Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Dear America - Again

Dear America,

It seems like every time you have an election I write one of these posts - mostly for my own edification - and get a few things off my chest. Usually I write them after the fact and vent my spleen about the terrible decisions you've just made. I wrote one after both of Dubya's wins, and after you decided to hobble Obama by stacking Congress and the Senate against him.

This time it's different.

First, I'm writing ahead of time. Second, I'm not venting this time. This time I'm looking for information and for someone to explain what the hell is happening in your country.

From outside the US border we in the rest of the world peer in and gaze upon all you've accomplished; and you've accomplished great things. You put people onto the moon, you've been running an amazing Mars mission for years, and you've given the world some of the greatest scientific minds of a generation. You've created art, evolved sport (especially the extreme ones), and championed athletics. At your best you tried to give your fellows health care, and your fellow global citizens shelter and comfort. You even recognised same-sex marriage last year. Granted, you were a little late to the party on that one and some folks burned their invitation, but you did it.

Lately though, we've been looking at you with a little less awe, reverence, indifferent interest and with more uh... panicked fear(?) maybe(?). We've been watching you with the same morbid fascination that made us watch - and then rewind - Steve Buscemi getting fed into a wood chipper in Fargo.

I have read many descriptors of the 2016 US election, on the internet. Dumpster fire, train wreck are the two most quoted, and most apt. And what I can't help but wonder is, why you all are putting up with it. To be perfectly clear: When we are not recoiling in horror at the potential outcome of this election, we are laughing our asses off at you.

I fully accept the fact that Hilary Clinton has made some terrible decisions in her life; staying with Bill and the email server debacle chief among them. However, Hilary's transgressions pale in comparison to those of the withering, dysfunctional, Oompa Loompa whom you've placed so tantalisingly close to actual power.

Why is a man who violated US sanctions against Cuba in order to do illegal business there, only 6 points behind on the BBC poll today? Why has that story not stuck to him? How did he shake that off?

Why is Hilary's email server all of a sudden (and again) more important than Donald's treatment of 1/2 the population of the USA?

Why does nearly 1/2 of the voting public support a man who would create an island of your country, and base his domestic policy on the most overtly racist speech we've heard since Alabama in the '60s. Why does nearly 1/2 of your country support a television personality who treats anybody he sees as being "less than him" like crap. Why does nearly 1/2 your country not understand that Donald doesn't speak for them, doesn't see himself as one of them, and doesn't really represent their values, yet will stand behind him and vote for him.

I get it. This is an election where nobody is voting for the person they want. Nobody aside from the most ardent supporters, really believes that either Donald or Hilary should run the country. But, when one of those candidates is an actual terrible person... how is he polling so high?

He steals from his own charity. He doesn't pay his bills. He invited the gun-toting yahoos to assassinate his rival. He advocated for the torture of suspected terrorists families (which is an actual war crime by the way). He literally takes a crap on a gold toilet. He. Is. Not. One. Of. You.

If any other person behaved like this, most normal people wouldn't put up with it. They'd be in jail for fraud, or sexual assault, or crimes against humanity, or uttering threats, or threatening a federal official. They'd have been attacked by jealous husbands. They'd have been sued by the ACLU. But not Trump. This human stain has been hoisted up on a pedestal instead of on his own petard.

And we beyond your borders, we don't understand. We don't understand how - to paraphrase Hilary - you are willing to put a man who can be baited by tweet, so close to the nuclear button.

And so we recoil in horror. And, we laugh... and laugh, and laugh, and laugh. Not with you. At you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

It's an Art

Dance is art. 

Art is how we reflect humanity; its successes, its failures, its triumphs, its challenges. Art is how we express joy, sadness, pleasure, and pain. To have dance reduced to a competitive event is to demean the art form. Competitive dance has taken a centuries-old art form, comprising thousands of disciplines, and reduced it to a series of athletic moves and tricks to be perfected.

Competitive dance gives no value to continued struggle, or continued improvement - the end is all that matters. To have dance reduced to an awards-based athletic event is so counter-intuitive to why humanity evolved arts, that it may as well be removed from the arts completely. Call it something else. Call it the sport that it is. Sanction it under a governing sport body. Rename it.

