How this Dance Content Creator is Challenging Systemic Racism

Like her sweeping technical dance style, her weekly video devotions to every aspect of the dancer’s career are powerful, wise, and fearless. As an entrepreneur and dance coach, she provides consistent, quality resources for fellow movers and makers. Perhaps most critically to our times, as a southern-raised Black woman finding her voice in a deeply biased industry, Gaylyn is using her experiences to educate and empower all of us, as we fight to uncover and dismantle systemic racism in the dance world.

The deaths of Black Americans like Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd, at the hands of unchecked racism and police brutality, sent shockwaves through a world already rocked by a global pandemic. Glued to our various media streams, we steadfastly became aware of the holes in our status quo systems. The widely publicized videos of such racially motivated deaths triggered massive protests across the globe. The Black Lives Matter movement gained unprecedented support in their call for judicial, financial, and educational systems that lift our underserved minorities, rather than oppress them.

Amid the shock and grief, many of us found ourselves saying: “What can I do?” The social activist co-founders of Black Lives Matter and many other strong, educated Black voices were ready with answers.

We can educate ourselves.
We can call and email political representatives, district attorney generals, and chiefs of police, demanding justice for innocent Black lives lost.
We can have important conversations with racist friends and family, however uncomfortable.
We can amplify the movement via safe, peaceful protest.
We can vote differently.
We can donate to accredited organizations who have been doing this work for a long time.
We can listen to, stand up for, and promote Black voices, Black-owned businesses, and Black-made art. 

In the midst of my own crucial shift into social activism, Gaylyn Lareese, who was already organically educating and lifting the Los Angeles dance community, swooped into my freshly altered view with tools upon tools for artists at every phase of growth and development.

Humbled by her own challenges and frustrations, Gaylyn is unafraid to tackle flaws in the professional dance system and champion the innate worth of every artist at every level of fame and success.

Gaylyn started consistently churning out Youtube videos back in September 2019, after dancing on tour with popular recording artist, Yuna. Feeling like the dance industry was missing “that practical friend” who made dance technique, audition advice, emotional support, and career guidance more accessible, Lareese pooled her vast knowledge of choreography, self care, business, auditions, emotional health, and vlogs to create something that could truly give back to her community. The result was an immediate flush of energy and purpose:

“I absolutely felt it, the second I was releasing videos and getting even the slightest amount of feedback, [whereas before] …my place in the industry wasn’t helping anybody see their fullest potential… I thought: we’re going to be waiting forever for directors to figure it out and people to get cast. The system isn’t for me, so I’m gonna do me.”

Gaylyn hails from Charleston, South Carolina, “a very racially distinctive setting, historically.” A dancer from the tender age of 3, and the only Black person in her ballet class from the age of 11, she rose to both inner and outer challenges, with the help of her very supportive parents and an Australian teacher: Mr. Robert Ivey. Mr. Ivey would eventually push Gaylyn to attend the renowned Dance Theater of Harlem. She nailed down a scholarship to the summer program, where she saw and worked with Black ballerinas for the first time.

Despite finding new inspiration at Dance Theatre of Harlem, three summers in the program couldn’t stop Gaylyn from falling out of love with ballet, and all its “micro-aggressions and toxicities”. When the beloved Mr. Ivey passed away in her sophomore year of high school, she took a break from dance altogether, creating space for her to grow into the inspired, unapologetic dance/business hybrid she is today. In her college dance program, she took on anatomy, kinesiology, and dance history with fresh appreciation. Her mission became to protect the art and the artist’s innate value and growth at all costs. She moved to LA after a summer full of classes, housed in the old Millennium pool house. “In LA you don’t have to be super skinny. Black girls can make it in LA,” she thought.

Although she was happy to be signed to a renowned agency, by the end of her second year in LA, Gaylyn felt frustratingly unsupported. “I felt I was being minimized, being spoken to like I was an idiot because I didn’t have an XYZ roster resume.” After a few “unfulfilling” gigs, and inspired by Patrice Washington’s method of building wealth through purpose, Gaylyn founded her multidisciplinary Youtube channel and her own business: Motion Prep, both dedicated to dancer autonomy and well being.

