Last night the Tony Awards opened with a fantastic DANCE performance. As a dance studies scholar, professor, professional dancer, and dance maker I was cheering from my living room the exquisite and thoughtful bodily writing and narrative choreographed by Karla Puno Garcia stunningly executed by Ariana DeBose and company. 

After the broadcast, my mind started reflecting on the evening and all of the speeches in support of the WGA. What will the impact of having unified support from all of the entertainment industry have on the negotiations regarding writers receiving fair wages, recognition, and compensation for their creative work? It was wonderful to witness the industry respect each others work so those of us who do not live in NY can catch a glimpse of Broadway through the Tony awards. But was it truly unscripted? How do we label the magnificent contributions of Ms. Garcia and her team? 

As a dance scholar and professional dancer, I cannot help but wonder, when will the overwhelming support for choreographers come from the entertainment industry? Choreographers write bodily text, they script phrases, and they construct space. Choreographers are truly part writer, part director, and part cinematographer. The writing they do is important to the entertainment industry, however the value of their contributions are not regarded in the same manner as those who write or direct. 

Are you aware that choreographer’s for Film and TV do NOT have a union? In theater they do belong to the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. The Tony Awards blur that distinction in that it is a theatrical event broadcast for one evening. The WGA agreed not to picket the Tony’s and the TV broadcast if it remained unscripted to support “their fellow workers on Broadway”. But, I ask again, was it truly unscripted? 

Why is bodily writing profoundly undervalued, unrecognized, and under supported? The Choreographer’s Guild established in 2022 is working towards unionization. Their website states:

 “This is the first ever Guild for choreographers and choreography team members working in TV, film, commercials, music videos, and new media!…Support our goals of unionization, recognition, and education. Show your support of increased economic security, credit and recognition, stronger intellectual property protection, and education.”

I believe the Tony’s were scripted. Not that anyone violated the WGA agreement, but because no one considered bodily writing and dance as text. They should have.  Just as a writer uses words, a choreographer uses movement vocabulary to communicate and imbue meaning. Karla Garcia gave us one of the most memorable and effective Tony openings that will go down in the history books. Her dance script elicited gasps, oozed sensuality, and built excitement for the evening to come. These were the intended reactions crafted by Karla Garcia. As an excellent movement author she shaped the opening using her expertise of how the human body communicates. 

The irony is not lost on me, without the writer’s strike, we would not have had the spectacular dance opening. Instead, Lin Manuel Miranda would have written something magnificent. I have so much respect and admiration for Mr. Miranda for very personal reasons. However, it is worth noting that we know he was meant to write the Tony’s opening this year. And, if there was not a writer’s strike, the news the day after would have mentioned his name and his contributions, rightfully so. I had to do a decent amount of sleuthing to find out who choreographed the opening. The first article I found misnamed Karla by misquoting Ms. Debose “That was very special to me to be able to open tonight with dance forward and music forward and the number choreographed by Carlo Garcia.”

I write this in support of the WGA, writers, artists, and creators everywhere. We are all always at risk of exploitation. As a person who has worn various hats in the dance community, watching the Tony’s and the entertainment industry simultaneously celebrate and undervalue the writing of dance hit hard, though it was not surprising. While we have come so far and there are so many people who have been diligently working to unite us for decades (THANK YOU CHOREOGRAPHER’S GUILD), there is still so much further to climb. Choreographers/Dance Writers deserve to be unionized and should receive solidarity across the entertainment industry to receive the economic stability and benefits enjoyed by unionized artists to honor their immense contributions to the entertainment economy and industry.


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