A dancer is an artist. And artists will struggle for a lifetime in search of those small moments that give voice to their expressions of humanity. While professional artists do what they do in order to make a living, they also do it because the need to do it, the need to express themselves, burns deep inside.

Competition is not part of the artist's ethos. Painters don't paint because they want to triumph over other painters and win a trophy. Painters paint because they need to give people a window into new perspectives on life.

The same can be said of sculptors, authors, performance artists, and - pop music and the Hollywood system aside - singers, songwriters, and actors. The reward for dedicating your life to the arts is not found in trophies. It's found in the soul. It's knowing that you are showing people a way forward, and potentially opening up new ways of knowing.

Competitive dance can never achieve this.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Dance Funding... Wait, You're How Old?

It would be easier if she were a hockey player; or a gymnast, a volleyball player, a skier, a handball player, ringette goalie; hell even if she were a fencer, it would be easier. If she had already graduated high school, it would be easier.

She, is Ainsley. She is a 12-year-old ballet dancer. She is - in her father's totally unbiased eyes - a talented artist. She, is racking up expenses like nobody's business. She has been accepted to The School of Alberta Ballet for three summers. She dances at two studios, five days a week. She performs in The Nutcracker (and oh, to be Clara one day, she dreams) each year. She has been accepted to The Professional Development Division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School this summer.

This is a huge time and lifestyle commitment for a young girl chasing the dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. This has been a huge financial undertaking for us, her parents.

We are not complaining. She loves dance, she's apparently fairly good at it, and if she wanted to quit tomorrow, we would not stand in the way. It simply makes her happy to sweat, bleed, strain, stretch, bend, and inevitably injure herself, in the pursuit of artistic perfection. She is a perfectionist.

How then to support this dream? How to pay for ballet slippers and pointe shoes (don't ask the cost)? How to pay for expensive summer schools, year-round classes, transportation to auditions and master classes? How to front the cost of physiotherapy? How to tell her that no, a residency in New York won't happen, or that even if she's accepted, year-round school in Winnipeg just isn't in the cards because let's face it, Dad works for a non-profit?

For athletes and artists the answer often lies in the myriad granting programs out there. If you have a young athlete and need assistance with the costs associated with coaching, transportation, nutrition, therapy etc... there is help for you. Locally The Sutter Fund, The Red Deer Games Foundation, the Alberta Sports Recreation Parks and Wildlife Foundation, among others, all support young people in their pursuits. We were encouraged to apply through them. Dance - despite it's newly-found competitive nature - is not listed with the Alberta Sport Connection program and thus isn't eligible for support. The representative from The Red Deer Games Foundation was very nice and very sincere when he called to deliver the bad news.

On the artistic front, there are many corporate and public foundations that support The Arts. Musicians, visual artists, singers, songwriters, and dancers can all apply to be supported by these generous companies and foundations. There is a catch however. With the exception of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, the artist must be at least 18-years-old, graduated from highschool, and/or enrolled in a post-secondary fine arts program. For every other artist this is a legitimate qualification to make; save for dancers.

At the age of 12, Ainsley knows that her performance career could be over by the age of 25. Dance is hard on a body. Hips, knees, shoulders, ankles, and spines all wear out and require therapy or surgery at a young age. Dancers are being selected for elite training programs as young as 10 years old. To a person, they know that if they want to continue a career in dance, beyond their mid-20s, it will be as an instructor, studio owner, choreographer, or artistic director. They will likely not be performing beyond their mid to late 20s.

Contrast that with every other artistic pursuit. Musicians have performance careers that last often into their golden years. Painters, sculptors, and carvers can produce works until arthritis takes their dexterity. Writers can generate stories, songs, poetry, prose until their minds are robbed by senility. Dancers perform until their bodies give out at comparatively young ages.

Ainsley is remarkable in that she "pays to play" and never complains about it. She holds multiple bottle drives each year and has raised close to $5000 over the past three summers. She received unsolicited support from a local business with a total of nearly $500. To say that we are grateful to them is an understatement. We are exceedingly grateful to everybody who shared Ainsley's RWB GoFundMe site and even more so to those who donated to it. However, it seems to me that funding our dancer's dream of making a meaningful contribution to The Arts (deliberately in capitals) in Canada, and of becoming a performing dancer with a known company, shouldn't be your problem.

