Migration and Dance

Amyaz Moledina and Rachel Lau ’19

Migration is a subject of great debate the world over. Perhaps the reason for controversy and debate has to do with how movement, which is central to migration, has been conceptualized and associated with imagined concepts like “home” and “host” which is further confused with the imagined community of nations. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Ghana discussing Liberian refugees, in Jordan talking about Palestinians, or in India discussing Hindu’s, Muslims or Kashmir, we are surrounded by narratives of difference. There is plenty of (scientific) evidence that suggests that difference is perhaps the wrong way to understand humanity. After all, Spencer Wells and plenty of other scientists, not to mention humanists, have shown we are all related. We have more in common than we care to admit. How does one bring people to this realization? Ribeiro and Fonseca (2011) write that: “Dance, an activity endowed with intentional expressivity and intrinsic affectivity” can be used to stimulate empathy. “When dancers improvise, they understand each other’s motor intentions and emotions. Thus, the dancers share decision making and build an ephemeral movement structure.”

Peter Pucci, an accomplished choreographer and the founder and director of Peter Pucci Plus Dancers, first investigated the intersection between migration and dance after hearing about the work of geneticist Spencer Wells on the history of migration in the world. Through research into DNA sequencing, Wells concluded that all modern-day humans share a common ancestor. Thus, individuals are not only 99.9% similar in terms of their DNA, but also have been in contact through historical movement of peoples over millennia. Pucci’s fascination with the relationship between migration and human relatedness became the driving force of his creation “Migration.” First performed in 2018 in Baltimore, “Migration” brought together 50 dancers consisting a mix of professionals and local high school and college students to “move together.”

Meanwhile, a group of faculty members at The College of Wooster formed after the Faculty College of Mobility and Movement in 2018 were working on reconceptualizing migration. They were interested in building community and bridging divides. A body of research indicates that the use of dance and movement can be used to develop social bonds and mutual understanding. Sheppard and Broughton (2020) argue that dance participation improves social well-being, and Yamamoto (2015) shows that positive social change can be attributed to arts education. The Social Impact of the Arts Project (2002) demonstrates that community arts activities can reinvigorate communities. Moreover, Ribeiro and Fonseca (2010) explore how dance improvisation enables certain neurological processes allowing empathy among individuals. Given the potential of dance as a tool for community building, the collective energy of Laura Sirot, Amyaz Moledina, and Kim Tritt, later joined by Mareike Herrmann and Niklas Manz, proposed a kinetic experience to bring different groups closer together. Their goal was to merge perspectives and the movement of seemingly unrelated bodies in an collectively choregraphed ephemeral movement. The generous support from The College of Wooster’s President’s Office using funds from a Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant brought about the Migration and Dance project at The College of Wooster from September 6th to 14th in 2019.

Peter Pucci was invited to facilitate the week-long event given his interest in migration and movement along with his experience working with diverse groups of people of various ages and backgrounds. As Pucci puts it, “Inevitably, everyone that you’re working with is from somewhere else.” Just as you have an eclectic group of artists working together for the same production, from directors, performers, to light, set, and costumer designers, you have people from varying social-economic, political, and religious backgrounds working together in any given time no matter where you go. Everyone is constantly collaborating with everyone else.

In an interview with a student participant of the program, Sam Powers remarks that “A great way to get to know people is to move together.” Powers’ comment captures the sentiment of Migration and Dance as an interdisciplinary kinetic learning experience. 

A diverse group of individuals were involved in the project. Participants included a group of volunteers and students and faculty of three different classes, including the Choreography class taught by professor Kim Tritt from the Theatre & Dance department, the Transnational Migration in Germany class taught by professor Mareike Herrmann of both the Film Studies and German & Russian Studies departments, and a First-Year-Seminar class taught by professor Niklas Manz from the Physics department. The collaborative efforts resulting from this event were showcased on the main stage of McGaw Chapel in an informal workshop performance on Saturday, September 14, 2019. The show featured the performance of nine movement pieces that were collaboratively choreographed over a week of rehearsals. Ending the showcase was an improvised piece titled “Migration Mashup” where all the participants spontaneously and organically choreographed their movements into a collective performance. While the audience enjoyed the performances on the stage, they also had the opportunity to learn about the work and the thought process that went into the performances through an open discussion with the performers.

