Can Obama Dance His Way Out of This One?
Sergey Gordeev for Dance Europe Magazine (published in December 2008 issue)
The vivacious stewardess on the flight from Tokyo to New York seemed concerned. “Are you OK?” she asked quietly in a voice far from the usual familiarity of flight attendant chit-chat. “Never better,” I said and smiled through the tears that had been streaming down my face for the past half hour.
Maybe it was the champagne talking, but I had a reason to celebrate: it was the morning of November 5th in Tokyo (and the evening of November 4th in New York), and I had just watched Barack Obama’s acceptance speech as the President Elect of the United States.
And what a speech it was! Compared by rhetoricians to those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Presidents Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan, it did more than pour the balm of hope into the souls of millions of Americans worn out by 8 years of failed government and plummeting economy. It gave hope to the entire world that maybe – just maybe – the next leader of the world’s leading superpower will actually do something that would repair the almost-irreparable damage dealt to the image of the United States by its last President and his, uhm, foreign policy. Maybe we will finally end the senseless war in Iraq. Maybe we will stop isolating ourselves culturally, physically and politically from the entire world – and maybe, just maybe, we will stop acting like the world’s policeman and turn our gaze inward, where so many problems are desperately waiting to be resolved.
I saw the announcement in Tokyo’s Narita airport, waiting to go home after the annual Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals in Japan. I huddled with hundreds of Japanese travelers around a giant TV screen, which showed worldwide euphoria: in Sydney Australians cheered, in France champagne flowed, in Thailand, Manila, and Athens strangers hugged and kissed each other, children laughed happily in Indonesia, and in Kenya – the country where Obama’s father was born – the nation danced through the day that was announced a National Holiday. British Prime Minister Brown called Obama “a true friend of Britain,” and the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela wrote, “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”
So what does this worldwide euphoria mean to me – a Russian living in New York? To me, the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States, is as big as the Declaration of Independence. In fact, as a Russian raised on Stanislavski, favoring inner action over external action any time, I take it back: I think it’s bigger. This is America’s declaration of independence from ignorance, fear, prejudice, partisan affiliation, and the mentality that resulted in some of the darkest moments in its history. (It borders on impertinent to invoke any reminders that Obama’s victory comes only a few decades after the time when lynchings, separate drinking fountains, buses of Montgomery and hoses of Birmingham were not history lessons, but current news.)
What does Obama’s victory mean to me, now that the debates, showstopping monologues, CNN daily podcasts and epic ad campaigns are behind us? What does it personally mean to me as a musician, a writer, a dance publicist, a co-organizer of the world’s largest student ballet competition, or a Russian who has called America home for most of his life? Will Obama salvage the economy so I can finally take out a mortgage and buy the apartment I love and currently rent on Riverside Drive? Will he streamline the Gordian knot-like U.S. Visa Application system so that my mother can finally visit from Moscow? Will he “fix” the healthcare system so I can sleep at night without worrying or be able to deliver on his promise to reinvest in Arts Education, promote cultural diplomacy, increase funding for the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts), or address any other items in his platform statement on the arts?
Like most stunned Americans, I do not know – and may not know for a long time, especially where dance and the arts are concerned. We live in desperate times; and when times are desperate for the country, they are especially desperate for the arts – which in America (a country ranking among the lowest in government support for the arts), like Williams’ Blanche DuBois, “have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” When I really think about it, I get scared. But then I think of that moment on the Ellen DeGeneres show, when Michelle Obama playfully challenged her husband about his dance moves. Obama replied, “Michelle may be a better dancer than I am, but I’m convinced I am a better dancer than John McCain.” Well, let’s hope so. Let’s hope that with Obama in the front kick-line, the country can dance its way out of this one.
Sergey Gordeev is a New York-based writer, musician, publicist, and the Founding Director of PR and External Affairs for Youth America Grand Prix – world’s largest student ballet scholarship competition.