This I Believe

Ellen - Kalamazoo, Michigan
Entered on January 4, 2007
Age Group: Under 18

Integrating Through the Arts

I believe in the power of the arts to diversify. People often separate themselves by race but also by culture; people with the same background, dialect and mannerisms group together. Cultural barriers form between people that are hard to break through. I believe the best way to break through these barriers is participation in the arts.

People keep themselves from interacting with other cultures because they fear being laughed at for being ignorant of that culture. Through my experiences I have found that if I make the effort to understand another persons culture they appreciate it and do not laugh or think my efforts are stupid.

The best way for me to take part in another culture has been dance. My first integration through dance was in eighth grade when I joined an after-school dance troupe. The troupe was mainly African-American girls and the style of dancing was primarily hip-hop. Previous to joining the troupe I had only danced ballet so hip-hop was uncomfortable for me. I was afraid I would be laughed at as a white, stiff, ballerina. Instead of laughing the other girls clapped when I did steps they did not think I would be able to do or even try to do.

After my experience with the dance troupe it has been easier for me to be outgoing and just dance without worrying about what others think. This year during football season the dance team was combined with the colorguard team I am a member of and again I had the opportunity to dance hip-hop. The merging of the teams pushed me to do something that I was uncomfortable doing, dancing and performing hip-hop, and in doing so created a way for me break through cultural barriers. Many of the girls on the team I am now close friends with but may never have met if the two teams were separate.

I am currently rehearsing for a recital in which I am dancing ballet and hip-hop pieces. I found it interesting that when I danced my ballet piece a little girl from the hip-hop group complimented me and was very interested in my dance and when I did my hip-hop piece one of the little girls I dance ballet with was impressed and curious about hip-hop. I have realized that people from other cultures are just as interested in my culture as I am theirs. When I make an effort to understand something in their culture frequently they make a return effort.

I have had some criticism for my efforts to understand and participate in other cultures. Most of those criticisms have come from people of my own culture. I have heard that I am trying to be something I am not or that I wish I were black, which is not true. People mistake my trying to appreciate and experience other cultures as me trying to give up my own culture and take up another one. Recently I have gotten tired of hearing white people cannot dance and people telling me I am white like I do not know. Being able to dance has nothing to do with skin color. These criticisms do not affect me because I know who I am and my experiences with other cultures have helped me understand who I am better.

America is a unique country because we experience cultural diversity. It is not true diversity however if we segregate ourselves and surround ourselves only with people from our own cultures. When a person makes an effort to understand and interact with other cultures such as I have done in dance live becomes more interesting and many worlds merge into one. I believe participating in the arts is the most affective way to integrate cultures.