August 27, 2020
This statement has been updated since its original publication.

Last week, we emailed you all with a statement of our support for the Black Lives Matter movement and some brief thoughts on how anti-racism work intersects with our own traditions and communities. We think it's most important to listen and learn from Black voices right now. We also want to remain accountable to our community, and encourage all of us to do this work together.

In the past week, many of you asked what CDSS is specifically doing to combat racism in our work. We agree that it’s important to share what we’re doing with you! We also acknowledge that we don’t have much practice at sharing about our work while we’re in the middle of doing it. More often than not, we like to complete a project and then tell you about it all at once. But anti-racism work is ongoing and complex. It's really important for us all to talk about the journey we are undertaking. We don't want to do this work alone, and progress will be greater if we work together, share what we are learning, and challenge each other along the way. That is how we move forward together.

Here's a look at some of our ongoing work to enact our core value of Inclusivity and combat racism:

  • In February of this year, the Board initiated development of an inclusivity statement for CDSS. Staff members researched inclusivity and equity statements from organizations similar to ours, began drafting, and solicited feedback from select members of our community who could provide a variety of perspectives. Right now, we are incorporating that feedback and settling on a final version that we will share with our wider community. Staff has established a team to develop plans for implementing this statement throughout our programs and operations.

  • In April, we had our first equity training session for the full Board and Staff, and we are committed to continuing with additional sessions.

  • We are amplifying the work of Black traditional music and dance artists on our Facebook page. Send us a message there; we’d love to share your favorite artists, too!

  • This week, we are creating a new inclusivity section of the Resource Portal. This section will include links to articles, podcasts, videos, and other resources about the intersection of race and traditional dance and song. We plan to have the section live next week and will send more info then! (This section will also include resources about different intersections: gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, etc.) In the meantime, you can submit a resource to be included.

  • Recognizing that true change must include the whole community, CDSS Community Grant funds can now be used for equity and anti-racism training for local dance organizer teams. Priority will be given to CDSS Affiliates. Moving forward, we will expand this funding to other capacity-building efforts.

  • We are owning our history. Cecil Sharp’s work teaching English country dance and documenting songs and dances from people in Appalachia (1916-1918) inspired a group of Americans to create the organization that later became CDSS. Sharp was a passionate student of English and Anglo-American folk traditions who traveled to white mountain communities and collected music with ties to his native England. Sharp’s racist and anglo-centric worldview caused him to ignore and exclude traditions, including Black traditions, that he deemed less valuable. These actions set a false narrative of single-influence traditions that many song collectors and folk dance historians later adopted without question, and that was later reinforced and legitimized during the folk and dance revivals.1 This is just one example of how the full history of traditional music and dance has been obscured for many years. We are committed to elevating resources that represent a broader, more accurate understanding of traditional dance, music, and song on this continent.

  • We are open to feedback. The vast majority of our staff, Board, and community is white. We will mess up. We will listen. We will keep going. Thank you for being here with us.

Here are ways you can further this work in our communities:

  1. Commit to learning more! Most of us know a very whitewashed history of the traditions we participate in. There are loads of things to read, watch, and listen to that can help us see a more full picture of the ongoing history of traditional dance and song in North America. A selection of these resources is below, and more will be listed in our Resource Portal ASAP. We’d love to include your favorite resources on these topics! Submit those here.

  2. Listen to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people singing and playing a variety of American folk traditions. Buy their music!

  3. For Organizers: Publicly state your support of anti-racism work. Share anti-racism resources with your community. Organize equity training sessions for your board and volunteers. And remember that if you apply for a CDSS grant, we’ll help you pay for it!

  4. For Participants: Get involved! Find out if you can join your local organization’s board, or volunteer in another way to help your community engage in this work. And talk about the things you’re learning with the folks you sing and dance with!

For further reading and listening:

  1. 8 Ways to Become a Decolonizing Agent, from Decolonizing the Music Room
  2. Community and Connection, Rhiannon Giddens’s Keynote Address at IBMA 2017
  3. Sing, Don’t Shout—An Alternative Approach, from Crys Matthews
  4. Addressing Racism as a Dance Community, from Portland Intown Contra Dance
  5. Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics, by Phil Jamison

1 Filene, Benjamin. Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music. University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

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