Los Angeles is one of those places where the arts and humanities are the soil of its culture and lifestyle. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts was originally a post office in Beverly Hills and is now one of LA’s top rated venues for art galleries and performances. It was created out of the Annenberg Foundation,a philanthropic organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and opportunity. In partnership with the Director of Education at the Wallis (Mark Slavkin), I worked with Broadway Dreams Executive Director (Annette Tanner) and Broadway/So You Think You Can Dance Choreographer (Spencer Liff) and learned how to build effective programming that both provided opportunity for the arts and enhanced the talents of our students simultaneously.
Here is a photo of me performing with students and interns in “Hot Lunch Jam” from the musical FAME.
One of the challenging parts about working with this non-profit is seeing the stark contrast of students who do and are able to attend. For example, in Atlanta, we had 50% of our students on scholarship for tuition (which rounds out to be $800). There was an even mix of upper, middle, and working class students which called for a variety of experiences and interactions throughout the week.
However, it is overwhelmingly beautiful watching this students discover their similarities in the presences of their socio-economic differences. I taught a class called “Identity within Dance”, and we discussed hardships that we all face that are repetitive in human culture. Topics of fear, discontent, selfishness, mental health, misunderstanding, empathy, discomfort, and spirituality were the front runners of these issues that everyone faces – according to the students. Two female students separately shared a story about familial incarceration (one upper class white female and another working class latinx female) and they connected through creating a piece that told their struggles of being anchors of families with incarcerated mothers. It was a unifying moment of two people who would (to the common eye) have nothing in common and yet they were able to find connect through dance.
I have been reflecting on this since the day that it happened – reflecting on the fact that people often never know who shares there struggle, especially in our contemporary American society. We are accustomed to the make-up of our socio-economics and neo-anglo-cultural/anti-national-cultural views and politics, that we often forget how simple it is to find a commonality within another human being. I am grateful that this job has allowed me to highlight that and consider it as I continue in my work.