As a certified instructor of Dunham Technique, I emulate the visionary artist-scholar Katherine Dunham by committing to decolonizing practices in dance education and aligning my own instructional practice with the struggle for racial justice.— Sukie Keita
With her specialization in Dunham Technique, Sukie is frequently sought as a guest, teaching for the American College Dance Association’s West Region, the University of Michigan, the Phoenix Center for the Arts, and Glendale Community College. As Chair of Pedagogy with the Institute for Dunham Technique since 2017, she has guided candidates to integrate the movements, philosophies, and theories of Katherine Dunham (1909 – 2006) into a cohesive, personal practice. Discovering her knack for building dance programs from their foundation, Sukie has led K-12 dance programs from Michigan to Arizona. As Director of Dance at Grand Canyon University, she founded the pre-professional student company and envisioned the Elementary Dance Tour as a vehicle for new students to learn in community, become familiar with the developmental needs of young children, and participate in the creative process. She has dedicated herself to guiding future dance educators to develop holistic, culturally competent approaches to leading their classrooms.
Participating in Sukie’s Dunham based jazz class during the 2022 Dunham Intensive Educator’s Track was insightful and rooted in fundamentals of the technique. Her clear delivery of not only the what and the how but also the why was inspiring and her care for the material and her students was palpable.– Danielle Lydia Sheather
Empowering education instills in students the radical idea that things do not have to remain as they are. When we entrust young people to become active collaborators in their own learning and support them to follow their passions, they perceive themselves as citizens with real power.
In my role as an educator, I am committed to anti-racist principles. I have not shied away from difficult questions. I believe that if a student asks, “Where was the Fourth Amendment to protect Breonna Taylor?” this presents a window of opportunity. It is not a moment to withdraw. By addressing students’ questions, we are enacting principles of culturally relevant and responsive teaching.
I aim to provide movement education that builds students’ inner authority and leverages their individual strengths. I want them to approach real-world problems with a sense of agency, which means they need problems to be posed, not solved for them. Even as we present novel material, we are equipping them with tools to manage their stress and surmount challenges when we give them the freedom to problem solve without constant intervention.
“An educator should consider that he has failed in his job if he has not succeeded in instilling some trace of a divine dissatisfaction with our miserable social environment.”
Research and Creative Scholarship
As of late 2021, I am in the initial phase of my research process for two different studies in dance education.
“We Don’t Dance for the Same Reasons!” An Inquiry for White Dance Educators Who Teach African Diasporic Dance Forms is a study that will address dance educators who teach and serve students in a variety of dance education settings.
When Piety Begets Hypocrisy: Dancing in a Conservative Space includes research questions that will examine the frameworks through which Protestant Christian Fundamentalists (PCF) understand the purpose of education as well as potential blindspots within students and faculty relationships that could cause conflict within a PCF educational environment.
- Dance Teacher Training
- Educational Consulting
- Curriculum Writing
- Action Research
- Dance Adjudication
- Public Speaking
- Project Design
Creative Activities in Dance Education
A full list of my creative and scholarly endeavors in education appears in my Résumé under Work Experience and Service to the Profession.
Here are a few examples:
IDTC and the Legacy of Katherine Dunham
The Institute of Dunham Technique Certification is a majority-Black, national, non-profit organization that leads an annual Certification Workshop, Intensives, and other educational programming with a focus upon Dunham Technique and dances of the African diaspora. As Pedagogy Chair of the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification, I led the transition to online instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic and provided support to all of our instructors. I regularly teach dance technique and pedagogy classes for the public as well as our certification candidates. As a board member, I am part of a small fleet known as our “worker bees” enabling IDTC to conduct conference planning, curriculum revision, candidate recruitment, archival, grant writing in support of the goal to sustain Katherine Dunham’s legacy.
Arizona Dance Education Organization
As a board member of AzDEO, the state affiliate of the National Dance Education Organization, I have focused on advocacy in the K-12 dance education sector.
- In the summer of 2020, I helped facilitate Addressing Inequality in Dance Education, a session at AzDEO’s annual Dance Educator’s Retreat.
