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Could Dance Be a Weapon All Over Again?

Recently I was sucked into the much longer Metropolitan Museum of Art collaboration between the visual artist Lee Mingwei and the choreographer Bill T. Jones. In the seemingly simple act of sweeping rice with a broom over several hours, the cast, representing different parts of the dance and performance world — a drag artist, a ballet dancer, a voguer, a street performer — was able to clearly demonstrate the power that artists have when they come together.

Mr. Jones’s casting shows us what the dance world could look like. It also illustrates the power of the group, which feels relevant when reading the growing number of voices behind “Creating New Futures” and its quest, in Ms. Roy’s words, to forge “a gateway between one world and the next.” What do organizations like Dance Rising Collective and Wide Awakes Dance Corps have in common? Bodies joining forces.

Who knows when dance will come back? It will probably be one of the last art forms to return fully. Dance, the most neglected member of the performing arts, always seems to come in last. (This drives me crazy.) And who knows, maybe the damage caused by the pandemic — rents are falling at least, though not nearly enough — will create possibilities for the next dance movement. It’s at times of unrest that change finally becomes impossible to ignore.

And all of it takes me back to the ’30s, when class struggle and modern dance were intertwined. In “Stepping Left: Dance and Politics in New York City, 1928-1942,” Ellen Graff writes, “The movement, artistic and social, was about power and where power started was in the dancers’ own bodies.”

There are many questions in the air, but the idea of the collective body has weight — we’ve seen how bodies can affect change. Yet a big one still remains: Can dance, or any art form really, be truly be equal? Dance is not a democratic art. But it can be better. And as tenuous as life is, this moment, this movement feels powerful. It’s been a dark few months, and more are yet to come, but dance is stepping back into the spotlight. And it feels bright, potent and strong — like a weapon.

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