Jessica Anthony: Graduate Institute Alumna Dances with and for the Underserved

Authored on:

Oct 27, 2015

Jessica Anthony is committed to using dance to tell previously silenced stories. A Visiting Professor in Dance, Anthony is currently co-directing Dancers in Company with fellow faculty member Michael Sakamoto, and the two are breathing new life into the 32-year old touring company.

Dancers in Company has long held the mission of preparing University of Iowa dance students for the experience of being a professional artist. The group rehearses throughout the fall and spends the spring semester touring throughout Iowa, performing in different venues and to diverse audiences.

This year, the department decided to add a public engagement component to the company. Students now take a one semester-hour class in which they study a theme and then incorporate their learnings into the dances. This year’s theme is water, and students have met with Craig Just (Engineering), Chuck Connerly (Urban and Regional Planning), Liz Christiansen (Office of Sustainability), and Peter Weyer (CHEEC).

Anthony’s engagement work began during her years as a graduate student in the UI Dance Department and as a 2012 Obermann Graduate Institute Fellow. During her week-long experience in the Institute, Anthony brought to fruition a dance workshop at the Iowa Juvenile Home (IJH) in Toledo, Iowa. Her first time running this workshop was in the spring of 2012, and the 6-week workshop served as a pilot for the future workshops she offered.

After her first workshop, Anthony held two additional workshops that included her undergraduate students who helped her teach girls in at the IJH compositional and improvisational components of dance. With these tools, participants learned to create movement to tell their stories and explored meaning making in dance. The workshop led to a final dance performance presented to the entire juvenile home.

Anthony eventually incorporated these workshops into her MFA thesis in which she created a dance that told the story of the experience with the girls at IJH as well as shedding light on the salient personal, social and political issues at play. Anthony highlighted both her dedication to the young women at IJH and the collaborative learning experience in her thesis work. From the workshops itself, Anthony and the young women created, The Lyric I, which was performed in the Bennett/Anthony MFA Thesis Concert in April 2013.

This thesis project modeled Anthony’s current relationship between community engagement and scholarship/dance making. By using her experiences and process as the material for composition and as the “evidence” of the experience, she continues to try to create an auto-ethnographic work. With these stories, Anthony tries to give voice to the young women she teaches, allowing the dance to become a vehicle for bringing displaced and silenced stories to the public.