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Issues of Color: Embodying social experiences in dance

Colleen Oster (‘14) and Christie Owens (‘16) choreographed their duet, which was based heavily on Owens’s personal experiences as a Black woman.

Colleen Oster (‘14) and Christie Owens (‘16) choreographed their duet, which was based heavily on Owens’s personal experiences as a Black woman.

Hope Gilbertson (‘22) | Chips

Hope Gilbertson (‘22) | Chips

Colleen Oster (‘14) and Christie Owens (‘16) choreographed their duet, which was based heavily on Owens’s personal experiences as a Black woman.

Hope Gilbertson, Staff Writer

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Abigail Grinager (‘20), Viola Niyizigama (‘20), Colleen Oster (‘14), and Christie Owens (‘16) presented an embodied dialogue performance named “Issues of Color: It’s More Than Black and White” on Friday, Nov. 2 in Studio I of the Center for the Arts. This performance was a part of Black Student Union’s 50th anniversary commemorative event.

Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87) created this event. Students, faculty, and community members gathered to see the duets and engage in a discussion.

“Our goal is to use the creative process of ‘directography’ as a way to embody connection and open dialogue about issues of race and then to share this dialogue with audience members,” Hawley said. “I want to use dance and embodiment to inspire social change, to create more understanding, respect, empathy, and connectivity in this world.”

Hawley gave each duet a “directography” — a set of directives or goals used to choreograph — and from there the duo created their own piece. The night of the show was the first time Hawley saw the final product of her creation. 

Hope Gilbertson (‘22) | Chips
Viola Niyizigama (‘20) performs to recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and actress Emma Watson instead of music during her duet.

The first duet was choreographed and performed by Oster and Owens. These Luther alums used personal experiences from Owens’s life to inspire their piece. Owens drew from her experiences at political activist Angela Davis’s recent event at the University of Minnesota and prejudice Owens experienced at a Starbucks from white women. Instead of having a musical background, they used audio clips of Angela Davis speaking as well as videos of police brutality during the Civil Rights Movement. As these audio clips played, the dancers moved together and showed care and touch between two people of different races. 

Grinager and Niyizigama performed the next duet. Similar to the first duet, they used audio from speakers like actress Emma Watson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as background sound. It was an affectionate dance with much close contact between the two. 

“I think the purpose of this performance and discussion is to bring awareness of oppression of all forms, but bringing into focus racial equality,” Grinager said. “For me, it’s a way to try and understand what some of my friends and peers go through on a daily basis.”

Hope Gilbertson (‘22) | Chips
Viola Niyizigama (‘20) and Abigail Grinager (‘20) perform a duet in which both performers attempt to switch their racial roles and understand each other’s experiences.

Following the two duets, the audience and performers moved their chairs and formed a circle. The team wanted to create a safe space for everyone to share their truths and engage in discussion. The discussion began with the dancers talking about their pieces and the audience sharing their own opinions. From there, the conversation led into race at Luther, past hate incidents, and what the community can do to make a difference.

Bethany Larson (‘19) thought this event was a very important representation of how dance embodies our experiences. 

“I really think that the cross and the intersections between dance and sociology are really strong here at Luther,” Larson said. “The whole concept of embodiment, we talk about that in sociology everyday, it was great to come here and see it in real life.”

Larson also thought the dialogue was crucial and called for a change.

“Then afterwards to have a dialogue like this and to just listen to other people’s perspectives, I think it was really important,” Larson said. “I have been to a lot of these events and you do see the same people over and over again and so something needs to shift. Whether it is institutionally or socially, something needs to shift to where this is now something people want to come to.”

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