Ballet AZ Blog

The Personal is Political – by Hannah Cooper

The personal is political.

I’m 4 and the youngest of 5 kids. My parents, a young couple in a new city who are hustling to make ends meet, take us to every free event they can find including the Dia de los Muertos festival at the Heard Museum. I’m transfixed by the beauty of the painted faces and dancing. I learn that art is magic.

I’m 7 and my mom gets free tickets to Ballet Arizona’s performance of The Nutcracker for our entire family through a program from her employer. I’m completely immersed in the performance. I’m terrified of the cannons and mice, but enthralled by the swirling snowflakes. I learn that art is transformative and can transport me to a place I never imagined.

I’m 9 and I write and deliver a speech about Georgia O’Keefe, her art, its impact, and how she inspired me to be an artist when I grow up. I learn that being able to talk about art is a skill that others value.

Hannah Cooper, presenting a sculpted pot at an art competition in 2002
Hannah Cooper, presenting a sculpted pot at an art competition in 2002

I’m 12 and I’m admitted into an after school program of the most talented artists in the 6th grade. I’m chosen for my ability to work with 3-dimensional objects. I excel in sculpture, carving, and mosaic. I learn to have confidence in my own talents, even though they are different than others.

I’m 13 and I grow 6 inches and gain 30 pounds over one summer. I change from a skinny kid, to an ungainly and curvy young woman. I continue with my childhood ballet classes. I learn that focusing on myself and my movement helps me calm my self-doubting inner voice.

I’m 14 and painfully shy. I spend hours in silence at school, unable to speak. I join an after school theatre program. I learn how to budget money, design sets, and manage others. I learn to take responsibility for my own mistakes and successes. There, I find my voice and learn to translate the term “being bossy” into “having leadership potential”.

I’m 16 and I see Ballet Arizona’s Balanchine program. I learn that dance is not only physical, but cerebral. I learn to find the deeper, truer meaning.

Hannah Cooper, dressed for the 60’s themed day of the 2007 Thespian Conference
Hannah Cooper, dressed for the 60’s themed day of the 2007 Thespian Conference

I’m 19 and can’t decide whether I want to major in Dance, or a more lucrative profession. I see Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring on YouTube and a fire lights within me. I learn that art can allow me to express and communicate opinions and feelings that are so often indescribable and thus, get pushed away.

I’m 23 and I graduate with a degree in dance from ASU. I find a job at Ballet Arizona and for three years, work my way up through the organization, taking on more responsibility and sponging up new knowledge. I learn the business side of supporting the arts. I learn that I can grow and flourish in this company.

I’m 24 and dealing with depression for the first time in my life. I swing between being a witty, energetic ball of energy, to a cruel and harsh creature who lashes out at those around her. I pick up painting for the first time and find that the manipulation of colors and space is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. I learn that art opens my heart and makes me softer and more reflective. I learn that I can track the fluctuations in my moods based on how much art I am creating and consuming.

I’m 27 and I accept the Marketing Manager position at Ballet Arizona. I manage a department that is responsible for bringing in approximately half of the money that it takes to keep this organization running. I learn that my history and the skills that I’ve accumulated through my experiences in the arts have helped to prepare me for this role. I learn that the arts will continue to be a teacher for me.

“The Things I Keep”, a solo created and performed by Hannah Cooper presented at Beta Dance Festival 2014 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Photo by Chris Patrick.
“The Things I Keep”, a solo created and performed by Hannah Cooper presented at Beta Dance Festival 2014 at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Photo by Chris Patrick.

The personal is political. Personal choices and experiences do not happen in a vacuum. They are shaped by the political and social environment in which they live. Additionally, they shape the narrative of future discussions, analysis, and actions. For this reason, I am personally appalled at the proposal to cut the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Because I have been so shaped by the arts programs to which I have been exposed, many of which were funded by the NEA, I am confounded and distressed that anyone would consider cutting the NEA’s funding. Of course, I recognize my bias because of my choice of profession. I am in a bubble surrounded by people who think the arts are valuable. I have been heartened by seeing friends send handwritten letters, call their representatives in support, and attend protests. But I search for other ways to prove to those who hold power that the arts are valuable.

What else can we do? Remember that your personal choices are political. The election may be over, but every dollar you spend is a vote cast in favor of the company producing the product you are consuming. So I humbly ask you, to please vote for the arts with your dollars. Go to the ballet and symphony and opera and museums. Take a class at your local arts center. Buy a ticket or make a donation toward a small arts organization that is just getting on its feet. Donate to something that feeds your passions. Prove that you will not stand by and let these programs suffer and die. The arts are valuable. They enhance the community and shape, redirect, and change lives at all ages. Cast your vote for the arts by engaging and supporting with our organization and others.

Remember that your personal choices are political.

Hannah Cooper – Ballet Arizona’s Marketing Manager
Hannah Cooper – Ballet Arizona’s Marketing Manager

About Hannah Cooper: Hannah Cooper is the Marketing Manager for Ballet Arizona and the cofounder of Dirty Buckle Dance, a collaborative dance theatre company based in Phoenix, Arizona. Hannah graduated with her BFA in dance from ASU in 2013 where she studied various aspects of dance including, choreography, performance, pedagogy, and ethics as well as dance styles ranging from ballet and modern to urban movement forms. As part of Dirty Buckle Dance, Hannah, along with her artistic partner, Michaela Konzal, creates collaborative dance theatre works. They have presented dances at First Fridays, ARTELPHX, Beta Dance Festival, Breaking Ground Dance Festival, and Austin Dance Festival, as well as completed a 6 month long residency with nueBOX that culminated in an evening length performance. Hannah is fueled by her passion for all aspects of the arts and plans to continue to make and support art and artists in the Greater Phoenix area.

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