Image: Ayano Elson

Image Description: An array of hand drawn flowers obscure a screen-shot of the google image search results for the query "working together"

Ayano Elson: Dear Dancer

Dancers, choreographers, curators, and audiences have shifting demands. The more we rehearse, the more we must address the stubborn deficiencies of the prevailing rehearsal structure. The more we choreograph, the more we must address the drought of provisional support networks. The more we curate, the more we must address our supremacist programming. The more we watch, the more we must address insufficient accessibility for deaf and blind audience members. The more distance we have from it all, the more we must insist that structural change is necessary. Choreographer and dancer Ayano Elson adds her voice to the growing rallying cry, in the following letter. -Lydia Okrent

Dear dancer,

Lydia and Leslie reached out to me in March to write for Critical Correspondence. In between texts about therapy, emergency funds, and skincare, Lydia suggested I could write a list of things—or write anything at all.

Since then, I dodged emails and pushed back deadlines. I didn’t want to add to the pile of anxious guesses about how this will end. Months into the pandemic, I grow impatient with any conversation predicting what future performance could be like. I get frustrated when I hear about audience members being strategically spaced out or artists being rushed into studios that lack sufficient ventilation. Like listening to a friend describe their dream, I don’t enjoy the premise; I want to move onto the next topic as quickly as possible.

But moving on to the next topic is difficult. Every morning I wake up, and all I want to do is lie on the floor with you again. I miss feeling the weight of your bodies against mine. I miss hearing how you got here. I miss glancing at what you’re reading. I miss planning when to see you next. I miss the obvious things.

I don’t want to write about the past in a way that feels nostalgic. The week before New York went into lockdown, I was running from rehearsal to rehearsal and struggling to pay my landlord. Having spent my life cultivating community at small performance venues, my situation is not unique.

I’ve worked many meaningless jobs to dance. My dream work is to share a space with strangers, to change a floor into an event, and to transform a building into a performance. I’m not sure we’ll ever return to what existed, but for once in my life, I am optimistic! The springtime slime exposed the winter root rot. This pandemic only highlights the precarious material conditions and unjust hierarchies in which we live and make work. We do not need to continue to accept insecurity and instability as we wait for doors to reopen.

I have demands, requests, and offerings.

Offering: When I analyzed or discussed an artwork, my art history professor advised me to keep its image in my view. I think this is a helpful exercise. Moments of stillness are imbued with potential meaning that will unfold in front of you if you decide to keep looking. Open the window, and allow for time and wind to rearrange the surface.

Demand: On the day I return to rehearsal, I want every dancer to have healthcare. I want every dancer to be able to go to therapy. I want every dancer to feel safe in their homes, rehearsal studios, and on stage. I want every dancer to know exactly how much money they’re getting, and I want it to be a lot. I want every dancer to know how long their bathroom and snack breaks are, and I want those to be luxurious. I want every dancer to get credit for their work. I want every dancer to have a contract. I want every dancer to stick up for every other dancer in every work and every context. I want every dancer to have consensual sex (if they want to!). I want every dancer to end police brutality. I want every dancer to be debt-free. I want every dancer to work together to abolish a carceral- and military-industrial complex. I want every dancer to have affordable housing. I want every dancer to rest. I want every dancer to work together—because we deserve so much more as human beings and the rich do not deserve any more. I want every person to want to be a dancer.

Request: Believe in another world while still living in this one.



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Ayano Elson

Ayano Elson is an artist based in New York. She was born in Okinawa, a small island colonized by Japan in 1879 and occupied by the United States from 1945–1972. In her artistic practice, she collabo...
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