December 21, 2018 | Jeffrey Hoffman 

Tackling the Lingering Issues of Inclusion and Diversity in Dance Programs  

By Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO, Francisco Gella Dance Works

Francisco Gella Dance Works proudly announces the ‘official launch’ of our Dance Scholarship Equity Program! The need is great. The inequality of opportunity is real. You can find  hungry students wanting to pursue their dreams just about anywhere you go. Unfortunately the chances for a good many of these students to succeed are diminished due to circumstances they were born into – not ones they chose.  But with a dancer’s strong desire and a persistent willingness to sacrifice just about anything to get there – and with the the combined creative efforts of individuals and organizations who care about removing barriers for any student struggling to make it happen – a whole lot of good can happen to change the landscape, to build a more inclusive dance community. Dance Scholarship applications are now being accepted.

As a a professional working in education for more than half of my life and since graduating with my undergraduate degree, my entire working life, I am deeply committed to challenging the systems, decisions, beliefs and attitudes that we still often use as excuses for accepting the status quo. It is our own thinking that often gets in the way of real and lasting change.

Jeffrey Hoffman, CEO

In my nearly 30 years as an educator, I can recall countless  conversations with students, faculty, and colleagues about the rising cost of education, and the impacts on student access to opportunity. I have been part of numerous organizational efforts to reduce the opportunity gap – a gap which exists in good part because of persistent systemic inherent bias and in my opinion, a lack of will and persistence to effect change. I have seen talented, smart and motivated students dropout of college because they ran up against  the wall of unaffordability or because they struggled to find their place and the support to succeed in learning environments that didn’t embrace their differences. Statistics show a clear link between a person’s race and ethnicity, and their access to a quality education. This sheds light on the opportunity gap that exists. To remove barriers for fuller participation from all students regardless of background we must first accept and acknowledge this truth.

Our Commitment to Diversity Didn’t Just Begin…

In spite of the challenges that students (and their parents) sometimes face, I have witnessed the sincere efforts and generosity of others to ‘equal the playing field’, even if it’s just enough for a few more students to try and then to succeed. Policies have been re-written to open up opportunities for financially disadvantaged students – to lessen the chance that finances will be a barrier.  I’ve witnessed students take things into their own hands to run successful fundraising campaigns – not only for themselves, but for their peers. Since working in dance education, I have seen countless school and studio owners offer dance scholarships, work-study, or trade of services from parents to pay for tuition. Just as important, I see sincere efforts by industry leaders and teachers affecting important policy and organizational cultural changes to address historic inequities. They  are making a real difference in how we embrace our diversity – not only opening up opportunities for students to participate in training programs, but just as importantly in the very way we incorporate diverse experiences and bodies into our studio classrooms, companies, and organizational staffing and leadership. But there’s no mistaking the need for even more effort from all of us.

As an organization, we are committed to doing even more. Although Francisco Gella Dance Works has been offering scholarships to students since we first launched our intensives and workshops in 2015, this year we have formalized our program to increase its impact on students, and on dance training and education more broadly.

Official Dance Scholarship Launches…

The Dance Scholarship Program, announced recently in November, is based on the belief that when given an opportunity to learn and do what they love, every student with motivation can succeed. Therefore every student deserves at least one chance to try. But we are fully aware that not every student has the financial means or support to participate in training and educational dance programs that will give them access to the information they need in pursuit of their goals. To level the playing field of opportunity and to identify talent, FGDW offers financial support through full and partial tuition scholarships to eligible applicants for all of its intensives and workshops.

Too often, only students who already attend intensives and conventions, and who can afford to be ‘seen’ and recognized are the ones to benefit from the very opportunities that propel dancers into the best schools, colleges, and jobs. The FGDW Dance Scholarship Equity Program is an effort to decrease the likelihood that inherent bias will keep any talented and hard-working student from accessing needed resources to achieve what is possible for themselves.

To achieve our organizational goals of access to opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds and experiences, the scholarship program is an inclusive and open process. This allows our faculty and staff to identify students who may otherwise be overlooked. Applications are evaluated equally on both merit (achievement and potential for success) and demonstrated financial need.

In Diversity, We Expand and Embrace our Dance Future With You…

The Francisco Gella Dance Works team is so excited about our new Dance Scholarship initiative! We know that talent can be found everywhere if we are willing to look for it, invest in it, and embrace the diversity inherent in that talent. In all of our programs, we teach students to accept their own uniqueness. Our students learn that their artistic voice is powerful only if we can feel and see their honesty and authenticity reflected in their storytelling.  So as we expand opportunities and make progress to be far more inclusive within our own programs and to have an even bigger impact on the dance world itself, we are preparing for a future where the voices and the faces that make-up our classrooms and our companies are more complete, where dance can tell the human story and share the human experience in all of its fullness; a fullness that cannot be limited by race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or body type.