What The Artists Say

Dance/USA Artist Fellows from Round One and Round Two share their experiences with the program and the impact of the Fellowship.
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Image description: Muisi-kongo Malonga, an African woman with deep brown skin and dimples. She is pictured in front of a background of green leaves and is smiling. Her hair is braided and styled into a crown. She is wearing a silver chain with a cowrie shell pendant and gold teardrop earrings with an orange stone. Her top is a multi-colored African-print blouse with midnight blue, sea green and light peach-colored motifs. Photo by Bethanie Hines.

“As an artist, we connect with people through our work, but often the work itself can be isolating and siloed. It was most enriching to connect with other cohort artists, share struggles and strategies, or just bear witness. The unrestricted funds and additional resources provided by the fellowship gave me the space and support to slow down – and in slowing down creativity rises, enabling us to be more present in art and in life.

I was able to use supplemental program funds to engage in respite and radical rest activities with two other Fellows, MK Abadoo and Nkei Oruche. Every artist who is committed to this work deserves to exist and create outside of struggle, to enjoy respite, and to be held by community. I am so honored by and grateful to DFA for this significant career acknowledgement and generous fellowship funds, which translated into more space and time to just be.”

~ Muisi-kongo Malonga, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (East Palo Alto, CA)

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Image description: A sepia tone headshot of Yvonne Montoya, a smiling Latina woman with dark sparkling eyes and long wavy hair. Photo by Dominic AZ Bonuccelli.

“The Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists was a catalytic moment in my career. The fellowship provided me the time and resources to completely focus on nurturing my largest and most ambitious work to date, Stories from Home. I used the fellowship’s resources to apply for grants and seek other artistic opportunities outside of the Southwest, which allowed me to  grow Stories from Home while deeply and meaningfully investing in my artistic communities in the Southwest region.”

~ Yvonne Montoya, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Tucson, AZ)

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Image description: The headshot of Peter Rockford Espiritu is of a mature and handsome native Hawaiian male with black hair neatly combed back. He has brown eyes, a thin black mustache and goatee under his chin. He is wearing a traditional long sleeve, button collar, black Hawaiian print shirt in a bold geometric chevron design in a golden mustard color that resembles traditional Hawaiian Tapa or bark cloth design. Mr. Espiritu is wearing ten strands of golden brown traditional Ni’ihau shell lei that surrounds his neck and rests on the middle of his chest. He has a calm and welcoming demeanor with a slight smile on his face. Photo by Chris Rohrer

“As a mature Indigenous artist, the national recognition of the DFA Fellowship is immense. The unrestricted financial award gave me the freedom to breathe easier as a native creator and dance maker navigating a scary time. The Fellows were encouraged – and resourced– to collaborate. I was able to plan a residency with Mesma Belsare: we explored the ways our indigenous genres could communicate, performed together, created a video, and deepened our field connections.

I also appreciate the DFA structure, accessibility, and support – program staff are happy to support artists through the application process with coaching, language interpretation, accessible application formats, and more. I have never experienced this level of effort and support within a national grant program.”

~ Peter Rockford Espiritu, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Hawai’i; Honolulu, HI)

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Image description: The image is a close-up portrait of Shakiri, a Black woman with short curly grey hair. She is smiling and has a warm, open expression. She’s wearing large earrings that are gold and jade green and an off-white tunic with buttons at her neckline. Photo by Nano Visser.

“Working so many years as an artist and being paid very little for the time, love, and effort I have put in, makes me feel, from time to time, demoralized. The Dance/USA Fellowship to Artists ignited a new kind of enthusiasm. Suddenly I had the energy to create new work. I was also incredibly inspired by our cohort of Fellows, I left this experience confident that ART is going to be a changemaker in our communities and in our world.

I am a senior. The unrestricted funds made a major impact. In addition to the acknowledgement of my work, it was wonderful to put aside the gift for my retirement.”

~ Shakiri, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Sacramento, CA)

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Image description: A white transmasculine person with a warm and confident smile. He is wearing a black t-shirt, glasses, and has a short brown pompadour. Large white text on his t-shirt reads in all-caps “GENDER IS OVER / IF YOU WANT IT”. Photo by Lydia Daniller.

