I am a dancer and I have work to do

Back in April we talked a lot about personal branding—honing in on what you value and letting that inform and inspire how you show up in the world (on stage, online, and everywhere in between). For Georgina Pazcoguin (aka “The Rogue Ballerina”), her advocacy and creativity off the stage make as much of an impact as her grand performances on stage as a soloist with New York City Ballet.

Georgina is co-founder—with Phil Chan—of Final Bow for Yellowface, raising awareness and promoting inclusivity through sincere representation of all ethnicities in the performing arts, and author of Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina. We spoke with Georgina about the conversations that finally started to arise once our industry was put on an indefinite hold. Much has been said, some action has been taken, and there is still work to do…

RN: What has been the greatest benefit of this “break” from our industry as we once knew it?

GP: Dancers across all companies and mediums are starting to connect with each other. I can only speak from my experience as a professional ballerina, but when you get into a company, it feels like dancers are siloed in that microcosm. When I was conducting interviews for my non-profit, Final Bow for Yellowface, couldn’t believe I had never had conversations with people with whom I share so much in common as a multicultural being. It was eye-opening to realize that what I experienced in the dance world in the past wasn’t the result of me being “overly sensitive.” Not only was it true, but it was what so many others have experienced too –often almost verbatim. 

RN: How did those connections occur – over social media?

GP: Social media does a lot of good but it also feels like just another popularity contest. The most meaningful conversations I had were on Zoom, phone, and even text message. Social media is helpful like a boom box or megaphone but I can’t give too much weight to its contribution to this change/dynamic. It’s taken real work/commitment on the dancers’ parts on the ground, in the rehearsal rooms, of leaders in board meetings (not just plastered on a screen) to have the hard conversations. Hold each other and people in positions of power accountable for what they declare in being committed to change. 

RN: So many important conversations burgeoned during the pandemic. Do you feel like we’re regressing now that the industry is starting to open up again?

GP: There is definitely some tension. Everyone is so excited to get back, but there are still problems. For example, even though Peter Martins retired, we still perform many of his ballets—and he still gets a residual paycheck. Are we driving ticket sales or are we really trying to change? And where is the humanity in knowing both things are true?

RN: Your book, Swan Dive, literally dives into the chapters of your life as a trailblazer in ballet, on Broadway, and beyond. You pull back the curtain to reveal your personal experience as a young, impressionable, mixed-race woman in the arts world. That takes a lot of courage.

GP: To be completely honest, I have a genuine fear that I’ve torpedoed my career at NYCB. I already feel the shiver of potentially being iced out. There may be ramifications to sharing my story, shrouded in artistic decision-making that is beyond my control and all too convenient of an option for those who desire to clip my wings. But I remain hopeful those who are feeling a certain way right now actually read my book. I am here for conversation. I know there is a pathway to acknowledge, change, and growing better together. But I put my foot down when it comes to certain behaviors. It’s my hope more dancers speak their truth. The point of the book is to remind any person—dancer or not—that they have the freedom to grab hold of their narrative and the freedom to share that. 

RN: What do you hope to see more of? What conversations do we need to be talking about?

GP: Dancers’ contributions to works. Dancers are so integral in the creative process and some dances go on to be pieces that withstand the test of time. As we try to reevaluate systems and power dynamics in dance, we need to honor those contributions not only with a mention in the program, but also with a residual check. As I crossed through different mediums, I realized film/TV actors get residual checks – to be honored in some sort of way for a contribution. I think that would open the door to some real change in the dance world, though I’m not sure how the structure would work. Honoring the dancer not just for being an extremely talented body – for their spirit, their creativity. Rarely do you enter a room and steps are just given. It’s a collaborative process. That should mean collaborative sharing in credit and sometimes, when applicable, monetary benefit, too. 

RN: What advice do you have for dancers who want to affect change in our industry?

GP: For myself personally, I’ve noticed the places where I’ve been complacent and structures of where I want to change. You can’t have meaningful conversations if you’re not intent on seeing where you’ve contributed to the problems – and that goes above and beyond the dance world. 

Follow Georgina on Instagram @georgina_pazcoguin
Learn more about Final Bow for Yellowface
Click here to purchase Swan Dive

Photo: Georgina Pazcoguin by Rachel Neville

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