Juliet Irving MFA in Dance ‘21: I Am. We Are.

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.

Shaped by her experience of growing up as a Black girl in the South of the United States, Juliet Irving set out to move, to groove as her method of inquiry. Her works mark the advent of a novel choreographic force, unusually gifted to see, feel, order and reorder her and our world, and to bring Black femme experiences and their possibilities to the fore.

Juliet’s choreographic works are vessels that move you, whether participants or spectators, into uncolonized spaces. Her artworks can be read as social technologies that function on the level of our embodied experiences, where truth is hard to name, but the marks and traces of past generations are permanently at work in the darkness of the flesh. Suspend mere conceptions of physical reality to move into wider, more beautiful, taunting notions of becoming, interconnectedness.

Her ways of engaging the world are expressed in her work of heightened choreographic sensibilities: what moves, why, how, when, with whom. Steeped in poetry, she conjures complex matrixes of metaphors that carry seeds of a different perception, of the entanglement of past, present and future, of self with others, and self with the environment. She engages generational markings of the body to call forth alternative futures in a Black femme ecology. Bodies that carry their traces of meaning settle into their grooves, expanding, extending, contracting in their own time. New rituals emerge. Things start dancing in mysterious ways. Something seems better now. Something seems better now. Something seems better now.

—Prof. Michael Kliën, Primary Advisor


Juliet’s research is concerned with the ways Black femme in America embody and express themselves outside of social and cultural markings in relationship to their surrounding environments. Titled, Black Girl Ecologies: Manifesting Fabulations and Embodying Otherwise Possibilities, her thesis centers Blackness as a framework to access internal and external worlds of freedom and establishes artmaking as a practice of ecological manifestation.

Black Performance studies, Ecology, Gender and Women’s studies, Phenomenology and Black theory intersect as she draws connections between Black women cross-generationally and the circumstances they inhabit while reconstructing these landscapes into an otherwise collective existence. Juliet develops an Afrofuturist practice that shifts one into an embodied state of infinite possibility she refers to as groove, which reconsiders our relationship to ourselves, nature, and others through sensation, rest, movement, and play.

Her experimentations also involve a range of personal investigations as she maps the landscape of her own ecology through poetry, sound and film. The purpose of her research is for Black girls to reimagine themselves to access, linger and share in all of who they are and all the possibilities constantly unfolding of who they can become. For Black girl fantasy. For Black girl dreams. For Black girl possibility.

Thesis Advisory Committee: Prof. Michael Kliën, Prof. Thomas F. DeFrantz, Jaki Shelton Green, Andrea E Woods Valdés

Thesis Project

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. In this creative work, we move alongside southern Black girls as they explore their own grooves to initiate a collective reimagining of themselves. Tracing their own geographies, histories, and sense of care through conversation and movement, the group engages with the possibilities offered through their entanglements with the environment and each other.

Using 360-degree cameras, Juliet manifests these worlds as “groove realms” with blacklights, balloons, and other materials creating fantastical, otherworldly renderings of Black femme ecologies that the group interacts with over the span of several days. The pop-ups are live-streamed using virtual reality technology to immerse virtual audiences in these forested day and nighttime experiences and are available to view as recordings along with documentation of the process on the linked websites. Follow the development of the series through the summer of 2021 as it tours locations in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

About Juliet Irving

Juliet Irving is a trans-disciplinary movement artist and graphic designer currently based in Durham, North Carolina, who creates interactive and immersive experiences that emphasize modes of embodiment. Her multimedia practice involves environmental installation, social choreography, audience interaction, and a relentless adherence to “What if?” and “Why not?” questions. She is invested in cultivating radical imagination alongside identity formation in marginalized communities, particularly rural, queer BIPOC communities.

Juliet is pursuing an MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis and Master’s Certificate in African & African American Studies at Duke University as a member of the program’s inaugural cohort. In 2019, she received her BA in Dance Studies and BFA in Graphic Design from Appalachian State University. In 2020, Juliet choreographed and performed in the American Dance Festival’s Creative Healing Parade and presented her research at the International Conference on Movement and Computing. Her work has been shown at The Schaefer Center for Performing Arts, ACDA, HOW Space Gallery, and Valbourg Theatre and has been featured in The Peel Literature & Arts Review.

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“You have to dance unencumbered. There’s no other way to move. The idea of dance is freedom. It is not exclusiveness, it’s inclusiveness.” —Judith Jamison

Juliet Irving’s website