Letter to the Editor: The Dancer’s Perspective on the “Notcracker”

%28Photo+provided+by+the+Rangeview+Dance+Department%29+

(Photo provided by the Rangeview Dance Department)

Ciara Andrew, Ryleigh Vaughn, Mykena Mahan, Lilly Goshorn, Katie Termeer, and Jacquie Ryan, Guest Writers

(Editor’s Note: The Rangeview Raider Review invited the Rangeview Dance Department to offer an insight into their opinions regarding the “Notcracker”. The following article was directed by the Dance Department and remains unedited by Review editors; the Raider Review always welcomes discourse from the student body. Click here for the Review News Article and here for the Raider Review’s Opinion piece.)

This article is written in response to an opinion piece that was written about the RHS dance production of The Notcracker. One of the students who wrote the article did not attend either night of the show when it was performed, and neither of the students attended any of the rehearsals, or have any part of the audition or preparation process.

In December 2019, The Rangeview High School Dance Department performed our own rendition of The Nutcracker. We have a wide variety of talents, abilities, and experience dancing at RHS, and all of the dance classes participated in the performance.  Our parodized version is called The NotCracker; our version gave all of the dancers in the classes the experience of preparing, training for, and executing a major two night production.  

Rangeview is the only high school in Aurora Public Schools with a full time dance program; with five dance classes, and over 100 dancers in the program. The students spend their time both in and out of class learning multiple choreographed pieces (including some from guest teachers) and have days during the week dedicated to ameliorating technique. Performance based classes usually involve a lot of practicing and studio work. As performing artists, we showcase our growth and hard work through a production, as one of the key characteristics of dancing is performance. The choreography produced for The Notcracker varied in the levels of technique and dancing ability in order to accommodate all skill levels of the students involved.   

 The show was so successful the first year, the dance program was asked to add a second night. Putting on this show was rewarding to the dancers, who not only dedicated their literal blood, sweat and tears in rehearsals and the performance, but into studying the story of the Nutcracker ballet, set building, props, costuming, choreography, self-critique and evaluation.  After a long day of class, rehearsal, and preparation, came the real work. The dancers, as well as interested students and teachers from the art department, spent countless hours of their own time during the school day and at workshops after school. At rehearsals, the time was spent progressing our skills in everything from placement on the stage to our character development. 

Problems the show had 

It was brought to our attention via social media that there were concerns surrounding the Chinese Tea Act and the Arabian Coffee Act. The Arabian dance gained opposition due to opinions regarding the costuming and over sexualizing elements of the dance, and some individuals felt that the Arabian dance didn’t fully represent all of the diversity within Arabian culture. At this point, the social media attack had gotten completely out of hand, and several dancers went to administration to try and mediate a solution. During one of our mediated meetings with vice principals and deans, it was stated that belly dancing isn’t the heart of Arabian culture- that there are far more important components that should have been highlighted. Students felt that these elements falsely portrayed the cultures of these origins. Moreover, there were issues regarding the finger-bobbing movement in the Chinese dance as well. Where these opinions came from is somewhat unclear, as some of the students making these accusations hadn’t even seen our performance. They didn’t attend any rehearsals, practices, aren’t in any of the dance classes, and didn’t have any part in any of the preparations. Had they done so, they would have known that one of the dancers is Asian and took the reins when choreographing the Chinese dance. She proudly used her own background knowledge of how her culture could be portrayed while remaining knowledgeable that this wasn’t a lesson on cultures but was a show based on storytelling and entertainment. This dancer choreographed the dance but also added in movements that describe her and her style; we are fortunate to have such a passionate student excited to have the opportunity to showcase certain aspects of her culture, but mainly to be able to let what defines her,as a person and dancer, shine in the performance.

(Photo by Dance Department)

 Another issue that arose was the idea that the dancers didn’t identify to the cultural background supported by their roles. Many thought this to be an issue because some of the dancers didn’t have familiarity with their roles. Some of the audience felt that it was rude for us to portray roles we don’t belong to. Although, to this, we have to argue that classifying the dancers and their roles based on race- would be racist. Placing an individual in a role because of their race and ethnicity, would be considered racial classification as well as marginalization. A situation that should never be presented or even thought of at such a diverse and welcoming school. For any dance or theater production, auditions are held and the roles are fulfilled and earned by those who have the talent and technique to fill the part. 

Mediated meetings and malicious intent?