- In 2015, I helped establish Dance At The Core, a K-8 grade initiative in local schools, in which we helped to plant a creative dance program that the school community would sustain on its own within a three-year cycle.
- I advocated for sponsoring an Arizona-based College Conference, which became the AzDEO College Expo. I became the first host at Grand Canyon University, and the site has shifted to various colleges that register to engage with the high school dancer students who attend.
- I helped actualize a long-discussed dream of offering the AzDEO Student Leadership Camp, targeted toward student officers of dance organizations, which would function as regular student clubs at each school and gain from their affiliation with students representing dance programs across the state.
- Dance Entry Level Teacher Assessment (DELTA): In 2017, I became a Field Testing Proctor for the DELTA, led by Dr. Dale Schmidt. BA Dance Education students DELTA is a collaborative effort by NDEO and the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) to build national consensus on baseline competencies for an entry-level subject knowledge certification test for dance.
Grand Canyon University
If you would like to learn more about why I am no longer affiliated with GCU, please visit my blog.
- Canyon Dance Resource: This was a project that I designed in collaboration with GCU’s Academic Web Services and Curriculum Design and Development. Responding to the need to provide our beginning level students with tools to support their proficiency in different languages of dance, we created the Canyon Dance Resource, an online video dictionary featuring the lexicon of Classical Ballet and Jazz Dance. Presenting three different camera angles at once, visitors to the website are able to “scrub through” videos of each movement at any speed, or reverse it, at will. In preparation for filming, I selected dance terminology, cultivated lists, and recorded the terms and definitions in a sound studio. This project was filmed in GCU’s Saguaro Hall studios, featuring the talent of four dance alumni from the program.
- Elementary Dance Tour: GCU’s Elementary Dance Tour was led for 9 seasons under my guidance. Each spring, our casts have visited thousands of students across the region of the Valley of the Sun. As founding director, I wanted to create a service-learning opportunity that brought about intergenerational experiences between college students and elementary students while raising the visibility of dance in our community and showing our fellow educators the value of dance as an educational medium. Every year, our freshman cohort engaged in a collaborative, creative process, in which they developed a two-part production including a performance and an interactive session.
Our goal was to share with other dance educators how our models (at Hope and GCU) have been developed over the course of 6 years by discerning the benefits for our student populations and best practices for our growth and continued success, helping attendees envision program models that are relevant to their own communities’ needs.
- My approach to teaching Dance History is based upon Dunham’s theory of form and function. Rather than looking at dance in similar places, we begin by studying dance forms that share a similar purpose. For instance, Kabuki from 15th century Japan and Ballet from Renaissance Italy and France became classical forms that are both performed inside formal, theatrical settings. Each dance form functions to express the ideal virtues of society while demarcating the line between good and evil. An anthropological approach to studying dance in a cultural context allows us to ask deeper questions that surround dance, which in turn helps students self-reflect and ask what values they hold and how these values might impact their dancing.
A full list of my research endeavors appears in my Resume under Conferences and Presentations.
Here are a few abstracts from selected presentations:
Dunham Jazz: #OriginalBlackGirlMagic
Presented at the 2019 National Dance Education Organization‘s Jazz Dance: Hybrids, Fusions, Connections, Community Special Topic Conference in Newport, Rhode Island.
On the film set of Stormy Weather in 1942, Katherine Dunham argued with director Andrew L. Stone about his plan to introduce her dancers on a rain-soaked street. She was victorious. Leaving the rain behind, Dunham and her dancers enter a new setting, complete with a cascading stairway and marble floors. The resulting Afro-futurist vision is still unmatched today. Throughout her career, Katherine Dunham deftly navigated through racial, gender, and class norms. She sparked mainstream interest in Black dance traditions and included Americana sections in her concerts, embracing vernacular expression. Despite this, speaking of the larger dance community in 1980, Dunham biographer Joyce Aschenbrenner wrote, “They may have failed to recognize the development and extension of Dunham’s technique because they were distrustful of its mass appeal.” (Aschenbrenner, 1980)
Dunham created her technique out of a need she perceived to provide Black dancers with a new foundation for dance movement. The Dunham Technique provides a historical perspective that is sorely lacking in the field today, one that highlights the centrality of the Africanist Aesthetic in American vernacular dance. Dunham Technique is an interdisciplinary dance technique that includes foundational references from dances of the Black Atlantic and the African Diaspora, classical ballet, and modern dance. In my movement session, I will teach Dunham barre, floor work, and progressions, and include musical accompaniment such as Haitian and Brazilian rhythms, blues, and jazz.
