BIPOC Artists In Dance And On Broadway
Updated: Jun 10
Undeniably the cultural shift we’ve been living through the last week and a half has been both inspiring and necessary.
It’s also been embarrassing to legitimately reflect on the fact that, for so long, those in charge of the artistic world have been unwilling to truly hear the call for equality from those who've been denied it for generations.
Now, I fully understand that as a cis-gendered straight white male born to upper-middle-class privilege, it isn’t my time to talk right now. That said, I also know that now is NOT a time to do nothing, and taking action against and responsibility for the individual and systemic racism — especially in the dance and theatre world — is an issue that those with a voice and a platform like DN&C need to address. Systemic and individual racism within the arts is, without question, there. Full stop. It's a fact.
So, considering DN&C just last month released a well-received story on the inequity and inequality of female choreographers in the theater dance community by analyzing the statistics of the Tony Award for Best Choreography — why not perhaps use that award category as a tool to pinpoint a small and minute portion of the inequity BIPOC choreographers have and are facing.
For The Record
Also to note: Broadway’s biggest dance prize has been handed out every year since the Tonys started in 1947 (with one notable exception in 1985, due to their being “only one eligible candidate”.) And, the first ten years of the Tonys didn’t feature nominees — only winners.
In the last 20 years...
— There have been a total of 90 choreographers nominated for the Best Choreography Tony; of those 90, only 4 have been BIPOC choreographers.
— Of those 4, only 1 BIPOC choreographer — Bill T. Jones — has won the award, and he's done it twice. Jones, who’s also only been nominated twice, won in 2007 for Spring Awakening and again in 2010 for Fela! (It should also be noted that Jones was nominated for Best Book Of A Musical and Best Direction of A musical for Fela! in 2010, as well.)
When you expand that to include all of the nominees and winners for the award since 1947...
— There have been a total of 271 nominations for the award (that excludes the first ten years when there were only "winners" and the two times since when full companies were nominated — specifically the "Forever Tango Dancers” from Forever Tango in 1998 and the “Tango Argentino Dancers” from 1986’s Tango Argentino). How many nominations have gone to BIPOC choreographers? 26. That's only 9% of all nominees.
— Of those 26 nominations, that number breaks down even further, working out to only 21 different people. Donald McKayle, Henry LeTang, Savion Glover, and the aforementioned Bill T. Jones have all been nominated multiple times.
— And, how many of those 26 nominations resulted in a win? 8*.
**4 of those 8 were people that co-won for the same show; this occurred when Cholly Atkins, Henry LeTang, Frankie Manning, and Fayard Nicholas all won for 'Black and Blue' in 1989.
Now, let's break it down one step further...
— In the history of the award — again that's out of 271 nominations — only 2 female BIPOC choreographers have ever been nominated. Hope Clarke was co-nominated in 1992 for Jelly's Last Jam (alongside Ted L. Levy and Gregory Hines), and Camille A. Brown was nominated in 2019 for creating the movement to the play, Choir Boy. That's less than 1% of the total nominee field. It's also nearly 30 years between female BIPOC choreographer nominations.
— And, since Clarke nor Brown won in their nominated years — and only twelve women have ever won the Tony for Best Choreography — that means no female BIPOC choreographer has EVER won a Tony Award for Best Choreography. The numbers are staggering.
Outside of Broadway, when you look at the institutions that control the major arts narrative, bring in the largest incomes, and hold the most power — places like New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, or the Radio City Rockettes — it’s not difficult to see the inherent systemic racism there as well. While the intention of these organizations and companies has always been “good”, it isn’t difficult to see that it doesn’t mean that it’s always been equal or even right. The makeup of their principal companies and their administrations are only a glimpse into a long history of individual and systemic racism. So, what to do? How do these institutions work to fix these inherent issues that have been overlooked for generations? Here are some steps that can be taken.
Communities definitely need to see more BIPOC directors, choreographers, and music directors of color creating art in their cultural institutions. Even more, these organizations need to work to feature a wider and more well-represented group of voices on the boards directing where their funding is distributed.
Tokenism is dangerous. These institutions need to make sure their design and performance staffs are more diverse, and, they must assure their audiences and prove accountability that they're casting wide nets in order to seek out representative companies.
Companies need to ensure that works created by BIPOC and writers and composers of color are featured. Prominently. There isn’t a lack of quality work out there, but there is a lack of its presentation.
It's not a simple fix, but in a sense, it is...
Our communities as a whole need their artistic institutions — now more than ever. However, in order to succeed in the long term, our artistic institutions need to fully embrace the communities they represent — and not just the wealthy parts. Running companies with administrators, designers, creators, and performers that look more like the communities in which they serve is an early and easy step, and it's one that needed to be taken yesterday.
Learn and Do More:
"On June 10th, 11th, and 12th, the Broadway Advocacy Coalition is hosting a three-part forum for the Broadway community to heal, listen, and hold itself accountable to its history of white supremacy.
This forum is rooted in the Broadway theater community but is intended for all who work in the theater industry: actors, stage managers, producers, ushers, marketing interns, industry vets, recent theater grads, from New York and beyond. We are creating a space for us all to come together and begin the process of becoming an anti-racist and equitable community."
Also, read this powerful letter to "White American Theatre".
"Dear White American Theater, We come together as a community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers, in the legacy of August Wilson’s “The Ground on Which I Stand,” to let you know exactly what ground we stand on in the wake of our nation’s civic unrest. We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us."
Read the full letter at WeSeeYouWAT.com. The organization who wrote and signed the letter — The Ground We Stand On — has a petition via Change.org with almost 56 thousand signers at the time of this writing.
Michael Mahany serves as NYC Dance News & Culture’s founder and Editor-At-Large. Additionally, he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of 'Rock Of Ages' in New York City. He's also a co-host of the 'Pod De Deux' dance podcast. Follow him on Instagram, Twitter, or visit www.michaelmahany.com for more. Story tips? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.