slide.
So we’ll wrap things up. Again, thank you to everyone on this Web Chat. We hope that you’ve been able to learn some things and gather some new information, so please keep in touch with us. Katy, do you want to chime in with any last words?
Katy German 1:32:18
Nope, just a reminder that we at CDSS really think local dance organizers and regional dance organizers are some of the most heroic people. We thought that before the pandemic and certainly with the pandemic and social movements and everything that everybody’s been through. We know what you’re carrying, and how much you care for your communities, and what you’re trying to build and keep together. And so from us to all of you, thank you! And don’t give up and keep at it.
Linda Henry 1:32:55
Yes. Think of CDSS as your supportive friend that you can reach out to anytime. Also a big thank you to all of our guests who spoke so well about your experiences. And we’re so grateful for all the connections. I hope that this Web Chat has put you in touch with each other so that those connections can continue to support you. Okay, we’ll be wrapping it up here. For anybody who wants to stick around, we can have some informal social time for 10 or 15 minutes if you’d like, which is optional. Thanks again to everyone!