Through the study of Dunham Technique, dancers can achieve a range of desirable outcomes- spinal fluidity, efficient and thorough use of plie, specificity with isolated movements, rhythmic acuity, and power for elevation. I align myself to positive pedagogical practices in the model set forth by Katherine Dunham and Dunham Company member Vanoye Aikens (1922 – 2013), who cultivated an approach to teaching jazz using the signature vocabulary of the Dunham Technique. My intent as an artist is to emulate Dunham by decolonizing dance education to the extent that I can as an ally in the struggle for racial justice and parity, particularly in the area of vernacular and concert styles of jazz dance.
Sharing Our Elementary Dance Tour Model
Presented at the 2019 National Dance Education Organization’s: The Creative Process: Choreography, Choice-Making, and Communication Conference in Miami, Florida. Co-presenters included Marlene Strang (MA), Nicole Flinn (MA), Justine Bach (BA), and Carissa Eubank (BA)
Are you ready for an experiential workshop that will share insights, activities, and ideas surrounding student touring companies that visit local K–12 schools in their communities? Discover how pre-professional dancers and dance educators are able to develop meaningful choreographic, performance, and pedagogical skills through a service-learning project at the undergraduate level. The session will dive into cultivating best practices by distilling commonalities and differences between two such programs: GCU’s Elementary Dance Tour and Hope College’s StrikeTime Dance Theatre. Faculty will guide participants through a creative process for thematic dance-making that honors each individual’s ideas, expression, and technical background. The session will explore improvisation and choreography experiments that help to create professional quality choreography that works to engage elementary students in movement observation and exploration as a route to deeper learning. Emerging teacher candidates take away valuable benefits from the experience while elementary students advance their learning through dance.
Grand Canyon University’s Elementary Dance Tour endeavors to bring a high-quality arts experience to K-8 students in the Phoenix metropolitan area, at no cost to the local schools. StrikeTime’s company in Holland, Michigan strives to expose children to dance through interactive performances that embrace a connection to learning, creativity and imagination through the use of a touring assembly performance and a main-stage theater performance. At GCU, the production is created through a series of dance experiments, where freshman dance majors and new transfer students engage in an improvisational collaborative creative process to develop a theme that is exciting and meaningful to children. At Hope, student company members create and design work that develops inquiry, promotes the transfer of learning, and enables opportunities for audiences to make connections to ideas and concepts across disciplines. Both touring programs aim to spark young audience members’ impulse for self-expression by offering creative tools that will help them explore dance and the performing arts.
Moving In Step With Katherine Dunham: A Model Curriculum
Presented at the 2013 National Dance Education Organization’s The Art and Craft of Teaching Conference in Miami, Florida.
Through a curriculum that moves in step with the theories and philosophy of Katherine Dunham, secondary grade students will experience a classroom ethos marked by high expectations and self-discovery. I have written a 6-lesson unit of integrated arts lesson plans that are aligned to the Arizona Dance Standards and bridge across studies of the arts and humanities to elucidate the effectiveness of this proposal. Dunham’s theories form and function, socialization through the arts, and intercultural communication have direct pedagogical application in our K-12 schools and particular relevance for the millennial generation.