In the mediated meetings that the Rangeview dean and assistant principal attended, along with selective dancers, the dancers wanted to compromise as much as possible. In these meetings, both sides were given the opportunity to state their argument.  We understood their point of view and tried our best to come up with a solution, so everyone could be at peace in the end. Some of the leaders in the dance program suggested we change costumes to less revealing or “sexualized” ones, offered to change choreography, and to dig even deeper into all of the the cultures before putting on the next show in December 2020.  Unfortunately, the article that The Raider Review wrote about our rendition of The Nutcracker, paints a completely different and totally inaccurate picture, stating that the dancers of the program were uncooperative and didn’t listen. On our behalf, this statement was incorrect and should be reversed. We tried our best to find solutions that would benefit both sides in the long run, including keeping the performance of the NotCracker as an annual RHS event, while maintaining integrity to the show, but not offending anyone.  

 In the 2nd meeting that we had, we requested to have some RHS dancers join the the students writing the article for the Raider Review and write the article together to present all sides of the story: that instead of The Raider Review writing a biased article with us having to respond with our own, that we just all come together and unite to write one piece that addressed both sides, along with proposed solutions. This was asked multiple times by the dancers, and it was rejected every single time.  We understand that controversy is a good way to get attention, but this just felt like a cheap shot. In another effort to negotiate, we requested that the dancers have time to write our own article so both sides of the story could be released the same day and together, so the student body wouldn’t feel obligated to choose sides. This clearly didn’t happen, despite multiple promises that it would. Not only is this dirty, but it is irresponsible and just bad journalism practice. Mentioned in the mediated meetings, it was brought to our attention how a little girl would feel watching the show and seeing her culture being portrayed stereotypically; but what if a young girl came to the show and was inspired and completely amazed by the storytelling, talent, and purpose behind the show. We want her to leave the auditorium in awe, possibly even influencing her to get involved in some sort of dance class. 

Why dance?  Why now?

One of the biggest questions we have is, why?  Why would people come for the dance department and our production?  There are roles being played in school plays in which people of so many different races and cultures are playing others.  There are multiple clubs at Rangeview that welcome members of all races and cultures; Polynesian club, where there are girls not of the Polynesian culture, dressing as if they were, and dancing off tutorials they learned off youtube, to modern music, not Polynesian. We have multiple students who perform at assemblies as part of the awesome K-Pop club, and there are multiple races and ethnicities represented. There are so many more examples of these roles being played by others, which is something typically celebrated at Rangeview, as we don’t discriminate by race, gender, or culture.  So why is it an issue now? We went to look at the Raider Review website and looked at past articles to see if there was a pattern. It should be noted that the most recent articles under the Arts, Fine Arts, and Music page that actually talk about any of these RHS programs is from November 22, 2019. There were 3 stories. There was also 1 photo from October. The rest of the articles are about entertainment news, social media, and a whole lot of things that have no relation to the arts at Rangeview.  

Respects of one’s views 

While referencing the restorative meetings within the opposing article, the Raider Review representatives made the point that much of the conversation was centered around the social media conflict. Yet the feelings of both sides of the situation were first brought to light on online platforms. Therefore, making social media a large part of the dispute and in turn a very important aspect when discussing a solution. Both sides of this situation also agreed that expressing opinions on social media was not a proactive way to deal with the problem, and ultimately caused a bigger drift between dancers and the student body as a whole. While referencing the restorative meetings within the opposing article, the Raider Review representatives made the point that much of the conversation was centered around the social media conflict. Yet the feelings of both sides of the situation were first brought to light on online platforms. In the second mediated meeting that took place, the representatives of The Raider Review  stated that this whole situation was brought to someone’s attention, maturly; which was not correct. This topic was initially posted on a private Instagram account which eventually progressed to cyberbullying directed towards the students involved in The NotCracker

It was also said that us dancers were invalidating the perspectives, emotions, and feelings of people with negative aspects of the show. Although, it is important that the difference between invalidating and standing up for different beliefs is defined. The dancers never made the opposing individual’s feel bad for having the opinions they do, all that was done was supporting our perspective. NO individual was brought down or told that their opinions and set of beliefs were wrong, the dancers simply said their side of the argument. We are aware that in society, people will be on different pages of opinion, and we would never/have never downgraded a person due to their differing opinion. 

Conclusion

We need to be cautious to not fall away from what makes us stand out as an inclusive and integrated community here at Rangeview High School. When we are in the face of controversy, it is important to respectfully come together and constructively find solutions, rather than take to social media to bully and further divide us. Administration, as our witness, knew that the dancers were open to collaborating and cooperating with the opposing side, but were denied the opportunity.

So, to the students who wrote the article, we ask you this. Did you do your job as a journalist?  What are YOU doing to make Rangeview better? Anyone can hide behind some words on a page, so we invite you to come join us for our next production of The NotCracker and help us improve. Take a dance class, volunteer your time after school, participate, fundraise, and put all of your suggestions into fruition. Or, even better, do your research and come see the show instead of stirring up a “controversy” about a show and program you have clearly shown you know very little about.