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Gaylyn’s Youtube channel reads like a treasure trove for both the experienced and uninitiated: it boasts 60+ quick-content videos (all under a year old) on everything from stretch and strength exercises and expansive choreography to entrepreneurship and outfit help. Each video is voiced with an ease and authentic openness. Choreography showcases and short exercises are beautifully lit and expertly relayed. Clean captions, meticulous music choices, links to further resources, and just real talk advice create an atmosphere of genuine mentorship and continued learning. Humbled by her own challenges and frustrations, Gaylyn is unafraid to tackle flaws in the professional dance system and champion the innate worth of every artist at every level of fame and success: “You’re valuable whether they say you’re valuable or not,” she explains. Topics like: “Dance Businesses We Need In 2020”, and “3 Things Every Dancer Should Know To Build A Career They Love” build on self awareness and empowerment. “10 Ways Dancers Can Spend Less Money In LA”, and “Creative Businesses & Taxes” promote better budgeting in an industry that demands a great deal but typically underpays. Dancers can load up on quick tips for snack prep, hygiene, audition confidence, and picking out the right pair of heels. Whether the subject is vision boards or sweat-proof dance makeup, Gaylyn is grounded, optimistic, and sincere.

Not sure where to start on your journey through Gaylyn’s wealth of dance coach knowledge? I recommend one of paramount importance, as we navigate the most widespread reexamining of systemic racism and implicit bias to date: “Being An Anti-Racist Dancer: 5 Easy Ways You Can Combat Racism In Your Dance Communities”. 

Gaylyn recorded herself on the subject of Anti-Racism for a while before she realized it was less about her image than her voice. At 11pm on June 6, she decided to make it an audio-only recording. That first week in June was a difficult one to process: George Floyd’s graphic death was fresh on our minds. Riots, mass arrests, and further brutality against protestors left public opinion uncertain and uneasy. Curfews were put in place all week in Los Angeles County.

Gaylyn is using her experiences to educate and empower all of us, as we fight to uncover and dismantle systemic racism in the dance world.

The work and words of Brené Brown and Ibram X. Kendi taught Gaylyn about “a level of shame associated with realizing you’re part of a system you didn’t even know you were part of.” Her goal with this video was to “empower people to step out of that shame, and into action.”

It was a tough and touchy subject, under attack by a great many people in fear mode. Lareese published the video and braced herself, sure she would lose at least 10 subscribers. She ended up gaining 20 subscribers from that video alone.

From my perspective, Gaylyn’s exceptional discipline and commitment to her own vision and authenticity primed the start of her anti-racism conversation, for maximum empathy and absorption by new and eager social activists. At just 25 years old, she is laying the groundwork for women, people of color, and allies of equality to better our true selves. 

Sifting through her beautifully packaged nuggets of wisdom, I can’t help but think that she has given the dance world so much, and it’s a great time to give back. You too can help DancePlug lift up and spread the voice she has worked so hard to refine. Check out Motion Prep for excellent self care tools, business coaching, and access to her growing online community. Join the conversation on what we can all do to improve the industry and our place in it. Subscribe to Gaylyn’s Youtube channel, like and comment on your favorite videos, and request more of what you love. Perhaps together we can bust through the old system, keep each other inspired in difficult times, and create something that works for all of us, from the ground up. 

About the author

Lucia Joyce is a bicoastal dancer, actor and writer with 15 years experience in theatre, concert, and commercial dance. Lucia started out in the Canadian contemporary scene with Josh Beamish's MOVE: the company and the 605 Collective, before moving on to New York and Los Angeles. Favorite credits include: Sweet Charity choreographed by Kathleen Marshall, 42nd Street National Tour, commercials for Heineken/H&R Block, and iLuminate's full length off Broadway work: Artist of Light. Lucia is a new member and dance captain for the women-run theatre company: Beating of Wings, and can be seen in James Chiao's production of Tenor By Night this spring. Daily blog at luciajoyce.net/blog