Dancing the Theory through Performance

A poem floats into a room as introduction. We sit in a circle unsure who is presenter, who is audience.


“She’s dancing on beer cans and shingles…”

“Don’t tell nobody. Don’t tell a soul. Are we animals? Have we gone crazy.”

“Somebody. Anybody. Sing a black girl song.”


Five voices of doctoral students and professor weaving metaphors and dancing consonants and sharing images of Black girls and contradiction and hope and fear and language disrupting and challenging the expectation of a paper with a theory and stacks of evidence.  I suspect this session will be different.


Porshe Garner begins with a personal narrative about her work with SOLHOT, a space to celebrate Black girls in Champagne, Illinois. She speaks to us:

“SOLHOT requires that I love and forgive. That I know God. That I hear and not just what I want to hear…”


Durrell Callier recites a layered poem expressing the tensions, the joy, the theories embedded in his work:

“This work is dirty work…”

“I’m a person. Damn. Sometimes even I forget that…”

“1-800-call up your ancestors…”

“Perform research. Be personal. Dare to insert your narrative. That work is downright dirty…”

“This work is dirty work where many are called and few are chosen…”


Dominique Hill dances. She reaches long arms into the room and gives energy and breath and expresses with her body the narratives of struggle and hope and history and love and identity. Her body shares more than a 20 page, double spaced, white paper ever could. “I know what it feels like to give until empty. To begin again. To begin again…“

Following the five poetic presenters, we engage in a passionate, thought provoking conversation about the inspiring and challenging work of running afterschool spaces for girls that become research sites. Spaces where practice comes first and theory erupts from the stories girls tell about their days.  The researchers discuss the tension between writing research about the girls in the space without sharing the work with them. When offered the books written about them, the girls don’t take them, don’t read them. They are not expressing any interest in hearing about the theory or the scholarship built from their bodies and voices.


The presenters reflected upon the personal struggles this work demands of them. They bravely and honestly shared stories about being men and women of color taking risks to create “nontraditional” work that might impact their future job prospects or tenure.  They expressed the need to continue to do the work that is impacting girls’ lives as well as creating knowledge for the academy.