Spring 2018

The Art of Black Dance: A Panoramic Study

Listed in: Black Studies, as BLST-333  |  Theater and Dance, as THDA-380

Moodle site: Course


Ninoska M. Escobar (Section 01)


What is “Black” dance? How is Black expressivity discerned and preserved in American dance? The course explores the history and contributions of African American and African diasporic dance artists in the formation of American dance as a distinctive art form, with emphasis on the cultural, spiritual and social-political philosophies embedded in the traditions and practices of the Black dancing body. We will investigate the emergence of Black dance aesthetics in the American colonial period and its aftermath, and the routes of its dispersion and further development in the movement of Black citizens to America’s urban centers in the inter-war period, through the period of Civil Rights activism and the liberation movements of the 1960s-1970s, and the inculcation of Black tradition in American dance in the late twentieth century. We will trace the trajectory of this tradition through early interlocutors such as Edna Guy and Charles Williams, mavericks Josephine Baker and Ada Overton Walker, intellectuals Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, disrupters Janet Collins and Arthur Mitchell, and popular choreographers including Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle and Alvin Ailey. We will give special attention to how these artists interact with the social forces of their time, determine their approaches to constructing meaning, and consider the contexts that contribute to their dance making. This course will also engage with the spring symposium  “African American Dance: Form, Function and Style!” through the development and presentation of student research. Through readings, discussions, visual media, movement experiences, and attendance at live dance events we will practice observing, analyzing, discussing, and writing about dance thoughtfully, clearly, and intelligently. Together we will investigate how the artists challenge, manipulate and destabilize expectations to inhabit new and expansive identities and modes of expression.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Visiting Instructor Escobar.

If Overenrolled: Instructor will seek a balance between different class years


Attention to Issues of Race, Attention to Research


2019-20: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2018