Meet Equity in Dance
Published July 22, 2022
Article by Se'lah Aziz
Co - Directors Mack Gillies (left) & Shannon Widdis (right)
Equity in Dance is a youth organization co-founded by Mack Gilles and Shannon Widdis. As an organization, they work to challenge norms, provide educational resources and celebrate all. Equity in Dance seeks to create safe, equitable spaces for dancers. Focusing on issues such as LGBTQ + rights, mental health advocacy, disability rights, anti-racism, decolonization, and environmental action, Equity In Dance empowers young people to make collective change.
In our interview, Mack Gillies, a Queer dance artist and educator studying Critical Social Work, told us that Equity in Dance started as a passion project in an attempt to better their own personal dance teaching methods and understandings of dance. Now, the organization has become an internationally run youth organization for dance artists to unite. Mack and Co-Director Shannon Widdis are dancers and dance educators who have lived experience with inequitable dance spaces. As a result of their shared experiences, their passion for social justice, and love for dance, Equity In Dance was born. Shannon and Mack shared their goals with us:
“We're trying to start conversations and make new curriculums and resources for dancers and dance educators everywhere to be able to make the dance spaces more equitable and less toxic, and to change the system.”
The work Equity in Dance is doing is so important to not only historically marginalized dancers but also to the dance community at large. They help change a community that has been slow to evolve with the times. Addressing consent and body autonomy, their website states: “Equity In Dance believes in helping dance educators unlearn teaching with an emphasis on touch & helping them practice asking consent. Additionally, we believe in helping dancers claim their body autonomy and be firm with their boundaries and consent giving.” They then outline actionable steps that educators can take to promote a culture of consent and body autonomy.
On their website, you can find concise action steps for the numerous issues the organization advocates for. Mack explained, “through educational content, we’re hoping that they [dancers and educators] realize the problems that are happening, and then we can provide them with additional resources to help cope with those different issues that they're dealing with.”
Since they know that social media is such a big part of spreading their message, they have a steady stream of posts ranging from what and where different types of dance forms originated to explaining how to support someone who is coming out. For example, on Juneteenth, the organization posted: “Much of the dance world thrives off of dance created from slavery and Black culture, yet it is ignored and highly Eurocentric. Matching tights to skin tone is one way the dance community can decenter whiteness in dance.” In our interview, we discussed how social media is able to bridge the gap between gate-kept scholarship on dance and young practicing dancers. This post is an excellent example of how Equity in Dance aims to dismantle dominant Eurocentric, racist, and colonial beliefs about dance that are still perpetuated by many dance educators. To see more, check out their Instagram account.
Following their social media is a great way to stay informed. You can also get involved in a number of other ways: learn movement, expression, and creativity through abstract methods, listen to the unique stories and voices of youth artists with a passion for social justice, or even have a one-on-one or group conversation with Equity In Dance about making your dance space more equitable or how to be a more equitable dancer/dance instructor. Equity in Dance is making sure that this message is spread and is making sure they are a safe space for people to be educated about the matter. The organization continues to change and is a great place to start if you are interested in learning more about Equity in Dance!