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Black Lives Matter symposium spotlights social activism through art

Art can be an agent of social change.

That’s the theme of the 2015 Dunham Technique Certification Workshop, which will be held at the University of South Florida in June. The symposium will explore the Black Lives Matter movement through the lens of social activist Katherine Dunham’s legacy in the sphere of performance art.

Dunham (1909-2006), a dancer, anthropologist and author, showcased “relentless dedication to social activism” during her career, explains event organizer Saroya Corbett. 

After studying at the University of Chicago, Dunham spent decades as a social activist: she choreographed "Southland,'' a dance about lynching; refused to perform in segregated theaters in Kentucky; influenced the creation of anti-discrimination laws in Brazil; was one of Hollywood’s first African-American choreographers; went on a hunger strike at 82 years old to shed light on the mistreatment of Haitian refugees; and was at the forefront of social activism in east Saint Louis.

"Placing Dunham at the center of the conversation surrounding social change allows the symposium to explore and identify how the arts and artists create and aid in social change," Corbett says. “Through her example, we plan to identify ways in which we can participate as individuals."

The workshop kicks off a series of activities in the Tampa area. Event organizers hope to attract “scholars, community organizers, participants in the Black Lives Matter movement, artists and the general community of Tampa,” Corbett says. “The arts and artists have a unique capacity to affect change in belief systems and mores."

Brittany Williams, Dancing for Justice creator and coordinator of Million Hoodies Arts Network, as well as scholars Dr. Halifu Osumare and Dr. Joanna Dee Das, will present at the June 28 symposium. 

"Dancing for Justice, the arts and particularly dance can be an integral part of fighting for the full rights and humane treatment for black and brown lives," Corbett says. 

Corbett, who sits on the academic committee for IDTC and the advisory board for the Coalition of Diasporan Scholars Moving, plans to organize a #BlackLivesMatter march near the end of the workshop.

The Institute For Dunham Technique Certification (IDTC) began in 1994, when Dunham and Dr. Albirda Rose first certified dancers in the Dunham Technique. Today, professional performers, choreographers or dance educators can apply for Dunham Technique Certification; once accepted, they must attend 200 hours working with instructors and/or attending workshops for development, training, and testing prior to certification.

Members of the general public are also welcome to attend the courses and learn more about the technique.

Black Lives Matter: The Relevance of Katherine Dunham's Legacy for Today's Social Artists-Activist symposium will take place from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. on June 28 at USF in room TAR 249. The event is free and open to the public.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer and editor for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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