Summary of 2015-16 Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies

A summary of the 2015-16 Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies appears in the Department of Theater and Performance Studies’ annual newsletter. It can be viewed on Scribd here. The text appears below.

Thank you to all of the inspiring scholars and artists who came to Stanford to share their work, and to all of those who showed up to support it and engage with it.

Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies: Dance, Racism, and Resistance

By Rachel Carrico

 As the 2015-16 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies in/and the Humanities, I assumed the responsibility of organizing the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies. Last year, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Joanna Dee Das inaugurated this guest speaker series in the Dance Division. Building on that strong foundation, and with additional support from Stanford’s Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, I organized this year’s series around the theme of “Dance, Racism, and Resistance.” The meetings provided thoughtful spaces to engage with research at the intersection of critical race studies and dance studies. I invited scholars and choreographers working in the Bay Area and beyond to share new work and to reflect upon seldom-told histories with students and faculty from Stanford and nearby institutions, and with interested listeners from Stanford’s surrounding communities.

In January, Imani Kai Johnson, Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of California-Riverside, delivered a lecture entitled “The Global Cypher? Black Sociality, Soulful Allies, and a Truly Global Culture.” Dr. Johnson shared new work that she is developing for her book manuscript, Dark Matter in B-Boying Cyphers. By showing video of the 2006 “Battle of the Year” in Germany, Johnson showed us how b-boying takes shape in global arenas, and by playing audio clips of her interview with prominent b-girl Rockafella, she revealed the racial, national, and gendered tensions that exist amongst breakers who both celebrate and feel anxious about b-boying’s global spread. In this new writing, Johnson suggested that when Africanist aesthetics motivate dancing in the cypher—when dancers respond to rhythm, connect to the collective, and build on repetitions—black social values persist even when non-black people break.

Clare Croft, Assistant Professor of Dance at the University of Michigan, visited the Colloquium in February to talk about her recently published book, Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreographers in Cultural Exchange (Oxford 2015). Croft reflected on her process of researching the book both in archives and through interviews. She suggested how the dance scholar can (and often should) center race in research agendas, especially when racism is not flagrant. Speaking of the “mundaneness” of bureaucracies like the State Department, Croft teased out the ways in which racism lives in arts policy and impacts dancers’ daily practices. She recounted moments when her research uncovered bureaucratic biases— in State Department notes on Katherine Dunham, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham—and instances of everyday oppression—when interviewing Arthur Mitchell. Croft concluded with a sneak peek into the ways that she is centering race in her new research on dance critic and lesbian activist Jill Johnston.

The month of March featured two guests. On March 1, Latanya d. Tigner, a choreographer with the Oakland-based Dimensions Dance Theater (DDT), discussed the company’s “Legacy of Staged Protest.” Since 1973, DDT has been making dances that emerge from socially and politically charged events throughout the African Diaspora. Tigner’s presentation allowed us to view rarely seen footage of DDT’s early works—in fact, we dusted off the VCR for the occasion! Tigner showed and discussed excerpts from To March (1992), which highlights women’s experiences in the Civil Rights Movement, and Project Panther: Phase I (1996), which honors the Black Panther’s activism in Oakland. Tigner discussed the company’s current process to recreate Project Panther in honor of the Panthers’ forty-year anniversary. Finally, we saw a piece of DDT’s recent work, The Town on Notice (2015), which looks at Oakland’s gentrification. In a mere ninety minutes, Tigner provided an inspirational model for dance and social change by sharing the ways in which DDT has been combating racism through dance in the Bay Area for more than forty years.

Later in the month, the Colloquium welcomed Anthea Kraut, a distinguished scholar in the field of dance, to share material from her hot-off-the-presses book, Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property in American Dance (Oxford 2016). Kraut, an Associate Professor and Chair of the Dance Department at the University of California-Riverside, began her talk where her book ends: with Beyoncé Knowles’ 2011 music video, “Countdown.” From Beyoncé to blackface minstrel performer Johnny Hudgins to Gypsy chorus girl Faith Danes, Kraut traced the history of efforts to assert copyright protection for choreography in the United States and teased apart their raced and gendered politics. While Kraut confessed that she can make no definitive recommendations for revising copyright laws, she can firmly stand behind Beyoncé for flipping the script that has long authorized white artists to take from non-white and “high art” to borrow from “low.”

Umi Vaughan closed out this year’s Colloquium with a multimedia performance-lecture in the Prosser Theater entitled “Drum Talk, Rebel Dance.” Vaughan, an anthropologist at Cal State Monterey Bay and an accomplished drummer, dancer and photographer, combined all of his talents to share his research into music and dance in the African Diaspora. Given Vaughan’s extensive anthropological research in Cuba, his presentation proved timely as we think about the role of dance in mediating the rapidly shifting contours of U.S.-Cuba relations.

The 2015-16 Colloquium built on the momentum generated last year to establish a “Dance Studies West” cohort. With the support of multiple centers across Stanford’s campus, and through collaborations with UC Berkeley’s Dance Studies Working Group, the Stanford Colloquium on Dance Studies continues to generate enthusiasm for the relevance of dance to the humanities and social sciences. As one undergraduate Stanford dancer expressed, “I am so incredibly thankful to be able to participate in this programming” because, for her, it made links between “physical movement and social movements, between race and the history of dance.”

 

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