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IU African American Dance Company gears up for their spring show

Director Iris Rosa uses dance to speak to social issues


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Iris Rosa has spent the last 24 years traveling the world learning about different cultures and hearing people's stories — all in the hopes of distilling it down to one night on stage at IU.

Rosa is a professor at Indiana University, Bloomington in the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and the director of the Indiana University African American Dance Company.

The African American Dance Company is composed of multinational students from IU, who audition then enroll like any other class — something that forces Rosa to work quickly since she only has some students for a semester at a time. The course ends with a professional level performance combining her choreography and the student's.

Rosa began as director in 1974. Since then, the company has afforded her the opportunity for cross-continental research informing how dance is used as a language across the globe.

"I create pieces that are going to tell stories about what's happening politically, socially within our climate," says Rosa.


Rosa has studied with the Ghana Dance Ensemble, on the Ivory Coast, Puerto Rico and in Cuba. Rosa is well known throughout Indy's art scene as well. She has been a choreographer for musicals at local stages like the Phoenix Theatre, Civic Theatre, American Cabaret Theatre and Theatre on the Square.

"All of those travels, even when they weren't concentrated so much in dance, still inform the way people live and historically where they are placed," says Rosa. "I am a storyteller. ...[and] I try to be very active in researching. Dance is also research.

"The research that I do is so much holistic — what the students can give me and what I want," says Rosa.

The class is not only about creating new choreography every year, it's challenging and teaching the students to do the same. Part of the show is student created, while the rest sports Rosa's credit. Each year she and the students will discuss the concepts of the class, how dance is a means of communication, and the social implications. Together, they then choose a single word or topic. This year they chose "dichotomy."

Rosa then breaks up the students into groups — to push them out of their comfort zones, she adds — to work on collaborative projects. They have to select their own music, prepare visuals and text, and present it all to be constructively critiqued. They also choreograph their own dance selections, making all of the production calls, like lighting and placement.

Rosa's pieces in the show will cover topics ranging from America in the 1960s to Detroit burning to Martin Luther King Jr. Specifically she wants to focus on how "we deal with that. How do we move in and out of those situations?"

"Even though dance can serve as entertainment, it can serve all kinds of functions ... It reflects the lived experiences of people," says Rosa.

She tries to use the culmination of her travels, other cultures and dance to create a narrative about the current social and political climate. She used the Black Lives Matter Movement as an example.

"They are using what is happening socially to choreographically find ways of telling stories," says Rosa. "Reflecting the dance movement, that non-verbal communication ... is going to accentuate what they are trying to get out to an audience about what is happening today.

African American Dance Company Spring Concert
Saturday, April 9, 2016 at 8 p.m.
Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington, IN
General Admission
Adults $20
Students w/ID $10
Children 12 and under $10
purchase tickets here


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