Courtney Crumpler MFA in Dance ‘21: Organizing As an Embodied Practice

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.

Stilt walker, political organizer, North Carolina native, Princeton alumnus and dancer Courtney Crumpler brought a capacious appetite for collective movement as a political technology to her graduate research in embodied praxis at Duke.

This period of intensive graduate study has granted Courtney space and time to reflect upon her experience living in Brazil as a political educator invested in cross-cultural connection and social/institutional change. During this short time, Courtney has demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit that has been recognized through a Duke FLAS fellowship (Portuguese) and GradEngage research support. Her passion for language is nurtured by faculty in the Departments of Anthropology, History and Romance Languages.

In the studio, Courtney continues to investigate physical movement vocabularies that speak to her and enable her to connect with others as a facilitator across dance and political educational contexts. Whether she is teaching Modern Dance or organizing activist efforts elsewhere in the Triangle, Courtney’s approach applies somatic centering and nervous system regulation as tools to enable people from diverse backgrounds and motivations to establish a sense of grounding rooted in their own bodily wisdom.

Courtney’s thesis offers an auto-ethnographic written account of her own virtual organizing during the 2020 US Presidential election and a Zoom presentation that follows the structure of a “house meeting,” introducing audiences to the somatic mobilization methods and their value across dance and non-arts contexts.

—Prof. Sarah Wilbur, Primary Advisor


Courtney’s artistic research focuses on the role of movement in the practice of community organizing, asking: how can embodied knowledge support collective action to dismantle white supremacy, heteropatriarchy and U.S. imperialism? How can somatic awareness be mobilized toward futures that affirm and support life in its most diverse expressions? How can movement practice contribute to sustained anti-racist and decolonial action at the personal, interpersonal and systemic levels?

As an MFA student, Courtney has sought to integrate and translate the lessons she learned over six years living and working in Brazil to her context and community of origin in the United States. This process has taken place in studios, offices, theaters and classrooms; in streets, public parks, parking lots and plazas; and in the digital spaces of Zoom rooms, Slack channels and group chats used to coordinate campaigns, protests, canvasses, phone banks; and food distribution programs. Courtney’s research at Duke responds to the call to organize other white people to dismantle white supremacy, culminating with an invitation to her extended family into sustained anti-racist action under the leadership of those most negatively impacted by interlocking systems of oppression.

Thesis Advisory Committee: Prof. Sarah Wilbur

Thesis Project

Courtney’s project puts organizing in motion within her community. It grows out of the format of a house meeting, a tool of organizers that brings a small group of people together around a shared purpose, relying on dance and movement to help raise awareness and motivate, activate and agitate.

In this participatory performance gathering, Courtney shared her approach to organizing as an embodied practice, inviting people to witness movement, to move and reflect and then to take concrete action. Somatic opening, storytelling, productive disorientation, retracing steps and imagining possible futures are central elements of the process. The gathering took place on Zoom given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and encouraged individual and collective listening, questioning, reorienting, and moving.

About Courtney Crumpler

Courtney Crumpler is a movement artist, organizer, researcher, and translator working between Brazil and the United States. She investigates the roles of embodied knowledge and experience in political protest, organizing, and education. Courtney serves as co-coordinator of the Black Lives Matter Brazil-USA exhibit project, a member leader with Durham for All, and an organizer with the Fed Up political food distribution project. She is a founding member of the Gigantes Na Luta feminist performance collective and has performed, on stilts, in five Rio de Janeiro carnivals.

As a student at Princeton and Duke, Courtney has performed in dance works by Bill T. Jones, Camille Brown, Mark Morris, Merce Cunningham, and Stefanie Batten Bland. Courtney is a Fulbright Scholar and recipient of a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship for the 2020-2021 academic year.