In interviews with the participants during the event, the value of setting the stage for cross-disciplinary collaboration became evident (see video above). As Pucci mentions, “Everyone feels empowered… and connected to the process.” While Migration and Dance examined migration through movement, the event also went further. Themes that came up in the student reflections showcased in the video above echo the insights from the body of research on dance, empathy, and social well-being. For example, Ethan Samangy and Lijiayi Wang’s comments about “fun” and “friendships” reinforce Sheppard and Broughton’s (2020) argument that dance can improve social well-being. Crystal Sermon in her reflection mentions how she was able to explore other people’s natural movements and how this pushed her chorographically. Sermon’s point echoes Ribeiro and Fonseca’s (2010) idea that “In contemporary dance improvisation, dancers are simultaneously their own choreographers and their partners’ spectators. The dancers have to be aware of themselves and of their partners.” Jack Doughty reflects… “I don’t usually work too well with others necessarily; Or don’t open-myself-up like that, especially with dancing…At the end of the day, its pretty cool how you can spend so much time prepping for something… and turn it into something that is short, concise, and beautiful!” This illustrates Ribeiro and Fonseca’s point about overcoming (imaginary) limitations to create an ephemeral movement structure. Ensleigh Hollon also reflects, “Everyone is a dancer, even if they don’t think they are…. And can come together.” She points out, “Those different movements are our common denominator”. The takeaways from this kinetic learning experience were not only academic, but apply to everyday life. Perhaps, empathy built through movement is the key to move towards an imagined community that we all belong to, regardless of where we were born, how we look, or the place we call “home”.

Gendered (Im)mobilities at the U.S.-Mexico Border

The US-Mexico border has long served as a point of contention yet also as a meeting point; as both a site of transgression as well as a site of legal regulation and containment. Some scholars refer to the border region as a denationalized space that is less regulated; others focus on how borders areas become highly contested, reterritorialized spaces as a result of immigration and trade laws from agreements such as NAFTA, and related processes of border militarization.poster

You are invited to a public lecture on “Gendered (Im)mobilities at the U.S.-Mexico Border: From 9/11 to the Trump Era“. The talk will take place on Tuesday October 23rd at 7:30pm in Lean Lecture Room, Wishart Hall 303 E. University St. College of Wooster. The event was live-streamed and an archive is here.

Professor Amy Lind, Mary Ellen Heintz Professor and Head of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati will speak about her most recent book Feminist (Im)mobilities in Fortressing North America. In this discussion Dr. Lind will center poor migrant women’s experiences crossing the border as a way to rescale the discussion. She will take embodied experience into account, and make connections between gender and broader struggles concerning sovereignty, citizenship, national security, and migration.

Faculty College a Success!

Faculty and staff from five GLCA Colleges gathered in Wooster Ohio on May 20-23rd, 2018 to discuss mobility and movement. We hosted five speakers from diverse fields to discuss their research and the so-called “Mobilities turn”. The Faculty College was inspired by the desire to move beyond conventional ways of thinking about migration.

Participants of the Faculty College

More importantly, we wanted to create a network of scholars thinking, learning, and reflecting on the pedagogies of mobility beyond the borders of our institutions and traditional academic scholarship. We seek to “Open Education” and promote other forms of activist scholarship. During the College, faculty and staff brainstormed research projects that we could collaborate on going forward. If you would like to see the lectures, please check out our YouTube Stream.

Following are examples of germinating projects and project leads.

