DANC 108
Dancing in the Streets (The Message) Spring 2023
Division I
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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? How do artists and their work document and comment on the past, embody the present, and perform the future into existence? A primary focus of consideration will be the use of storytelling as a vehicle for artistic expression that connects people and ideas across time and space. When Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five drop “The Message” in 1982, the Bronx is burning, and the birth of hip-hop has people returning to the streets. Disco’s velvet rope comes down and urban America comes together to celebrate the life they can live, aspire toward a life they want to live, and spread the word about the realities they face along the way. The cypher creates space for verse, hooks, samples, and dance, and the world becomes a canvas as graffiti artists work to claim space and contribute to a new canon. With global urban music like hip-hop, reggae, and Afrobeat as a backdrop, we will examine the impact of vernacular African American dance and music, and its presence in various performance traditions. 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. We will examine how dancers/choreographers Rosie Perez, Fatima Robinson, Charles O. Anderson, Nora Chipaumire and Rennie Herris use dance and media to tell personal stories and document public events. Musicians/performers Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Beyonce, Public Enemy, Kendrick Lamar and visual artists Carrie Mae Weems, Titus Kaphar, Hank Willis Thomas, and Adrian Piper are creators whose work will be referenced. What questions are artists posing? What statements are they making? What can be made that responds to this work and that reflects your own stories? Course meetings will include: 1. Weekly movement and music sessions to learn selected dance and music material 2. Weekly discussion of readings, media and other course materials 3. Making a solo and a collaborative project during the semester to be shared as a final project 4. A short research paper on an artist, movement or form that your work informs your work
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#: 3779
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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