“Antiracism in Action” by ODUS Arts Groups
On Wednesday April 7th, the student leaders of Princeton University Ballet (PUB), Princeton Nassoons, Princeton University Players (PUP) and Más Flow presented their action plans for practicing antiracism within their respective student arts groups. These plans not only address current work that needs to be done but also acknowledge that the work doesn’t stop there. This presentation follows the conclusion of Princeton’s inaugural EDI in the Arts Circuit and features members of the circuit’s cohort. Ideas in all of the action plans draw from the lessons of Princeton Alumni Ronee Penoi ‘07, Kelvin Dinkins, Jr. ‘09, and Adam Hyndman ‘12 of the Alumni Arts Alliance (A3). Below are the key proponents of each of the four student group’s plans to achieve their antiracist aspirations.
Princeton University Ballet
Princeton University Ballet’s (PUB) action plan was presented by Rachel Sturley ‘23 and Elena Remez ‘23. The company hopes to broaden what it means to participate not only in the company but in ballet. Rachel and Elena spoke on four different areas of PUB that they plan to tackle: its history, performance and artistry, outreach and education, and company culture.
First, in a reckoning with ballet’s inherently white history, PUB no longer performs historically problematic works such as those featuring racialized caricatures or works by problematic choreographers. Instead, they are looking to broaden the variety of guest choreographers they bring in. Also part of the changes to company performance and artistry is increased attention to a dancer’s artistry rather than their technique to mitigate discrimination based on previous access to ballet training. PUB’s goal is also to further engage in outreach programs such as Ballet & Books which they are currently involved with. They have similar hopes for engagement with the larger Princeton community by hosting regular workshops for those outside of the company. Lastly, PUB intends to reform their company culture by providing a platform for their members to voice opinions and suggestions. Part of their efforts to redefine the culture lies in centering education as a key component of accountability.
Sean Crites ‘22 and Matthew Weatherhead ‘23 presented the Princeton Nassoons’ plans for action. Similar to PUB, the Nassoons are working to create space within the company for feedback and increased transparency. Notably, they are in the process of creating a living document outlining the group’s shared values, responsibilities, and expectations that will be revisited and, if necessary, revised annually. This is one part of the Nassoons’ plan to determine who they want to be, a plan that includes taking accountability of the group’s history as Princeton’s oldest acapella group.
Their action plan tackles the inherently exclusionary nature of any auditions process. Moving forward, the Nassoons plan to reevaluate the weight of “previous experience” and provide auditionees with tutorials and/or workshops prior to auditions. They also noted their intent to create more room for auditionees to express personal artistry. Another important goal for the group is building diversity in racial, socioeconomic, and academic representation while ensuring that the Nassoons are a space for everyone. This might look like member spotlights on their social media platforms or pro bono community events.
Princeton University Players
PUP’s ultimate goals are to prioritize process over product and center the well-being of its people over the perfection of any show. This means creating community values, outlining boundaries, and normalizing doing only what is physically and mentally comfortable for individuals. In addition to their changes to the arts related processes, PUP plans to not only increase diversity in their leadership, but also transparency in their selection process. After recognizing the way inequity has started at the beginning of production processes, the group plans to uproot the vertical structure of productions and director board.
Joan Perez ‘23 and Marissa Mejia ‘23 shared Más Flow’s plans for antiracist action. Más Flow, while racially diverse, recognizes the need to improve inclusion and belonging within the company by tackling three areas: the onboarding process, choreography, and community support. To provide a safe and welcoming community, the company plans to modify initiation events to further center new members. Furthermore, Más Flow is looking to host early season learning workshops for new members as a way to integrate members coming in with no prior experience.
As a dance company that performs partnered styles, Más Flow had renamed dance roles from the gendered “man” and “woman” to “leader” and “follower.” While this has helped, they acknowledge that an implicit understanding of the traditional roles can and have subconsciously leak into casting. In the future, the company will be providing guidelines for choreographers to thwart such roles. Notably, Más Flow intends to place further emphasis on the learning of latin dance history and culture. A big part of their efforts includes expanding community support and outreach from their core team. The company will be revising their office hours to offer members the opportunity to weigh in on decision making.