Quoting Alvin Ailey and racism in dance

Yinka Esi Graves performing flamenco as part of Dot Dot Dot

Yinka Esi Graves performing flamenco as part of Dot Dot Dot

A nasty bug over the Christmas-New Year period has meant I’m not well enough to go out (or even talk) for a good few weeks. Rather than mope around until I’m recovered I decided to put together a photo book which I’ll print as a gift for special friends and family.

It started out quite modestly, as 20 pages worth of images alongside some of my favourite quotes, in much the same way as I’ve posted here. However, using the square format you’ve seen here and on Instagram just didn’t work so I went back to the original full frame landscape shots, changing the original carefully chosen selection as appropriate and used them instead.

Cramping a good photo reduces its impact and I’m really into my negative space, so my 20 pages became 40. That wasn’t enough. This book is an important present.  Through images of dance and dancers I’m sharing my passion for dance and a particular view of the world. A book with an incomplete story wouldn’t be doing right by the recipients. It needs to work on several levels as well.

It’s now 60 pages long. I have two quotes to decide on and the book will be done. There are images of dance and dancers from 5 continents and as full a range of dance forms as will fit. Every individual quote resonates with the image it’s next to, builds on the underlying message and reinforces the overall tone of the book.

Every quote has been positive, generous and meaningful. That’s kind of the idea of the book but there’s one, by Alvin Ailey that keeps sticking; “If you live in the elite world of dance, you find yourself in a world rife with racism. Let’s face it.” I could use; “I am trying to show the world that we are all human beings and that color is not important. What is important is the quality of our work” or “Dance is for everybody. I believe that the dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people” but those quotes are very much weaker.

To do anything other than include it would be a lie by omission and would give my extended family a biased view. The first step in the fight against prejudice is recognising its existence. If only I could see its end any time soon.


I don’t know the lady in the photo very well and have not consulted with her about the contents of this post or about racism in general. However, a few years ago I was walking down the road in Seville with another black flamenco dancer and someone spat at us. I sincerely hope that things have improved there since.