The dance technique that Dunham invented circa 1931 has been continually modified to adapt to contemporary trends in dance and new kinesiological research, yet it is part of a holistic system which aims to develop the whole person. Form and function helps students recognize that every dance arises out of a particular cultural context. Socialization through the arts emphasizes the unique offerings of dance as an educational medium. Intercultural communication emphasizes cultural universals rather than romanticizing dance from unfamiliar cultures while demonstrating that there are different levels of symbolic and social meaning encoded in movement. (O.C. Banks, 2010)
Through her schools and programs, Dunham aimed to raise the sense of social responsibility among youth and help develop identities as artist-emissaries, helping them to “overcome some of the destructive elements in (their) environment, through a compelling artistic vehicle.” (Ashenbrenner & Carr, 1989, p 140) Further, she stated, “they must know the society in which they work. It’s good to know how much it influences you and how much you influence it.” (Vega, 14) Dunham Technique recognizes dance as a social act and one in which the practitioner performs her authentic self. Through reflection on the similarities and differences in dance forms across cultures, students experiencing this system become more self-reflective about their personal and social identities.
Through a six-day guest artist residency that introduces the Dunham system, students will be guided to achieve outcomes in the psychomotor, affective, and cognitive realms. With consistent application of metacognitive strategies in all language domains that support Dunham’s philosophy of self-examination, students will gain problem-solving and critical thinking skills that will allow them to stand up to challenges inside and outside of the dance studio. Katherine Dunham’s ideas should not be followed because of any allegiance to her legacy, but because of the relevance of her theories and philosophy to a contemporary teaching context. Always ahead of her time, Dunham continues to illuminate our way forward.
Applications of the Dunham Technique in Jazz Dance
Presented at the 2012 Humanities Education and Research Association’s Crossroads Conference, in Salt Lake City, Utah
Katherine Dunham’s work in vernacular dance provides a historical basis for a student’s study as a future dance educator. What is unique about the praxis is its root in the culture of American dance. It is this fundamental basis that provides a historical perspective, and a connection to a lineage decades old for students of Jazz dance in the 21st century.
If the definition of vernacular is “the language of a country or district” and “everyday speech” then Jazz was the dance vernacular when Dunham created her technique circa 1931 thus positing her technique as a tool for implementing and understanding the origins of the form. Dunham’s work as an anthropologist also underscored the cultural retentions present in Black culture as she linked Black vernacular dance forms to the larger African Diaspora.
This paper looks at the application of Jazz dance pedagogy through the lens of Dunham technique in post-secondary education. Through Dunham’s theoretical underpinnings of form and structure to her method of using dance as form of socialization, we will be comparing the progress of 40+ dance education students as they journey from their previous dance studio training in Jazz that made no reference to Dunham technique and into the realm of higher dance education at Grand Canyon University which uses Dunham Technique as the center of inquiry and investigation for Jazz dance.
A Metacognitive Approach to Dance Education
Presented at the 2011 Humanities Education and Research Association, “Transformations” Conference in San Francisco, California and the 2011 4th Annual Research Symposium at Grand Canyon University
How might dance educators share their intellectual wealth and influence the educational landscape in the 21st century? In my own attempt, I have developed a hypothesis that metacognitive and self-reflexive strategies will greatly aid in the psychological development of college students majoring in dance education. Metacognition and self-reflection require students to consider whether cognitive goals have been met and can lead them to modify their thought patterns. I would suggest that sufficient reinforcement will lead to a revision of our behaviors. As the director of a newly founded dance education program at Grand Canyon University, I have a unique opportunity. Our incoming students come from a range of backgrounds, but are sharing a common experience of transitioning from their former dance training environments to a collegiate dance context.
I will study how students guided in the use of metacognitive strategies can bolster their ability to problem solve by setting meaningful goals, strengthening essential skills, and psychologically motivating themselves to follow through. A range of multi-sensory experiences will allow for and shape these growth experiences, including tactile feedback, journal writing, dance improvisations, peer teaching opportunities, somatic practices, videotaped dance performance exams, and written self-evaluations. During these tasks, students are expected to address specific problems and record observations, which will help them to modify their behaviors.
The application of brain-compatible, metacognitive strategies will greatly enhance the experience of dance education students and prepare them for their positions in the future. By directly addressing their deficits and strengths, this approach is one that justifies our hopes for a brilliant, transformed world.