Announcement: Congratulations to our newly minted Ph.D.s!

UT tower lit entirely in orange

Enormous congratulations to the following graduate students who are now, as of this weekend’s commencement festivities, official Ph.D. recipients. We are so proud of them!

Sean Cashbaugh
“A Cultural History Beneath the Left: Politics, Art, and the Emergence of the Underground During the Cold War”
Supervisor: Randolph Lewis

Brendan Gaughen
“Practices of Place: Ordinary Mobilities and Everyday Technology”
Supervisor: Jeff Meikle

Josh Holland
“Kurt Hahn, the United World Colleges, and the Un-Making of Nation”
Supervisor: Julia Mickenberg

Lily Laux
“Teaching Texas: Race, Disability and the History of the School-to-Prison Pipeline”
Supervisor: Shirley Thompson

Susan Quesal
“Dismantling the Master’s House: The Afterlife of Slavery in the Twentieth-Century Representations of Home”
Supervisors: Shirley Thompson and Stephen Marshall

Kirsten Ronald
“Dancing the Local: Two-Step and the Formation of Local Cultures, Local Places, and Local Identities in Austin, TX”
Supervisor: Steve Hoelsher

Jackie Smith
“Black Princess Housewive and Single Ladies: Renee Cox’s Housewife Enactments and The Politics of Twenty-First Century Wealthy Black Womanhood”
Supervisor: Shirley Thompson

Grad Research: PhD student featured on television series ‘American Canvas’

We are thrilled to be able to draw your attention to the great work our graduate students do both on and off campus. PhD student Kirsten Ronald, who is writing a dissertation about social dance, gentrification, and cultural preservation, is featured in a segment that was recently filmed for the program American Canvas on the cable channel Ovation TV. The segment follows Ronald as she leads two-step dance lessons at The White Horse in Austin. The episode airs this Wednesday, March 18, at 9pm Central Time. You can find the channel number for your cable provider here.

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Ronald shared the following with us about her research about and through dance:

Most of us in American Studies are lucky enough to study what we love, and I’m no exception – I’ve been an avid two-stepper almost since I set foot in Texas, and I research and write about social dance, gentrification, and cultural preservation in Austin.  I also teach beginning two-step classes at a few bars around town.  My co-teacher Houston Ritcheson and I were thrilled when the folks from American Canvas, a new cultural travel show on Ovation TV, asked if they could come film our class at The White Horse for their pilot, and now we’re super psyched to announce that the Austin episode is airing, and we’re in it!  With fingers crossed that they made us look far cooler than we actually are, please check it out: March 18th at 9pm on Ovation.

Five Questions with Rebecca Rossen

Today we’re pleased to feature an interview with another one of our incredible affiliate faculty members, Dr. Rebecca Rossen, professor of dance history in the Department of Theatre & Dance and Performance as Public Practice. Dr. Rossen has just published her first book, Dancing Jewish: Jewish Identity in American Modern and Postmodern Dance (Oxford). We recently sat down with her to talk about her scholarly and artistic background, her new book, and her future research and teaching.

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What is your scholarly background and how does it motivate your current research?

Before I was a scholar I was a dancer and choreographer in Chicago. I did that for the decade after I graduated from college, my entire 20s. I went to graduate school to get a PhD, expecting to continue on making dance, but the experience ended up transforming me into a historian. I would say that as a scholar I’m a dance historian whose work focuses on identity, ethnicity, and gender representations in performance. Methodologically, I bring together my work as a dance historian with my experience as a performer. Those two threads are not only present in my research but are also present in the classes that I teach and how I teach them.

What has been your favorite project to work on so far?

As a scholar I’ve worked on one main project (with multiple side projects) for a really long time, which started as a dissertation–as many of our projects do–14 years ago. It was finally birthed as a book last spring. It’s both my favorite project as well as something that I have sometimes referred to as “the beast” because it was the project. Dancing Jewish has been an extremely involving endeavor. The book looks at how American Jewish choreographers, working in modern and postmodern dance, represent their Jewishness. I show how, over a 75-year period, dance allowed American Jews to grapple with issues like identity, difference, assimilation, and pride.

What projects are you excited about working on in the future?

Dancing Jewish considers various themes that are repeated in dances over time, like nostalgic depictions of Eastern European Jews or biblical heroism as a response to World War II or Jewish humor and stock characters. Because the book focuses solely on Jewish-American performances, it’s definitely an American Studies book. I’m interested in the next book in looking at representations of the Holocaust in performance, not focusing solely on American artists but including European and Israeli artists, and not just focusing on Jewish artists but also including non-Jewish artists who have responded to the Holocaust in interesting ways. The next project is a natural extension of the first one but takes a more global perspective and moves beyond considering just the work of Jewish artists.

