As we enter into Black History month, I have been contemplating the inspirations that have led me to where I am now, specifically people of color (POC). Frankly, there were very few POC dancers that I was in direct contact with as a young dancer in my formative years of training. There were also few examples of POC in the professional dance community that I was made privy to by my teachers. This has led me to think about what I feel RDT has taught me about my role as a black female in the dance community specifically in Utah.
I am the first and only black female dancer in RDT’s 56-year history. That is something I am overwhelmed and honored by, but also take great care in my role to the students and audiences I have graciously taught and performed for in my nine seasons with the company. The importance of seeing examples of people who look like you succeeding in professions you aspire to be in is so powerful; and as my time in RDT has progressed, it has become clear as to how much my presence has done just that.
After our first virtual concert “Sounds Familiar,” I received an email from a student that has proved to be one of the most pivotal correspondences in my career. Because RDT provides a study guide in conjunction with virtual concerts, students are able to learn about what inspires the choreographer and dancer of pieces in the concert. This allows a more in-depth understanding of what it takes to not only choreograph a dance but also what is going through the dancer’s mind as they perform it.
This particular student, a student of color, reached out to say, “… I was surprised to see a Black angel because you never see them. Even just Black dancers at most of the other concerts I have been to, you never see!” As tears came to my eyes, I realized the importance of representation. I was cognizant of it before but never had I so viscerally realized my role in what students see now and my impact on what they see as a possibility for their future.
I celebrate black history every day, but as I am especially reminded this month, everyone has gifts to share. When you are able to personally identify with those extraordinary gifts and whoever possesses them, you are able to aspire and add your own individuality. This is how we become change-makers. This is how the world becomes heightened and more empathetic. More importantly, this is how we as a whole progress.
Ursula has been a dancer with Repertory Dance Theatre since 2013.