The Arts make a community whole. The Arts are our expression of life. They give voice and image and movement to our passions, our dreams, our fears, our past, and our future. The Arts are not about competition or getting rich. The Arts are about us being better.

That ideal needs funding.

For a young dancer the path to making us better doesn't begin at age 18, or after highschool, or when they begin their BFA. By then, they have often studied with some of the best in the world. They have already achieved milestones that are yet to come to other artists. By the time they are eligible for the majority of funding opportunities, young dancers are already looking at the back 1/2 of their performance careers.

As I said. I am not complaining about costs here. Ainsley's instructors and their studios, artistic directors and performances have been worth every dollar that we as a family have invested. Miss Christine Slaymaker, Miss Kirsten Kowalchuck, Miss Tania Strader, and the too-many-to-mention dancers and instructors at Dance Magic in Red Deer, at The Penhold School of Dance, at Alberta Ballet, and on The Nutcracker team have all made such an incredible impact on Ainsley. They've been her teachers, and her mentors.

I am absolutely not looking for sympathy or a hand out. I'm just pointing out, that if she played hockey, or baseball... this would be easier.

At the very least, while I loathe the idea of competitive dance, having it listed with Alberta Sport Connection might open up some other funding, for other dancers in the future.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Evacuee vs Refugee?

Just a quick note to every single person I’ve seen on Facebook in the last few days, who decided to compare the Fort McMurray tragedy to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Please. Just. Stop. It.

Look, I get it. You hate Justin Trudeau and you're looking for a reason to make the Liberals look bad, and that you think he's a #traitor while you"re a #albertahero and a #realalbertan. Please, just shut your mouth and do even the slightest amount of research - from an actual news source and not The Rebel - before spouting your racist garbage. 

Here are the actual facts. I got them from Global News, the CBC, and from the Federal Government's Global Affairs website. They are, as they say, direct from the horses' mouths. 
  • The Federal Government has committed to match, dollar-for-dollar, all donations to the Canadian Red Cross; with no spending limit. As of 1:30 this afternoon there had been $30 Million donated to the Red Cross, so $60 Million raised in the first few hours. So, about $690 for every single evacuee. There are also the costs associated with sending in the military to assist, to pay the public service employees who will process claims and provide assistance. Those costs will be unbudgeted but will be covered by the government.
  •  A lot of Fort McMurray residents –especially home owners - will likely have insurance to cover their losses. More to the point, they will be able to go home and rebuild. There will also likely be Federal and Provincial disaster relief once the dust has settled.
  • The Feds are absolutely not spending $1.1 Billion on the Syrians coming to Canada. The Federal government has committed to spending $1.1 billion¸ over the course of THREE YEARS, in the affected region as part of a funding package to help stabilise the greatest humanitarian crisis a generation. The resettlement of Syrian refugees to Canada makes up a very small portion of that funding.
  • $1.1 Billion, divided amongst the 6 MILLION displaced Syrians = $168 person; which theoretically would have to last them three years.
  • Refugees will likely never be able to return to their home country, let alone their homes; homes which are just as destroyed as those in Ft Mac.
Please also keep in mind that while they have lost their homes and their possessions, the residents of Ft Mac will be able to return to gainful employment, getting paid equal or near to what they were making prior to the tragedy. Businesses will be rebuilt, oil workers will go back to their jobs, health care workers, teachers, etc... will all be needed again. Syrian refugees on the other hand, have fled their livelihood. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants, teachers, nurses, bakers, farmers, businesspeople, scientists are all now faced with the reality that many of their qualifications are not recognised in Canada, therefore they'll be trying to make a living - that will afford them a severely diminished quality of life compared to what they had pre-conflict - at Tim Hortons, 7/11, McDonalds etc.... all while you complain about foreigners taking Canadian jobs. 

Please, do not use the Ft Mac tragedy to fan the flames of racial intolerance. The refugee crisis and the Ft Mac tragedy are two completely separate issues, and the refugee crisis is affecting 68 times more people. Your real problem, is that you don’t want your tax dollars helping people with brown skin.