Alyah Baker MFA in Dance ‘21: “Quare Dance”

This is part of a series commemorating the inaugural cohort of Duke’s MFA in Dance. Learn more about the program and its 2021 graduates here.

Alyah Baker investigates queer Black ballet as an expansive landscape with fluid boundaries that caress and include—rather than assess and exclude—Black bodies that refuse the container of homonormative classical dance expectations.

Alyah’s work is brave and generous, spontaneous and joyful. She has developed a performative scholarly and visual method to value shared and polyvocal experiences that move outside the mold of ethnography, yet draw our attention to a culture of women and a culture of dance that lives in our societal blind spot. Alyah’s work acknowledges Black queer dancing life as visible and viable. Her research asks us, invites us, insists we celebrate the depth, complexities and aesthetics of ballet as inclusive, unapologetic, poetic and empowered as embodied by Black queer women.

—Prof. Andrea E. Woods Valdés, Primary Advisor

Photo by Moriah Lefebvre.


Alyah Baker is committed to foregrounding the body as she explores power, the politics of place and identity. Her artistic work asks us to consider how tapping into subjugated corporeal knowledge(s) might move our society towards a space of liberation and possibility, particularly for BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities.

In her time at Duke, Alyah has recast the classroom, concert stages and community settings as sites of embodied experimentation. Through a diverse range of projects that draw from her robust background in classical and contemporary ballet as well as experimental and improvisational frameworks, she investigates what a body marked Black and queer “can do.”

Specific projects initiated at Duke include: Freedom Dances, an exploration of Black Women and practices of freedom within ballet; Place/Making, a collaborative movement and story sharing project that explores the concept of belonging and Black identity in Durham; and Quare Dance, a multimedia installation that reimagines ballet through a Black, queer, fem(me)inist lens.

Thesis Advisory Committee: Prof. Andrea E. Woods Valdés

Photo by Moriah Lefebvre.

Thesis Project

Quare Dance: Fashioning a Black, Queer, Fem(me)inist Aesthetic in Ballet is a multimedia performance installation that examines the intersections of race, gender, sexuality and ballet, with a particular focus on the stories of Black queer women. Artists Alyah Baker, Kiara Felder, Cortney Taylor Key, and Audrey Malek combine Black feminist epistemologies with movement, images, text and material artifacts to imagine and embody new possibilities for ballet.

The installation and artists involved trouble dominant discourses on dance and identity, presenting important yet previously overlooked counter-narratives. Quare Dance queers our understanding of ballet and the ballerina, offering a fresh perspective on what ballet is and can be as it moves into the 21st century.

About Alyah Baker

Alyah Baker is a dance artist and scholar working at the intersection of art and embodied activism. Her work is informed by her Black, queer identity and a desire to build equitable creative communities. She has trained and performed with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Oakland Ballet, and ABD Productions, among others. As a freelance artist, Alyah has been featured in classical, contemporary, and film productions throughout the United States.

In addition to choreographing and performing, Alyah has two decades of teaching experience and is the founder of Ballet for Black and Brown Bodies, an advocacy platform for BIPOC ballet dancers.

Alyah holds a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Dance from Duke University and is a member of the inaugural MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis graduate class. Alyah was awarded the Kenan Institute of Ethics 2020-2021 Graduate Arts Fellow in Social Choreography and Performance to support her ongoing artistic work.

“Though we have all encountered our share of grief and troubles, we can still hold the line of beauty, form, and beat — no small accomplishment in a world as challenging as this one. Hard times require furious dancing. Each of us is the proof.” —Alice Walker

Alyah Baker’s website