Make America Educate Again: Death to Culture, Dance, and Tolerance

Amman Jordan, 2013

Pictured above: The Tennessee Children's Dance Ensemble in Amman, Jordan with the Bedouin people of Wadi Rum

Back home, my old dance company would take Wah Lum Kung Fu over the summer to supplement a Kung Fu/Modern dance fusion piece we had in our repertoire. I reminisce over the days we’d walk across the street in our baggy Kung Fu pants lugging our sticks and fans with us. As we approached the parking lot a hush would dispel the normal chatter. We clamored in as quietly as we could muster and bowed at the entrance. The older dancers would disperse themselves across the deep, red cement floor so the younger ones could fill in the vacant spots. The newbies would eye the ceremonious incense or adopt a petrified stare at the sides of the room once they realized it was lined with nun chucks, swords, and other weaponry (not the rifles and camo Tennessee folks were accustomed to I suppose.) Sifu (Chinese for “teacher”) would silently walk in and together we’d bow to the ancestors. Eventually, we’d get our fans and sticks out to learn ancient movements all performed to a hypnotic, pounding, life-giving drum. I’d try to angle myself to see the red cloth from the dragon dance that peeked out of the storage closet.

The red dragon always fascinated me and I was anxious to see it come out of hiding each year. Traditionally, the red dragon is performed at big celebrations such as the Chinese New Year (this year it falls on February 8th.) The red dragon is performed with a long dragon cloth figure (the longer it is, the more lucky) that’s supported by people who perform a dance to send away evil spirits and bring good fortune (you may remember it from the Disney version of Mulan.) Red is a symbol of good luck and the well-crafted creature dates back to the Han Dynasty, thus contributing to the identity and culture of the regions that celebrate it.

I remember each year when it was performed; I’d stop to watch the audience’s reaction. Most people didn’t understand. They thought it was silly. If it doesn’t have an impressive side leap or a fabulous kick is it still a dance? The answer is yes. I believe that people (especially in America) lack a huge appreciation for dance because our understanding of other cultures is limited. Dance isn’t something you do to get a trophy; it’s a whole culture and means of communication that’s lost by an isolationist stance and irreverence to rich identities. Dance in other cultures should be taught and studied for the development of the whole person. American philosophy and liberty were established and founded on diversity and tolerance. Yet we lack a huge sensitivity to the world around us and it impacts the way we view not only dance but the rest of the world.

Perhaps people would be more supportive of their Jewish friends if they learned the basic ideas surrounding Passover. Maybe by teaching through the dialogue of movement the different styles of African dance, students could better understand how slave trade and the diaspora altered identities. If we were to teach children about Sufism (a sect of Islamic dance movement characterized by hypnotic spinning), it could strike up a dialogue and appreciation for the culture. Who knows? Maybe we’d see a more tolerant place where the Donald Trumps of the world wouldn’t have support with absurd campaigns like “a complete ban on all Muslim travel to the U.S.” (P.S. Trump, your favorite Miss USA winner, Lebanese-American, Rima Fakih is Muslim.)

Of course I’m on a rant so I might as well continue onto a frustrating Fox News story I saw in June of 2014. I was so disgusted I wrote a letter and have yet to hear a response…so while I anxiously await a reply the Pony Express would’ve delivered by now I will publicize the despicable program they let air in my doctor’s office. It was a Fox News “expert” (I assume you’re an expert there if you are a white, heterosexual, homophobic, “Christian” man.)

Well anyway, it was a psychologist who believed that returning prisoner of war, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s history of “narcissistic ballet dancing” proved he was self-centered. In a slippery slope fallacy, the psychologist contended that Obama’s support of Bergdahl despite his balletic past pointed toward Obama’s “lack of Americanism.”

I watched in horror as the tradition of dance was shattered by absurd allegations and preposterous experts proclaiming their support over an infuriating argument that supported dance as a means of fueling narcissism. Trump recently concurred adding that Bergdahl “should’ve been executed.” I would make a smartass remark here but I fear that my Lebanese descent may add me to the Trump database. I mean…you know what they say. Lebanese people make…great Miss USA contestants.

For Fox to argue Bergdahl’s ballet training is a sign of overwhelming self-absorption and President Obama’s support of him was Un-American because of ballet’s so-called deviation from the American culture then I have to say I agree. America is no longer a land of tolerance and freedom. It’s a country that instills racism, sexism, and every other -ism imaginable. Perhaps I too am Un-American because this is certainly not the great country I was taught to be proud of in school.

So I will conclude by saying that America the beautiful needs to realign itself with culture and acceptance. Dance isn’t some frivolous, narcissistic, folly used to feed an ego. It’s not about bright lights and flashy numbers. It’s a culture and form of expression that promotes tolerance. It should be embraced to embody the so-called “liberty” our forefathers sought to create. People’s reactions to the dragon dance shouldn’t be judgmental confusion. It should be admiration of a rich culture that contributes to our society. Maybe it’s time to return to the old-America where tolerance was allegedly embraced to indiscriminately communicate culture through mediums like dance. Let’s “make America great again” by welcoming cultures and endorsing liberality to dispel the discrimination that’s weakening this already fragile nation.



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