Slim diversity within Kent Sate’s dance program

Jack Kopanski

Kent State University’s dance program holds only two African American students in the major – one male and one female.

Devan Hayes, a senior dance major, is the one African American female in the dance program. She has been dancing for almost 15 years, and has noticed a limited amount of diversity in this major.

“I’ve been dancing recreationally since about nine or ten, and pre-professionally since I was about 18,” Hayes said. “I guess it’s when I look at the demographic of the area, there aren’t many (black dance students). I’m from Twinsburg, only about 30 minutes away, and there weren’t many black students in my recreational class.”

A lack of diversity in the performing arts community is something that Hayes had curiosity about while at Kent.

“I’m writing a paper on the black body in dance,” Hayes said. “So I’m kind of discovering that, now I’m trying to figure it out. I’m not sure why it is.”

She continued talking about how the professional world of dance, outside of Kent, is also seeing a lack of diversity.

“I’d go from studio classes which were full (of diversity), then you go to the major and professional classes and they’re kind of diminished,” Hayes continued. “I’m not sure why in the professional world, I think it’s not something that’s pushed as much.”

One of Hayes’ dance instructors, Erin Smith, hypothesized that the lack of diversity among dance performance majors is due to the number of areas of dance offered, and coinciding interest from the black student’s interested in dance.

“I don’t know that modern dance is necessarily something that African American women are as interested in,” Smith said. “I’m not sure. (There are) a lot of other draws here. We do have African dance here, and we have hip-hop offered here. It could be (that) different genres are more popular.”

Smith said having diversity in the program is something she would like to see increase.

“In the past, we’ve had African American women go through the program and it’s been amazing,” Smith said. “I like the diversity, I would like to see more of that. Maybe it’s going out and drawing in, and making sure there is that diversity here.”

Aside from Hayse being the only African American female dance major on campus, she is known for her hard work and dedication towards her craft.

Smith talked about what it’s been like to work with Hayes in the past four years.

“It’s very rewarding watching dancers go from first year to final year, and the whole process they go through as dancers,” Smith said. “Progressing as dance artists and taking all those bad habits in the studio environment they were in, then coming to Kent and refining their craft. It’s amazing. Devan’s very dedicated. It’s very rewarding.”

Devan has also had a great impact on younger students that are new to the dance program. Freshman dance studies major, Meghan Matter, talked about entering her first semester at Kent and working with Hayes.

“I was in a piece with Devan my first semester, and it was amazing watching her dance,” Matter said. “I love watching her dance. It’s more of an eye-opener and you get to learn how they dance and you get to develop your style and take some of their style and add it to your own. That’s what I’ve done over this semester because I was in her piece that she choreographed as well. So I’ve worked with her a lot through my first year.”

Hayes is not only a student of Smith’s in the class, but has also choreographed routines in the class. While her concentration is in performance, she also mentioned her desire to continue choreographing beyond Kent State.

“I really want to choreograph,” Hayes said. “Grow as a creative being. I think sometimes when you’re performing other people’s work, you can’t do what you want to do as much, so I want to choreograph myself eventually.”

A big decision made by fashion mogul Christian Louboutin to introduce different shades of “nude” to his “Nude Collection,” in March, is something that would affect students such as Hayes, and others who have different skin tones outside of the generic peach colored “nude.”

“I think with what Louboutin’s doing with the nude shoes is really interesting because there’s a lot of things that don’t match,” Hayes said. “I know me personally, I’m a very under-toned person, so I have yellow undertones, while some people have red undertones. When it comes to pigmented skin, I think any skin has undertones.”

However, dance shoes are not the only thing Hayes struggles finding to match her skin tone.

“For me it’s really hard for me to find things from foundation, to stockings, to the proper nudes, the proper nude lipstick, and nude leotards,” Hayes said. “Stuff like that generally doesn’t match. So I think it’s a really good project for them to undergo, because I even saw in some of it that there were yellow undertones, and there were red undertones, so they’re able to match everyone’s skin.”

Hayes continued by saying that not all nudes are the same.

“When you say nude, everyone has a nude,” Hayes said. “It’s just another subliminal equality message that we all should have a nude.”

While Kent has yet to implement any of these types of new “nudes,” Smith says it is definitely something she hopes to incorporate in her personal studio.

“I personally have a studio, and I have several African American women and anything that will make them feel better and have more confidence, I’m all for it,” Smith said. “You need to have a shoe that blends with your skin tone because it gives you that long uncut line so it’s not cutting off the line, it’s extending it. There’s so many different colors, shapes, and sizes in dance, we have to embrace that.”

Hayes also says that Kent State is on the right track as far as diversity and integration.

“I think Kent is getting on a forward path of integration,” Hayes said. “We’re kind of becoming more integrated, we’re getting diverse faculty. Hopefully that will lead to the integration of the nude leotards, because there will be more dancers that will be like ‘Hey, I need this color not that color. I need yellow color not a khaki color because it just doesn’t look right.’ So I think with more coming, that it will bring up that topic in a little bit.”

Jack Kopanski is the performing arts reporter, contact him at [email protected]