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Junior players fight for racial equality through fashion dreams

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Years before the hashtag #StopAsianHate was created to raise awareness of the rise in violence against Asian Americans, Rosaura Cruz was already looking for ways to partner with Asians in the Dallas community and around the world.

In 2019, Cruz developed a fashion show, Discover Runway Dreams, with Mopai-China Dreams, a for-profit talent agency that works with young people in China. Cruz is the executive director of Junior Players, which offers arts programs to young people in North Texas.

The organization put on the first show before COVID-19 took a long hiatus from the project. Now they’re gearing up for their second series of Discover Runway Dreams, which will run for two days starting April 7. This year’s show isn’t all about fashion and flashing lights.

Cruz says the event will focus on racial inequalities, barriers to social justice and the national climate. They have found a local partner in the Crow Collection of Asian Art and will use eco-friendly and sustainable fashion from three local designers.

Junior players are the oldest arts of youth education in Dallas, and reaching the historically marginalized communities of North Texas is an important – if not the most important – part of their mission.

A show like Discover Runway Dreams was a natural addition to their schedule.

“With this show, the idea was a representation from a casting point of view,” says Cruz. “We want to make sure that we give everyone who wants to participate the chance to audition. We really had to make sure we included all North Texas zip codes, for all ages, and all gender identifications, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We have taken all of this into consideration to create a diverse set for our production.

But what makes Discover Runway Dreams more than just a show with a topical theme is the participation of the students and their contribution to the production itself.

“I was like, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a fashion show where we heard students’ thoughts on their different ecosystems, and then the fashion lines would be notified,” says Cruz.

How is it possible? Through many, many conversations.

“The students come from all these different socio-economic backgrounds and they come together and have these conversations,” says Cruz. “Our models are ages 5 to 17 and they sat in a room and shared their thoughts on social justice and racial barriers, immigration and refugees from different countries, what it is like to have lighter or darker skin within an ethnic group. We have so much demographics in this particular cast. It is really beautiful to see.

When looking for a director, Cruz immediately thought of Kristin Colaneri, whose background in fashion, makeup and theater took her to New York and return, and who was deeply rooted in the art scene. from Dallas since. Colaneri’s overall qualifications as an International Baccalaureate teacher made him a natural candidate for this role.

Although fashion is an essential part of the production, Colaneri understood Cruz’s vision of building a production that was about creating conversation.

“Art is always born out of the intensity of what’s going on in a larger society,” says Colaneri.

The political climate gave Colaneri a lot of material.

The use of “natural materials and get away from fast fashion,” as Colaneri puts it, is also a staple of the show.

The Junior Players have teamed up with three local BIPOC designers for the fashion lines: Cat Dillon, Tiffany Walker and Erica LeFlore.

Colaneri took notes from the class to the designers, who were each tasked with creating a themed fashion line that incorporated the students’ thoughts. On the night of the show, attendees will watch video clips from each of the designers that provide insight into their design process.

The fashion show will require social distancing for members of the public and the use of a face mask at all times. (Yes, the mannequins will wear face masks while walking the runway.) They will also use a high efficiency HVAC system.

Cruz invited representatives from the Campbell agency and the Kim Dawson agency to attend in the hopes that their next top model paraded on the runway.

“The goal is for these agencies to come to the junior players and see role models they want to work with and give representation,” says Cruz. “They are young aspiring models, so we train them with technique, technique, technique. They could now walk into an arts agency and audition and be ahead of the game.

“We teach them how to work with reputable talent agencies, with environmentally friendly fashion and viable pathways within the industry.”

Discover Runway Dreams is the only youth fashion show in Dallas, and Cruz hopes it becomes a staple of the Dallas arts scene.

“My goal is for you to hear Discover Runway Dreams, and it’s like New York Fashion Week,” she says. “On a smaller scale, but we’ll get there eventually.”

Discover Runway Dreams will take place at 7:30 p.m. April 7-9 at On The Levee. Tickets cost $ 50 for a coffee table that seats four, $ 15 for an individual general admission seat, and $ 10 for an individual seat for students / seniors. Go to juniorplayers.org/tickets for more information.

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