The Borderlands Dance Project
How does dance fit into the U.S./Mexico relations conversation? Can dance truly build connections when tension is high? For this project I was called to the U.S./Mexico border to figure out what dance can reveal about the social, political and cultural divisions between my homeland and motherland. Can dance help shine light through the cracks and fissures?
In graduate school, I began my research on U.S./Mexico relations: the history and geography of the border; the effect of the U.S. government’s acquisition of Mexican lands; Chicano civil rights movements; and identity politics affecting people living in the borderlands. My exploration of these issues was informed by my experience as a European/Mexican/Indigenous, racially ambiguous individual, working to restore and honor the Mexican parts of my heritage that have been hidden or forgotten. I wanted to know more about my history, where I come from, what my family has endured, and what I can add to the conversation as a Chicana dance artist. This investigation is one of cultural recovery, reclamation, and political activism, with dance as my interface. Dance is what I know. It is how I live. It is how I make sense of my body, identity, and the world.
Inspired by the work of Latinx choreographers, actors, and performance artists who have challenged dominant white U.S. perceptions of Latinx people, I crafted my MFA thesis concert, Fabricated Maps. With the help of an amazing cast, thoughtful committee, and a strong community of support, this concert-in-the-round explored the power—but also danger—that exist at the intersections of race, gender and Nation for Latinx bodies on the U.S./Mexico border.
The Journey Ahead
With my MFA in hand, I move on to the next step; the journey is just beginning. I am going to live on the border in Tijuana and work as an artist-in-residence with Lux Boreal Danza Contemporánea. I will receive training in their innovative, contemporary dance techniques and work with their dancers and students to create a new piece, which will be performed at Friendship Park, on the U.S./Mexico border. Friendship park is a place where people from both the U.S. and Mexico can visit one another. This is the perfect place for dance to enter the border conversation.
U.S./Mexican Dancers Collaborating from a Distance
With input from dance artists from both countries, I will craft a dance piece that will be performed on the border—for both nations to witness and participate in. I am collecting short dance contributions from artists in the U.S.: messages to dancers on the other side of the border, expressing—with their bodies—their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives on U.S./Mexico relations and their hopes for the future. Like the game “Telephone,” I will learn these dances and teach them to the dancers in Tijuana, who will respond or convey their own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of U.S./Mexico relations through dance.
The dancers of Tijuana will serve as the cast for the culminating performance. We will make full use of the border fence at Friendship Park: interacting with it, illustrating the interactions between loved ones on opposite sides of the fence, while also addressing the complexities of border life. My vision is to lay bare the tensions between the U.S. and Mexico: that each side is closed off to the other, defensive, and hardened by the experience of being divided culturally, politically, and spiritually. Through dance, I want to paint a picture of what it might look like to connect, communicate, and understand each other; to live in the land of possibility.
The Borderlands Dance Project will take place over the course of 9 months. For the first 3-4 months I will hone my Spanish-speaking skills, build rapport with dancers in the community, train in Lux Boreal's contemporary dance techniques, and learn about their site-specific, community-centric choreography methods. I will spend the next 4-5 months developing the dance piece. During my final month, our team will refine and perform it. The final product will be performed for five weekends at Friendship Park during U.S. visiting hours.
This is your opportunity to help make this project happen! I have sufficient funds for the first phase of the project - training with Lux Boreal, building rapport, and increasing my Spanish fluency - and am currently raising money for the second phase-working with the students and collaboratively creating the piece.
This is where you can help make this project happen! Your tax deductible donation will help me do my best work on the U.S./Mexico border, keeping me financially worry free so I can focus on this project.
If the project is fully funded, I'll be able to fully immerse myself in the experience of dancing and dance-making without having to cross the border to work (in the U.S.). This will allow me to devote 100% of my attention to the project, to build connections with the Tijuana community and potential collaborators, and research creative ways to use dance to bridge the two countries.
Full disclosure: I applied for a Fulbright research award that would have covered all of my expenses. I was selected as an "alternate" which means I still have a chance of getting the funding if a principal candidate rejects their award, but I'm not counting on it. If I do get the Fulbright award your donation will help me with my post-project transition and provide the means to professionally document the process.
Did you know that the U.S. travel advisory for Tijuana was lifted in January for the first time in decades? It's safer now than ever before and ready to be infused with more dance!
$5 = $103.58 Mexican pesos. That's a lot of tacos! Your donation goes a long way, even if it's small.
Wow. You made it to the end of my fundraising spiel. Thank you so much for your time and attention! If you aren't able to help financially, please spread the word! If you want to make a movement contribution to this project please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Dance photos by Ian McMorran*