DANC 107
Dancing in the Streets (Strange Fruit) Fall 2021
Division I

Class Details

There is a reason why collective activism and impulses toward revolution are called “movements.” Movements have bodies, actions, rhythms, voices, and stories. They are embodied, and they create change through this embodiment. During the summer of 1964, the Motown anthem Dancing In the Street (D.I.T.S.) became a joyful expression of the desire to take up space, in tune with the powerful political and social justice movements of the time. D.I.T.S. continues to be sung by contemporary artists as an expression of celebration and as a call to action, highlighting the cyclical nature of time and experience. What brought people into the streets in communities across the globe in 1964, in 2020, and beyond? With this question in mind, we will examine, discuss, and respond to the ways in which artistic expression can document lived experiences, and deploy similar tactics to explore and document our present lives. How have artists documented and driven forward major themes in social justice, both in the past and in our current times? A primary focus of consideration will be the anti-lynching movement across time, which has given rise to the art and aesthetics of the Civil Rights, Black Lives Matter, and Say Her Name Movements. Grounding this work will be a deep exploration of “Strange Fruit,” an artistic tour de force that began life as a poem in response to a photographic image and grew to encompass dance, visual art, theatre, media, and music–particularly the enduring and repeating renditions by artists like Billie Holiday, Pearl Primus, and Nina Simone. The course trajectory will also be deeply affected by the students who take part, offering their own stories and experiences in conversation with the work of influential creative practitioners. Inspired by our own origin stories and the roll call of cities heard in D.I.T.S., we will consider the ways in which dance, music, theatre, visual art and other forms of creative expression are made to be shared, causing culture and experiences to bear witness and become meaningful beyond the boundaries of origin. Course meetings will include viewings and discussions of creative expression in various media and formats through an ethnographic performance studies lens, further examining the role of the artist as witness/documentarian, activist, and agent of change. This work will serve as a catalyst in the production of original performance offerings (solo and group-based) that will be shared with a public audience.
The Class: Format: seminar; Seminar/Studio. This course is a collaboration with Gotham Professional Arts Academy, an arts-focused public high school in Brooklyn, NY, and all sessions will feature the participation of students from both institutions. Other resources include guest artists and scholars, the online Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive and Archives, the Williams College Museum of Art, New York City Public Library of Performing Arts, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Limit: 12
Expected: 10
Class#: 1418
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Evaluation will be based upon: 1. Scheduled showings of material you and any collaborators are making in response to course materials, guest artists and scholars. 2. Quality of participation in weekly meetings that are interactive and discussions of course materials. 3. A 7-10 page paper that provides the research foundation for your final project. 4. A final performance project/presentation that is a synthesis of the information and ideas presented and developed over the course of the semester.
Prerequisites: None. This course is intended for beginning as well as experienced students who are curious about ways that the arts (dance, music, theater, media, etc.) document the present and the past. DANC 107 & DANC 108 do not need to be taken in sequence.
Enrollment Preferences: An interest in the arts, performance studies, popular culture, history, and/or experience in social dance, music, theatre, writing or visual art making. No prior training is necessary in the above. Come prepared to play, take risks, and find joy together
Distributions: Division I

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