“As a transgender artist, being named a Dance/USA Artist Fellow meant more than just support and visibility: it was a national recognition and affirmation of my trans-centered artistic work, social practice and activism. I felt honored and seen as a whole person. And the message to the performing arts field was: transgender artists deserve to be uplifted and celebrated!”

~ Sean Dorsey, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (San Francisco, CA)

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Image description: Petra Kuppers, a white queer cis woman of size, head tilted, smiling with twinkling eyes, with yellow glasses, shaved head, pink lipstick, purple scarf, polka-dot top, a hand caressing the handlebars of Scootie, her mobility scooter, before an urban building with colored glass windows. Photo by Tamara Wade.

“Receiving the Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists became a major emotional milestone in my life as a community dance artist. I have been working for decades, but outside stages, stamina, virtuosic display, or big productions. Instead, I work with fellow disabled dancers through communal creative somatic movement. We experience the deliciousness of sensations, become permeable to ourselves and to the world in surreal and experimental ways, honor our mad and/or disabled bodymindspirits. This kind of dance practice can be quite invisible and is often more experiential than spectacular.

To receive my dance world’s recognition has been life-changing for me. It has spurred me on to reconceptualize my path going forward – which practically meant a lot more emphasis on new collaborations, making dance videos to share the ongoing work more widely, and beginning to explore VR technologies. I hope that many people whose practices do not easily translate to mainstream ideas of dance put their work forward: our kind of creative practice, inviting people to understand themselves and others as gorgeous moving sensing beings in the world, is so deeply necessary.”

~ Petra Kuppers, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Ypsilanti, MI)

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Image description: An African American woman with long hair styled in twists smiles as she performs footwork in front of a white background. She wears a bright yellow tshirt, black sweatpants, and yellow and white sneakers. Photo by William Frederking Photography.

“After many years in the dance world, the Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists grant was the first grant I applied for and received. Getting this grant helped to propel me as an independent artist and gain recognition for my work and talents. Dance/USA also gave me resources to navigate tax preparation, working with journalists, and so much more.

During a time when I was financially struggling personally and professionally, the generosity of the DFA program and the Doris Duke Foundation helped me not only get on my feet, but also gain the confidence to continue to pursue my artistic passions.”

~MurdaMommy, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Chicago, IL)

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Image Description: MK Abadoo, a medium brown-skinned African American person smiles. They wear a pink buttoned up shirt against a forest green background. Her black hair is in a short, tapered cut with red highlights and slender black earrings frame their wide smile. Photo by Shaka Shot Dat

“The impact of this fellowship is substantial. The award itself is deeply validating, by acknowledging and recognizing such a diverse group of dance work existing at the intersections of justice, community, and artmaking. I connected with new artists and deepened existing relationships in meaningful ways, including the use of supplemental fellowship resources to creatively explore radical rest and peer accountability/support with DFA Fellows Muisi-kongo Malonga and Nkei Oruche.

Alongside connections and validation, the DFA financial award was incredibly significant – I put much of this unrestricted grant toward school loan debt and a portion towards a down payment on a home, which is so powerful given the history of wealth distribution and access to resources in the U.S. DFA also provided access to consultants from the performing arts, marketing, fundraising, and financial worlds. This advice was invaluable personally and professionally.”

~ MK Abadoo, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Richmond, VA)

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Image description: A bust length photograph of Nkeiruka against a solid white background. Her hair is close cropped and her hand is holding up an opi with an x on it covering one eye. She has on black lipstick, and gold and silver nose rings and earrings. She is wearing a black bra, and black and white graphic patterned sleeveless bra string top. Photo by Sasha Kelly.

“This Fellowship included not only our unrestricted award, but also specific earmarked funds available for a photoshoot, childcare, and artist-led initiatives. I used Fellowship funds for a rest & creative exploration retreat with MK Abadoo and Muisi-kongo Malonga; we were supported in how to envision something that really would meet us where we are. Just knowing some funds were available towards this initiative pushed me to organize around ease, grace, and an opportunity to restore — something that was necessary, but I wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

I’m also grateful for my community of Fellows who are really doing heart-centered/community-centered work, and grateful to feel so connected to them.” 

~ Nkeiruka Oruche, Dance/USA Artist Fellow (Oakland, CA)

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