MFA in Dance Class of 2022

Movement that Changes the World

The dance research actions of MFA/EIP candidates Lee Edwards (they/them) and Amari Jones (she/her) powerfully exemplify dance’s capacity to expose the limits of language, laws and curricula, and the insidiousness of white supremacist oppression at Duke, in Durham, and beyond. Their respective interventions mobilize the political pursuit of reimagining, remembering, and rearticulating the power and value of Black lives. While their ideological agendas are clearly aligned, their situated experiences strongly differed. And the results of their advanced dance study varied dramatically.

Lee introduced a method of embodied research that they call Lettering, defined as a collective practice of Black fabulation (following Saidiya Hartman) using both physical and verbal inscription as instruments to combat the trenchant violence against Black folks that white supremacy feeds upon for its survival. Visitors to Lee’s installation in the Murthy Agora Studio in the Rubenstein Arts Center were engulfed in video, sound, image, and (re)written textual fragments that conceptualized Black storytelling as a spiraling process of constant revisionism.

Importantly, witnesses were invited to contribute letters to the artist on small paper fragments upon exiting the studio. This invitation insured that those ideas generated would continue to circulate beyond this multi-media, multi-disciplinary work. Lee’s research theorizes Black history and Black corporeality as fundamentally non-linear phenomena. Their interdisciplinary embodied praxis powerfully recognizes where written and spoken histories fail.

Amari’s equally ambitious thesis project resulted in the design and implementation of an improvisational somatic ritual called Embodied Resonance, whereby self-selecting Black girls, women, and femme-identifying participants shared movement and dialogue about their experience of structural racism and desubjectification within the US education system. Amari framed the practice of improvising movement around these issues as a reparative approach to somatic exploration, whereby dancers generate emergent sensations dancing to podcasts and to Black-created musical content. Amari remains deeply invested in this energetic transfer, which she terms transduction, as a fundamentally embodied process of turning existing energy into new forms.

To celebrate the new beginnings shaped by these ritualized sessions, Amari concluded her thesis explorations with a marade—part protest march, part celebratory parade—to East Campus, where her workshop participants enacted Embodied Resonance in public to challenge institutional policies that continue to silence, ignore, and censor Black voices at Duke. While Amari’s important workshop methodology holds enormous promise in the context of elite higher education, her ambition is to tailor it to K-12 public educational settings, a thrilling and logical next step. Stepping together toward energetic and structural change, Amari’s marade marked an inspiring beginning of this artist’s lifelong journey to amplify and celebrate Black Women, Femmes, and Girls.

The artistic contributions of Lee Edwards and Amari Jones manifest the question that we continue to ask of our MFA/EIP artist-students: what about your own embodied history, values, and experiences makes you uniquely equipped to contribute, through dance, to more nuanced understandings of the body’s capacity to make meaning and change in the world? It has been my pleasure and honor to participate in the growth and development of these two artists. And it is my hope to remain in their orbit as they take their integral interdisciplinary work forward. On behalf of Duke Dance Faculty and staff, we celebrate you. We champion you. Our energy and support are with you, always.

– Sarah Wilbur

Director of Graduate Studies, MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis
Assistant Professor of the Practice in Dance
Duke University