How do you see your work fitting into broader conversation in dance history or American Studies?

Dancing Jewish is certainly an American Studies book, because when you are talking about Jewishness in America, you are talking about how a group of people balanced a very specific ethnic identity with their Americanness, which generally–especially in the earlier part of the century–was conceived as not-Jewish. There are some very interesting tensions that get worked out in these dances between Jewishness and Americanness and how choreographers are choreographically trying to balance these identities or converge them. It is ultimately a book about American identity with a specific lens looking at Jewish identity. But it is also a work of Dance Studies, so if you are interested in dance and performance, it’s a book that considers how identities are performed physically. Because of that, and because of my background as an artist, I think one of the contributions it makes is its use of embodied scholarship. I spent a lot of time in the archive, I did dozens of interviews, and there is analysis of photographic and video evidence and live performance. But I also use embodied methodologies, which means that at points in my research, I had physical and creative dialogues with my subjects. For example, I asked two of my subjects to “make me a Jewish dance,” and even though I didn’t have any money and they didn’t yet know me, they said okay. That process was a very interesting entre into my understanding of their work, because I didn’t just learn about their products on stage, but I also learned something about their processes and what Jewishness meant to them.

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Stories from Summer Vacation: Kirsten Ronald’s Summer of Dance

Here’s a dispatch from Ph.D. student Kirsten Ronald, who discusses her summer of teaching dance lessons.

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Hello friends!  I passed my oral exams in April, so this summer I’m doing all those fun post-orals things: putting together a dissertation committee, working on my prospectus, and investigating the brave new world of grant writing.  And yes, for those of you who know about my penchant for rubrics, I am already making flowcharts and schedules galore to help keep myself on track.  I’ve even got a timeclock called Toggl, so I can punch in and out of work.  Some things are just too much fun to resist.

But after so many months of sitting still and not talking to anyone while studying for orals, man, I’ve just got to dance.  I learned how to two-step back when I first moved to Austin, and there’s still nothing I like to do better on a hot Texas summer night.  For all its aspirations to be a global city and the live music capital of the world, Austin is still very much in Texas, which means that in addition to being home to some of the best barbecue in the state, it also has an awesome (and growing) old school country and honkytonk scene.  I’m not talking the watered-down twang of pop country here – Austin’s country music is hot, dirty, and downright swampy, with far more boozy lovin’ and leavin’ than will ever make it onto KUT.  The dance is alive and evolving, too, a hot and sweaty mashup of traditional moves with East Coast swing, Lindy Hop, West Coast, and jive.  It’s Texas two-step with a cosmopolitan twist, and the chance to create something new and beautiful every single time you go out on the dance floor makes it wildly addictive.

Last summer, I started teaching two-step lessons at a local honkytonk called The White Horse, and since then my partner and I have formed a little dance company called Two Left Foots that teaches free beginning and intermediate lessons to 50 or 60 students a week.  We’re a small, new addition to a very large, very old and very well-established scene that is growing like everything else in Austin.  It’s a ton of fun with a lot of wonderful, warm, accepting people, it’s great exercise, and it’s a great way to be a living part of Austin and Texas history.  So come on out, y’all.  And don’t forget to bring your boots!

Announcement: Performing Blackness Symposium Today!

The Department of Theatre and Dance’s Performance as Public Practice program and John L. Warfield Center’s Performing Blackness Series will host a discussion today of Charles O. Anderson/dance theatre X’s TAR, with conversation about Black dance, producing Black art, and the role of art in generating social change. The symposium will take place in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre in the Winship Building on the UT campus from 1:30-5:00p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Thomas Frantz, Professor of African and African American Studies/Dance/Theatre Studies, Duke University

Featured Panelists:
Ms. China Smith, Founder and Executive Artistic Director, Ballet Afrique, Austin
Dr. Omise’eke Tinsley, Associate Professor, African and African Diaspora Studies, UT Austin
Dr. Michael Winship, Professor, Department of English, The University of Austin

TAR

The symposium is in conjunction with two public performances of dance theatre X’s TAR on April 12 and 13 at 8:00 p.m. in the Oscar G. Brockett Theatre. Both performances are free and open to the public.

Hope to see you there!