In almost every arena of public life—fashion and entertainment, politics and technology—long-held customs about who is included and who is important are breaking down and opening up, bringing more acceptance of different ages, races, and genders. Challenges remain, of course, but strides are being made for an awakening in diversity. The Facebook group Dance Studio Owners of Color, founded by Savannah, Georgia, studio owner Anekia Boatwright-McGhee, serves to both celebrate and support the growth of diversity in dance.
The idea for the page grew out of Anekia’s experience attending dance conventions, where only about four or five of the hundreds of attendees would be studio owners of color. “We’d have conversations where we’d share common experiences and cultural nuances,” says Anekia, who owns Rebecca Padgett School of Performing Arts. “Dance can be a very lonely business sometimes, and we felt isolated in a community that is already isolated. I thought: ‘How do I find more of these people?’”
Starting the DSOC Facebook page proved revelatory. Five years old this summer, DSOC has 500-plus members from the U.S., Canada, South America, Africa, and Europe. “I see the same response when they find the group: ‘This is amazing—I don’t feel anymore that my voice is a solo voice.’”
Along with common-cause conversations on increasing enrollment and handling prickly clients, page members also discuss weighty issues such as battling stereotyping—for example, hearing the question, “So, as a studio owner of color, do you only have students of color?” They also talk about earning respect in a culture that places a heavier burden of expectations on minority members. Yet the most-discussed issue is even more complex, says Anekia. It’s about “not being seen for what makes you different.” She explains further:
“When people say, ‘I don’t see your color or your hair texture—we’re all alike,’ it’s like they’re saying they don’t see me as an individual. But I want them to see what I can bring to the table that’s unique.”
Anekia has used the DSOC platform as a springboard for educational programming such as monthly online workshops and, last summer, a live conference attended by studio owners from across the country where attendees discussed groundbreaking topics such as “What does it look like to embrace the traditional European standard of excellence in dance, but also embrace the color and flavor we bring to it?”
“It’s been an amazing process to see studio owners happy to be themselves, learning and growing,” she says. “They have to overcome so many hurdles, but they are doing it from a place of pride and acceptance.” With this message at heart, DSOC continues to support its members and expand its offerings, bringing diverse thoughts and opinions to the spotlight for all to see.