DFA Article Series

Voices from the Field: The Dance/USA Artist Fellows 

Suzanne Callahan and Lily Kharrazi, Editors

ten dancers stand in the desert facing the camera with arms and faces raised

On behalf of Dance/USA, we are pleased to release this series of 11 articles to share the voices of 31 artists who received support through Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists (DFA). These artists expand the notion of dance in our country — what it looks like, where it happens, where it comes from, and the role it plays in communities. 

JUMP to the articles below!

With funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and designed through an artist-centered collaborative process, DFA began in 2019-2020 to provide unrestricted funds to artists whose work is dedicated to social practice. These dancers and choreographers come from, and work in, urban and rural landscapes. Their ages span decades, from 30 to 70. In addition to English, they speak languages from Spanish to Khmer to Wolof to American Sign Language. Some are deeply affected by their own immigrant stories, as well as by the stories of second- and third-generation hyphenated-Americans who reflect upon layered immigrant roots. 

These 31 dance artists facilitate the creation and sharing of performances with communities. They tell truths and explore intersections and clashes of ideas. Through their artistic expressions, each forges a pathway to social change, expanding notions of what dance looks and feels like in our country. How these expressions are practiced and who they impact are important traits of each artist. Whether a dance is performed against the relief of an Arizona border wall; Black narratives are told on an ice rink in Minnesota; or movement is sourced from a sacred, ancient Khmer treatise, the DFA Fellows are living contributors to the changing dance landscape in the United States. Most of these artists have been practicing far longer than they have been recognized or funded on a national platform. 

Where these artists may speak loudest is through their movement languages. These creatives are inventing new methodologies and languages to effect social change. Invention can mean the literal engineering effort to extend wheelchair movement into dance, or dance rituals that reclaim waterways and urban streets, giving voice to the people and issues that surround them. Others remind us that dance lineages from Native and Indigenous peoples continue to serve as a bedrock through time to speak to the contemporary “now.” Inuit drum dancing, hula, Hopi hoop dance, and interdisciplinary contemporary Native art all reflect a continuum of practice. Many of these artists work in post-modern dance — drawing from practices and influences including improvisation, performance art, and theater. Scores of practices link the African diaspora with not-so-distant-cousins from Senegal and Liberia to Cuban sacred and secular forms to the vernacular and urban styles of Chicago footwork, krumping, or tap. This continuity of traditional dance and contemporary expression manifests as a theme for every genre, whether it’s South Indian or Khmer classical dance or Mexican zapateado. 

Reflective of the artists, in the articles, 11 writers speak with clarity, in voices and perspectives as artists, academics, and cultural commentators. Most speak in first voice, bringing shared lived experiences to their consideration of these dance artists and their cultural practices. They, too, are Black and Indigenous; transgender, gender nonconforming, and cisgender; disabled and nondisabled. As a group they challenge notions of who has “authority” to speak about dance. 

This collection will be useful to artists, audience members, academicians, funders, presenters, cultural practitioners, and community workers who understand that the plurality of creative voices reflecting people of color and other historically marginalized people must be valued and welcomed into the pantheon of what constitutes American dance. Beyond and outside of formal theater spaces, a deep ecosystem of dance making exists all around us, which has meaning to its communities, roots in the past, relevance for the present, and visions for a just, liberated future. Finally, these voices charge the field to better support artists — wherever they live and work, in whatever forms they choose.   

Photo: Patrick Makuakane with Nā Lei Hulu I Ka Wēkiu. Photo by Ron Worobec.

Articles 

New articles will be released every few weeks. Each article can be viewed as a PDF, read on Medium, or read on the Dance/USA website. 

Articles Available Now

Conjuring Movement and Social Change in the Now: Marjani Fortè Saunders, Amara Tabor Smith, and Jennifer Harge. By Halifu Osumare, Ph.D.

Choreographing Disability Justice: Dancemakers Antoine Hunter and Laurel Lawson. By Jerron Herman.

Coming Soon

  • What are You? Dancemaking and the Hyphenated Other: Christopher K. Morgan, Ananya Chatterjea, and Alleluia Panis. By Lily Kharrazi. 
  • Community Builders: Transmission and Legacies of Immigrant American Artists.  Charya Burt, Naomi Diouf, and Assane Konte.  By Robert Taylor.