Brooks Emanuel, MFA in Dance ’23: Moving New Futures

This is part of a series commemorating this year’s cohort of Duke’s MFA in Dance. Learn more about the program and its 2023 graduates here.

Moving New Futures

In Brooks Emanuel’s Moving New Futures: Embodied Movement for a Just Society, Emanuel asks that we imagine new possibilities for a “just society”. This premise requires us to query the vantage points and positioning of those who ask and attempt to respond to several concerns: What is a just society? How do we understand freedom and/or liberation? What does it mean to access “entire body” thinking? Can workshopping movement exploration impact a participant’s relationship to their somas in a way that ripples out into broader structural changes?

For Emanuel, embodied practices (dance, actions and gestures) open pathways to powerful realms of thought and understanding. In an effort to broaden tools for addressing the inequities of a multiplicity of lived experiences, organizers, activists and civil rights lawyers are asked to imagine new territories of being, understandings and conceptualizations through improvisatory movement.

At the heart of this strategy is the observation of focus-group participants, tapping into the feelings, ideas and usefulness of movement as a tool to both disrupt and align the contours of our lives. Through a collection of data and analysis, and by integrating a range of disciplines, Emanuel creates a strategy that leans into the possibility of change and moves beyond awareness and towards accessing ideas to effect change, and support “the ability for people to fully live their most meaningful lives.”

—Ava LaVonne Vinesett

Professor of the Practice of Dance

Participants during New Moving Futures workshop

Thesis Project

For his thesis research, Brooks developed the Moving New Futures workshop, which uses
improvisatory movement to help social justice practitioners — organizers, activists, civil rights
attorneys and others — imagine new possibilities for a just society.

The workshop had two primary inspirations. Prison abolition inspired the idea of trying to
imagine new futures because to imagine a world without prisons, one must be able to imagine
possibilities completely outside the constraints of our current reality. The growing body of
evidence that our entire bodies — not just our brains — play a critical role in thought inspired
the idea of using movement to imagine those new futures.

Brooks facilitated the workshop over a dozen times for civil rights lawyers, organizers, activists
and students. His research culminated in a lecture-demonstration in which he discussed the
workshop and his findings, which was also livestreamed online and watched by people in over
20 U.S. states and two countries. He has been encouraged by the results of the workshop thus
far and is excited to bring the Moving New Futures workshop to more social justice
organizations in the years to come.

Emanuel along with social justice practitioners
Brooks & Committee

About Brooks Emanuel

Brooks pursued his M.F.A. to find the most effective ways for him to combine his dual backgrounds in dance and social justice work. After a decade of dancing and choreographing in New York and Atlanta, Brooks shifted into progressive politics and policy.

Lobbying for progressive groups at the Georgia legislature and working on numerous political campaigns, he served as director of legislative services for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus under Stacey Abrams. He then obtained his law degree, immediately after which he worked as an attorney at Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, representing people sentenced to death or life without parole and those suffering horrific prison conditions, as well as producing reports on the history of racial injustice in the United States.

He later ran the Voter Protection Hotline for the 2018 Georgia Democratic Coordinated Campaign; served as Public Policy Director for Planned Parenthood Southeast; and advocated against mass incarceration as a Senior Analyst and Legal Counsel at The Justice Collaborative/The Appeal.