    1. Oral History Project (Brian Miller and Laura Reeck)
    2. Edited Volume. Working Title: “Conceptualizing and Living (Im)mobilities and Bordering Practices”
    3. Mobility of Material Culture and Ideas (Jim Bonk and Margaret Ng).
    4. Walls, Towers, Weapons Wires: Materializing Mobilities and Immobilities (Rebecca Alexander)
    5. Ecology of Mobilities (Katie Holt)
    6. Footsteps through Migration (Laura Sirot and Kim Tritt)

Feminist (im)mobilities and Liquid Fractures: Migration and Mobility in North America and the Mediterranean

For over a year, a diverse group of faculty, staff, and students across the Great Lakes Colleges Association have endeavored to build an interdisciplinary research and learning community between educational institutions. Our goal is to recast limiting notions of migration towards inclusive notions of mobility and movement. Mobility examines the processes, structure, and consequences of the movement of people, resources, commodities, and ideas.

Continuing its commitment to “Challenging Borders” the College of Wooster will host a panel discussion on contemporary issues related to migration and the dynamic relationship between the mobility of people, ideas, and commodities. In this panel, we will focus on two geographies, North America and the Mediterranean. Our central question is how policies, histories, ideas, imaginations, and institutional structures have suppressed the movement of some and facilitated the movement of others. The panel discussion will be held in Wishart Hall, Lean Lecture Room at 7:30pm on April 19th. The event was free and open to the public and was also live-streamed. (The archive is here).

A “mobilities mindset” requires us to ask questions differently. Who gets to move? Who doesn’t move, and why? It asks us recognize (structural) power relationships that give rise to movement and lack of movement.

Movement is rooted in “particular times, places and local cultures” (Greenblatt, 2009). As such, we are focusing the panel discussion on the realities and discourses surrounding two borders, the US-Mexico Border and the (imagined) Mediterranean border between Europe and North Africa. Amy Lind will speak about Feminist (Im)mobilities, NAFTA, and the post-9/11 US-Mexico Border and Maurizio Albahari, will talk about migration via the Mediterranean route.

Dr. Lind is Mary Ellen Heintz Professor and Head of the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of Gendered Paradoxes: Women’s Movements, State Restructuring, and Global Development in Ecuador (Penn State University Press, 2005), and editor of four volumes, including Feminist (Im)mobilities in Fortress(ing) North America: Rights, Citizenships and Identities in Transnational Perspective (Ashgate Publishing, 2013). This work engaged feminist scholars/activists from Mexico, Canada and the US, she will discuss how NAFTA has resulted in “mobile bodies” but immobile citizenships. Her work has been motivated by knowledge that “until recently, feminist knowledge production itself has often occurred through a nationalist lens which sometimes propagates, rather than questions, state power and global hegemonies”. (Runyan, Lind et al, 2016)

Maurizio Albahari is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, where he is also concurrent Associate Professor in the Keough School of Global Affairs. He is the author of Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). His articles and editorials on refugee mobility and related civic engagement in the Euro-Mediterranean context have appeared in interdisciplinary and news media venues including the Journal on Migration and Human Security, Social Research, Humanity, Anthropological Quarterly, History News Network, openDemocracy, Perspektif Magazine, Fox News, and CNN.

Dr. Albahari, in “After the Shipwreck..” argues that “Entrenched contradictions are likely to resurface in the Mediterranean.” When it comes to the European and global regulation of mobility (rather than commodities), the “neofeudal” dimension grasped by Carens (2012) is an especially apt qualifier. The neofeudal regime can only be implemented through the infrastructure of mass detention and removal,” amongst other political agreements and structures.(page 280). Albahari, like Lind, also questions his own position in the tragedies he reports on in the Mediterranean. “Through my research, I know that in order to unsettle civic apathy I need to represent migrants as they are, not as they are expected to be, which is often trafficked victims to be saved or grateful recipients of charity. How can I summon the memory of drowned lives in a way that goes beyond moral denunciation and personally redeeming gestures?

Please join us for what promises to be a provocative panel on April 19th, 2018. We thank our sponsors: the Cultural Events Committee, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, Global and International Studies, and the GLCA Challenging Borders Project.

