Spelman College’s newly formed Department of Dance Performance and Choreography has chosen a unique approach to teaching the next generation of dancers, choreographers and change makers by accentuating Black feminist theory. As a result of integrating the works of notable Black feminist writers and activists such as bell hooks and Audre Lorde throughout the curriculum, the department is cultivating freethinkers and intelligent movers interested in becoming influential creators, writers, historians, educators and scholars within the evolving field of dance.
As women who have explored the Black female experience, the writings of hooks and Lorde are dissected, analyzed and interpreted through movement. “We emphasize Black feminist theory because we want our students to be well informed about their identities and have an anchor about who they are as women of the African Diaspora,” said T. Lang, chair of the department and associate professor. “It is our hope [as faculty] that our students craft works that offer different perspectives and express the multiplicity of their stories.”
Lorde was the inspiration for an assignment Kibriya Carter, C’2018, completed for one of her choreography courses. In researching Lorde, Carter recalled the experience brought out her inner Black feminist. “The integration of Black feminism in the dance curriculum at Spelman has definitely served as nothing less than motivation,” said Carter, who plans to attend graduate school and earn a Master of Fine Arts in performance and choreography.
“It has instilled a drive in me. Knowing what I know about Black feminism and what it means to be a woman of color in dance makes me feel obligated to continue the work of the pioneers who have paved the way for me and continue to create that avenue for Black dancers. I see and translate in a different light because of it, and I’m able to critically analyze different works,” she said.
Dance at Spelman also centers on viable career preparation. Students engage in critical and creative thinking through the medium of dance both in and out of the studio. Through collaborative practices, cultural discourse, and technological experimentation, students tell their own stories, investigating not just how, but why they dance. The curriculum not only emphasizes choreographic process from the perspective of Black feminist theories, but also with contemporary dance techniques and interdisciplinary practice.
Technological experimentation comes into play when students take their creative process to Spelman’s Innovation Lab to create set designs and costumes using 3D printing.
Acquiring a knowledge base in technology and critical and creative writing are two ways Spelman dance students are encouraged to explore their versatility as artists. Lang noted artists also have to be solid writers who can draft an artist statement for a grant, a work description for a performance program, or even an op-ed that expands on a new theory and thought in their field.
By layering courses and collaborating with other disciplines within the arts division, students delve into creating solo and group works, which are performed at the department’s new off-campus dance facility, The Dance Lab, in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta.
“We create, nurture and craft our students to be griots who will generate spaces where they can work and be well prepared to discuss that work through the lens of a woman of color,” Lang said.
The department’s faculty include globally recognized working artists who mentor and guide students through scholarship, artistic production and entrepreneurial strategies.
• T. Lang, M.F.A., artistic director of T. Lang Dance, chairs the department, teaches Advanced Choreographic Process and directs Spelman Dance Theater, the department’s performance ensemble and pre-professional training ground.
• Veta Goler, Ph.D., who teaches Black Presence in American Dance and Women in Dance: Sexism, Sexuality and Subversion, is a pioneering scholar in the intersecting fields of movement studies and contemplative meditative practices. She is on leave this semester
• Julie B. Johnson, Ph.D., is co-founding editor of The Dancer’s Citizen, an online open-access scholarly dance journal exploring the work of socially engaged dance artists, and teaches contemporary modern dance with a focus on techniques and practices of the African diaspora.
• Omelika Kuumba, C’81, founded and directs Giwayen Mata, an all-sistah dance, percussion and vocal ensemble based in Atlanta. What does she teach?
• Kathleen Wessel, M.A., who recently developed a course titled Critical Writing for Dance, is a dance writer with ArtsATL and a performing member and co-founder of the Atlanta-based contemporary company Staibdance.
• Victor Rojas teaches Dance for Camera, Commercial Hip-Hop, and Jazz Fundamentals and is currently on tour with Lady Gaga. He will return in the fall 2018.
In line with its mission to nurture choreography and research grounded in Black feminist thought, the department presents Studio Sessions, a movement-based series of free master classes as well as presentations of student and faculty work, which are open to the Atlanta University Center and the Atlanta community. The department’s lecture series, Inside the Dancer’s Studio, invites guest speakers from a variety of disciplines to foster dialogue and creative intersections.