Male student spreads diversity message dancing en pointe
SUNY is working to promote diversity on its campuses. Last fall a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy was announced. It works to allow students to voluntarily 'self-identify' their gender and sexual orientation. As WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley learned, one student is praising SUNY Buffalo State for allowing him to pursue his passion in dance.
A ballet II dance class is about to get under in the basement of Buffalo State's Rockwell Hall. A diverse group of dancers line up against ballet barre, listening to their teacher's instructions. In the very front is second year student Collin Kirdahy of Long Island.
"What is your message to people when they look at you and either question who you are and what you want to be in life?” asked Buckley. "Just be who you are. Accept yourself and accept others and live," answered Collin Kirdahy.
Dressed in a black leotard, Kirdahy wore some pink lipstick and eye makeup. From what we have learned Kirdahy is the first male student in the school's history to dance on pointe. Kirdahy has had a passion for ballet from about the age of six.
“Actually went and saw ‘Black Swan’, which was near and dear to my heart and I just remember after the show I was like ‘mom can I have that Ballerina Barbie. She said ‘absolutely’ – let’s get that,” explained Kirdahy. I’m home for the next three years playing with this Barbie. Ever since then I have looked at it as such an art and such a beautiful quality that a dancer could have.”
Kirdahy is a transfer student from SUNY Potsdam feeling the school wasn’t a 'suitable fit' for him.
“I feel like at Postdam, because of its rural aspect and how secluded it was, it was very closed-minded, whereas here, it’s a smaller New York City, so it’s more opened and more accepting and more allowing of differences,” said Kirdahy.
“How do you identify yourself?” asked Buckley. “I identify as a Gender Fluid male, I guess,” replied Kirdahy.
Gender Fluid is defined as someone who feels a mix of two genders. But it does not relate to sexual orientation.
Classmates are very accepting of Kirdahy. Latisha Butler is a junior from New York City. “The first thing I thought of when I’ve seen him on point was ‘wow’, said Butler. “And I’m a female. No one would question me being on pointe.”
Butler compliments her school's diversity. She was disappointed Kirdahy didn't feel comfortable in a rural area of the state. "Why are there still places that are so rural that feels that they cannot accept someone because they are different?” stated Butler.
Joy Guarino is Associate Professor in the Dance Theater Department. She teaches the ballet II class. “What has been so exciting for me about having Collin participate is that in ballet II we are stepping outside the traditional classical story-book ballets. We are exploring now what contemporary companies are doing,” noted Guario. “Our urban campus supports the diversity we have here."
Anthony Chase serves as Assistant Dean at Buff State's School of Arts and Humanities. “But he is the first one that ever asked,” responded Chase when asked about Collins pointe work.
Chase said he school supports diversity of every kind. “Some kinds of diversity you can see and sometimes you cannot. Looking at this class, I don’t know whose from Buffalo and whose from the farm country. Put yourself in places where you invite more success,” stated Chase.
Buffalo State junior Eddie Diaz is from New York City.
"This school is very diverse,” said Diaz. Diaz wants to follow Kirdahy's lead. “I told him so many times, ‘I just to ‘be you’. I want to be like that. I want to do that,” said Diaz. He’s doing what I want to do. He’s on pointe. He has his own strength and power.”
One-by-one the entire dance class voiced their acceptance. Molly Taylor from Kenmore noted dance is an art forum that should not be pressured to conform. “If no one had ever stepped away from certain standards, we would still all be in high heels doing court dances of old,” noted Taylor.
Students are inspired to see express himself. Catlin Lillis of Clarence has danced professionally with the Orlando ballet and witnessed some young men using pointe shoes to strengthen their dance work, but never before class with them on pointe. “He’s a leader and we need more of them,’ stated Lillis.
Kirdahy communicates regularly with the college's Gender and Sexuality Alliance, working to help promote gender neutral housing on campus.
“Honestly, the only downfall that I really do see within the SUNY system is we don’t have as many gender neutral portions of the school. We don’t have gender neutral housing we don’t have gender neutral bathrooms,” replied Kirdahy.
Student Evan Fraiser is proud to see her classmate break down barriers. “I love that Collin is here. He brings a great energy to the classroom and he makes everyone else excited about dancing. It’s very inspiration seeing him take certain things out of a box and expanding on it. It’s really great,” said Fraiser.
Kirdahy said he believes Buff State is an amazing college with many opportunities. He tells WBFO News it's his future hope to dance on cruise ships too explore the world and continue doing what he loves to do.
“What is your message to people when they look at you and either question who you are and what you want to be in life?” asked Buckley. "Just be who you are. Accept yourself and accept others and live,” answered Kirdahy.