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Author: Jill Kimball

MFA dance concert confronts racial and sexual discrimination head-on

‘This is our way of taking up space and reclaiming our identity.’

CU Boulder’s dance division shines a spotlight on two MFA candidates in “Taking UP Space,” an evening of performances embracing racial and sexual diversity. The dance concert runs Oct. 20-22 in CU’s Charlotte York Irey Theatre.

Vivian Kim and Aaron Allen, Jr. hope the pieces they’ve choreographed inspire people of color and those who identify as queer to follow their dreams unapologetically.

“As people of color who also identify on the LGBT spectrum, both of us are expected to fold in on ourselves and not be vocal about the prejudices and discriminations and stereotypes we experience,” Kim says. “We’re supposed to sit here and take it and not speak out against it. This performance is our way of taking up space and reclaiming our identity.”

Kim’s piece, “Sit. Stay. Down.,” reflects on a set of rules her Korean parents enforced when she was a child—rules she now finds puzzling, archaic and sexist. Sit with your legs crossed when your dad’s in the room. Follow his rules and listen to everything he says. When you get married, you must become the caretaker of your husband’s entire family.

Kim was blown away when she discovered these weren’t just unspoken family expectations but written rules prescribed 2,000 years ago by Confucius in his Analects.

“I figured they were just rules my parents had made, not prescriptions from a book written by a man,” she says. “The fact that this ancient set of ideologies is still being impressed upon East Asian women in the U.S., and in the 21st century, was baffling to me.”

Kim found her conflicting feelings even more baffling. While she recognizes that these rules have no place in her life anymore, they’ve been so deeply instilled that she still feels compelled to follow them. Her piece, which borrows techniques from ballet and contemporary dance, illustrates her internal conflict by setting gestures of prayer and ritual alongside explosive, confused movement.

Allen’s piece, “Bringing Them Back,” also looks to the past for inspiration. He thought at length about the ways marginalized groups have fought for their rights and founded safe refuges throughout history: drag balls, civil rights protests, AIDS awareness rallies, support centers. And then he wondered what it would take for all those groups to find common ground and rise up together.

“Think of how strong and selfless earlier generations had to be to bring a huge group of people together and create a resistance movement,” he says. “We live in a huge world with lots of turmoil. How can we be one community and fight together?”

Allen knows from personal experience that it’s easier said than done. As a black child in the South, he lost morale from regular name-calling and discrimination.

“Once you lose your mind or get called that name too many times, it’s hard to come back or feel motivated to fight back,” he says.

Sadly, some people never return. But those surrounded by a strong community always have someone to pull them back toward the center, whether it’s a parent, significant other or friend. Allen’s earthy, African-inspired piece envisions that community as a group of dancers clumped together in a tight, close-knit ball. While that ball occasionally “explodes” when someone defects or feels lost, it always comes back together.

Allen says both pieces are as much about shedding light on today’s marginalized people as they are about the forgotten people of the past.

“It’s about bringing back the fallen, whether it’s slaves or women or people who died in the AIDS epidemic,” he says. “It’s about paying homage to them and taking up the space for them—taking up a room and being full for those who couldn’t.”