I have slowly been dipping my toe in the arts scene. COVID kept many of us indoors for several months (and for some, indoors for close to two years) and as COVID rates ebb and flow, we are all finding our various comfort zones as we emerge from our cocoons and explore the city.
I recently saw the Dance Theatre of Harlem at City Center and remembered just how much I love live performances. Seeing the beautiful, talented, poised, and athletic Black bodies grace the stage filled me with so much pride and joy I was overcome with so many emotions. I realized just how much I missed the arts. I realized just how much we need to support artists to make sure these cultural institutions remain as we continue to battle
COVID. And I realized all the hard work that dancers, artists, and choreographers put into bringing us joy in some of our darkest hours.
When I saw the Dance Theatre of Harlem, I had the privilege of seeing a piece choreographed by Resident Choreographer Robert Garland accompanied by the songs of Stevie Wonder’s catalog from the 1970s. If you can imagine ballet and modern dance set to the powerful conscious-raising music of Stevie Wonder made during some of the turbulent “post” Civil Rights-era music. It still boggles my mind how dance can make me think of politics, protest, perseverance, love, and so many of the issues with which we are currently grappling. Garland’s ability to transport us to a time and place through dance made me think of the necessity of the arts in all aspects of our lives, especially live music and dance as we emerge from our various lockdowns.
Garland was a member of the Dance Theatre of Harlem company achieving the rank of principal dancer. After creating a work for the DTH School Ensemble, Arthur Mitchell invited Robert Garland to create a work for the Dance Theatre of Harlem company and appointed him the organization’s first resident choreographer.
So many dance companies, museums, galleries, and artist institutions have struggled during the pandemic. Many of these institutions were able to survive due to the generosity of patrons who believe these institutions are vital to our connection to mankind and humanity, as well as the arts. I always relay to my students the C.S. Lewis quote, “We read to know we’re not alone.” However, we also connect with the arts to know we are not alone and are a part of a larger collective identity.
Now more than ever it is important we support not only institutions like the Dance Theatre of Harlem, but artists institutions more broadly. We need to experience art, and the artists need to create art for us to enjoy and process. Slowly and safely, we can support these institutions that rely on us and our patronage.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.