MFA in Dance Class of 2021
We celebrate the inaugural cohort of Duke’s MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis, a program dedicated to embodied knowledge and practice-led movement discourses.
Equipping the Imagination for Social Transformation
How far can we expand our imagination listening to faint voices of resistance? How do we move past the engrained relations between people and institutions?
We danced between established molds, confused ourselves along the way, and constructed propositions out of newly imagined bodies in thought. We stimulated the social imagination and shook assumptions we carried about the role of dance in society. We asked for dancing to take a central place in the conversation about how to move through the world, alone and together.
In 2021, we celebrate the members of our inaugural cohort, who have taken it upon themselves to ask “What can a body do?” concerning the socio-political challenges at hand. Answers did not come in superlatives such as more, higher, faster, sweatier. They arrived in complex, critical ways that interrogated entrenched assumptions surrounding our dance, choreography, and movement at large.
The first step is done. A new generation of artist-researchers is well prepared to make its mark. Affirming Black Lives, interrogating identities, gathering social movement, shaking established norms into an inclusive awareness, pointing to the fallacies of outmoded systems, and proposing the seeds for novel pedagogies—injecting new movement.
Of course, COVID-19 seriously affected the program and many of our plans. The impressive resilience of the students and faculty allowed creativity to prosper, even admit adversity. Working with these artists has been a time of wonder and growth, and I am grateful to have served as the inaugural director of this extraordinary graduate program.
I would like to especially acknowledge the work of my colleagues Thomas F. DeFrantz, Barbara Dickinson, Keval Kaur Khalsa, Purnima Shah, Andrea E. Woods Valdés, Ava LaVonne Vinesett, Tyler Walters, and Sarah Wilbur—as well as Dean Valerie Ashby; John Klingensmith, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Duke’s Graduate School; Brittany Kelly, MFA co-ordinator; and the many unnamed individuals who were instrumental in establishing this unique program at Duke University.
Director, MFA in Dance
Professor of the Practice of Dance
Alyah Baker: “Quare Dance”
Alyah Baker is a dance artist and scholar working at the intersection of art and embodied activism. Her thesis project, “Quare Dance: Fashioning a Black, Queer, Fem(me)inist Aesthetic in Ballet,” examines the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality in ballet through the lens of Black Queer Women.
Courtney Crumpler: Organizing As an Embodied Practice
Courtney Crumpler is a movement artist, organizer, researcher, and translator working between Brazil and the United States. Her thesis investigates the roles of embodied knowledge and experience in political protest, organizing, and education.
Juliet Irving: I Am. We Are.
Juliet Irving is a trans-disciplinary movement artist and graphic designer who creates interactive and immersive experiences that emphasize modes of embodiment. Her thesis, I Am. We Are., is a series of immersive, pop-up performance installations situated in forested sites on Duke campus that activate new worlds and ways of being for Black femme to exist within.
Courtney Liu: “Body Image, Ballet Pedagogy, & Flow/Yu”
Courtney Kristen Liu is a choreographer, teaching artist and performer. Building on a foundation of progressive, feminist and critical pedagogy, her thesis project brings relevant literature into a toolkit for ballet educators with an aim to reduce self-objectification in classrooms.
Ayan Felix: Dance Performance As a Social Movement
Ayan Felix is an MFA in Dance student researching how physical and social improvisational practices interact in spaces that affirm Blackness and gender fluidity. Their research relies on multidisciplinary collaboration to choreograph worlds that blur the line of audience-participant, performance-practice and artist-organizer.
Naomi “Namajala” Milagros Washington Roque: “Orisha Dance”
Namajala Naomi Milagros Washington Roque is an artist and educator dedicated to learning, integrating, embodying and sharing the medicines of Afro-Atlantic diaspora movement and music through a spiritual framework. Her outward-facing thesis project is a fête, a celebration of selected deities that is open to the public.
Ife Michelle Presswood: “Through Her Looking Glass”
Ife Michelle Presswood is a practicing choreographer and performance artist. Her thesis project is the curation of a documentary dance film titled “Through Her Looking Glass: Emancipation of the Black Muse,” which follows Ife and her dance company, Ife Michelle Dance.