A controversial performance by a visiting dance group has sparked concerns on campus about the line between provoking and inappropriate content at events.
On Feb. 23, as part of a Union Board and Allied Blacks for Liberty and Equality event, Full Effect Entertainment Theatrical Dance Company, or FEETDCo, was brought to Knox to perform. They performed several numbers, including a piece specifically for Black History Month.
One selection that was performed was the “Cell Block Tango” from the musical “Chicago.” Traditionally, the piece depicts a story of women in jail for killing their significant others, detailing why each of the six committed their respective murders. FEETDCo when performing switched the gender roles, making the six male instead of female.
This was cause for some concern among students. Sophomore Hadley Gephart had an emotional reaction to the performance and had to leave before the show was over.
“I was upset because it portrayed domestic violence against women and [I] thought that that was very explicit and very violent,” Gephart said. “I didn’t like the way that it was portrayed. It didn’t seem to have like a real provocative message. It was kind of echoing things that happen every day in the world, so I had a really huge problem with that. And I was very upset and had to leave.”
Dane Campbell, the director of FEETDCo, recognizing that the material may be considered problematic, gave a disclaimer before the performance saying that their organization did not condone domestic violence. Sophomore Dushawn Darling saw this as a sufficient disclosure.
“I have never watched ‘Chicago’ to its full length, but I have always known about the ‘Cell Block Tango,’” Darling said. “It was funny in the movie but it was deep, so I thought it was going to be exactly like that. But they were so much more comedic than the movie—like who gets choked for being on Twitter?”
“I understood afterwards and as a dancer why they changed it because they need six women,” Darling said. “Realistically, they didn’t have enough girls to play the roles, and as dancers, when you don’t have enough dancers, you have to find a way to reverse.”
Because of the concerns brought up regarding this performance, a forum will be held at the beginning of spring term to discuss the issues surrounding it. Gephart has been working with Dean of Students Deb Southern and the Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez to organize the forum.
“Basically, we’ll have a discussion with some panelists, professors, [Southern] and Tianna, just so we can talk about the issues that were brought up in the performance, domestic violence issues, and then how they relate to a wider spectrum of things in our society so we can all engage in that as a campus,” Gephart said.
This forum will take place within the first few weeks of spring term. Gephart hopes this will draw a larger crowd for the discussion when finals are not around the corner.
Darling, who was a part of the group of students who brought FEETDCo to Knox, also views the situation from a dancer’s perspective.
“As dancers we have to think at the last minute, so that was a professional decision made, and I feel like on our part we’re making them feel like dum-dums because they had to make a decision to accommodate their dancers and what their company’s doing and they didn’t take the time out to think about that before the concerns were raised,” Darling said. “And I understand the concerns, but before they were raised, you have to think about the whole situation before you just flat out say something is wrong or unjust.”