Professor talks integration of dance in culture
Growing up in Harlem, Brenda Dixon Gottschild chose dance as an alternative to gym class, and has since dedicated her life to teaching the art after finding her identity through the form of self-expression.
The Dance Department at Mason Gross School of the Arts collaborated with the Rutgers Center for African Studies to host Dixon Gottschild as the guest lecturer for Women’s History Month.
Dixon Gottschild, professor emerita of dance studies at Temple University, spoke at the Nicholas Music Center yesterday on the Douglass campus.
Julia Ritter, department chair of the Dance Department, said the department considers dance a form of writing, and collaborative events like these give dance an opportunity to be trans-disciplinary with academia.
She said the Dance Department and CAS have collaborated in the past to curate events that blend writing and artistry.
In addition to 150 students, Ritter said the audience included faculty from other departments, such as Abena Busia, chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, and Ousseina Alidou, director of CAS.
Dixon Gottschild, dance scholar and winner of the 2013 International Association of Blacks in Dance Outstanding Scholar Award, discussed her new book, “Joan Myers Brown & The Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina: A Biohistory of American Performance.”
“This book is a tribute to a life lived and continuing to be lived in dance in a way that is exemplary for other communities,” she said.
In the book, she analyzed the life and career of Joan Myers Brown, founder of PHILADANCO!, the Philadelphia Dance Company, she said.
Her scholarly career grew out of her interest in understanding the importance of her African-based culture, she said. Dance has helped her further her understanding of systemic and cultural racism in the dance community.
Through dance, Dixon Gottschild said she can express a lost part of American history to her audience.
Alidou said the collaboration between the Dance Department and CAS has helped CAS understand how artists from Africa have used dance to start a cross-cultural conversation, which can lead to creative intercultural fusions.
She was excited to collaborate for this event because it reinforces CAS’s mission of opening a transdisciplinary dialogue.
“Dixon Gottschild helps us see how dancing bodies can help us break racial barriers, gender-based violence and discrimination and help us build an ethics of care and solidarity that empowers interacting communities,” she said.
Ritter said Dixon Gottschild’s interdisciplinary career made her a sutiblespeaker for Women’s History Month.
“She is both an artist and a scholar, and we can see from her trajectory of artistry and scholarship that both can come together coherently,” Ritter said.
Dixon Gottschild said she believes that dance serves as a microcosm of society at large. This belief has directed her path of further understanding and educating others about racism.
She hoped her audience would walk away with an understanding of themselves through the lens of dance.
“I would like people of color to understand the importance and significance of our cultures of color and for non-colored peoples to begin to do their work to undo systemic and cultural racism to which we are all [caught up in],” Dixon Gottschild said.
Sofia Nappi, a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year student, thought the event was inspiring and eye-opening.
“It was useful to become aware of the problems [of racism] … and aware of the changes we can still make,” she said.
In addition to Mason Gross students learning about Joan Myers Brown and black dancers, they also learned about careers in dance from the Philadelphia Dance Company dancers.
Dixon Gottschild emphasized that whether it is through performance or academics, students should remain true to themselves and keep an open mind to endless career possibilities.
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