Albahari, Maurizio. 2016. “After the Shipwreck: Mourning and Citizenship in the Mediterranean, Our Sea.” Social Research 83(2): 275–94.
Carens, J. H. (2014). An overview of the ethics of immigration. Critical Review Of International Social & Political Philosophy, 17(5), 538-559
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. 2010. Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge University Press.
Runyan, Anne Sisson, Amy Lind, and Marianne Marchand, eds. 2013. Feminist (Im)Mobilities in Fortress(Ing) North America: Rights, Citizenships, and Identities in Transnational Perspective. Farnham, Surrey ; Burlington, VT: Ashgate.

Faculty College Announced May 21-23, 2018

Join us for a faculty college on Mobility and Movement. The faculty college will support the formation of this borderless interdisciplinary learning community. The learning community will create open educational resources, collaborative classes,  and produce interdisciplinary research that recasts limiting notions of migration with inclusive ideas of mobility and movement. For more information, contact Amyaz Moledina and Ibra Sene at College of Wooster, and Isis Nusair at Denison University or register here.

Wooster’s Picture Gallery 2016-17

GLCA International Studies Conference

The culminating event of the Challanging Border’s series for 2017 was the GLCA Undergraduate International Studies Research Conference in Kauke Hall. The goal was to share and celebrate our collective inquiry in global and international studies.

Students from Albion, Allegheny, Denison, Oberlin, and Wooster presented their research to professors, parents and thier assembled peers.

Half of the conference were devoted to understanding cotemporary issues in international studies, such as water politics, the effects of UN organizations, social capital, political autonomy of INGOs, women’s rights movements in Morrocco, and police violence in Latin America. The other half of the presentations focussed on historical and contemporary issues in migration studies.

For example, Erin Worden ’17 from Dension University tried to make feminist sense of sexual violence of refugee women in Greek migratory routes. She argued that “Women’s bodies are on the frontlines on war.” She found that, “sexual violence targeting refugee women in the Eastern Mediterranean-Balkan route attempts to establish hegemonic masculinity, though these women actively contest this power by exercising agency.”

Sarah Strum ’17 from College of Wooster designed a quantititve study to show how negative racial and ethnic stereotypes about Syrain refugees affected public support for relocatation. After reviewing the literature that suggested that economics and ideological factors determined support for rellocation, she found statistical evidence that internalized negative racial and ethnic stereotypes of refugees, decreases support for refugee relocation.

One highlight from the program was the faculty panel on migrations. Dr. Nusair presented preliminary ethnographic research on Syrian refugees in Germany and Dr. Miller presented his work on the Turkish Guest worker program that began in the 1960s. A full program is available here. GLCA Intl Studies Undrgrd Rsrch Conf 2017

Alia Malek reflects on her new memoir

Students from the College of Wooster, Kenyon, and Denison congregated in Granville to hear Alia Malek read and answer questions from her recently released memoir, The Home that was our Country. We were lucky to be the first stop in the public launch of the book.

Malek is an author and civil rights lawyer. Born in Baltimore to Syrian immigrant parents, she began her legal career as a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. She has worked in the legal field in the U.S., Lebanon, and the West Bank until she returned to complete a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. Since then, she has written for various international media outlets including New York Times and Jadaliyya. She has authored multiple books including “A Country called Amreeka”. In 2016, she was awarded the 12th annual Hiett Prize in the Humanities.

Alia Malek at Denison

In her memoir she weaves stories about her family in Syria and the United States with the socio-political history of the region. At the talk, she narrated the complicated nature of her family’s personal journeys between Syria and the United States. She highlighted definitive moments in her life such as a visit to Syria after she graduated from high school. In this story about her arrival at the Syrian airport, “camcorder in hand”, she deftly illustrates her journey to finding a voice in the presence of the arbitrary policy practices of the Syrian regime.

One aspect that Malek dwelled upon was sectarianism and the problematic way in which the media and the west understands the Syrian and Middle Eastern conflict. She quoted Bassem Haddad who argues that when we hear about the Middle East “One finds very little about the political connections of these rulers with their regional and international supporters/bankrollers.” Their complicity is just as important as those of the local elites in telling the story of the Arab uprisings.

Further, Bassem Chit, has suggested that, “Sectarianism’s role in the political and ideological arena has always been centred on redefining a crisis in a new ideological form – an attempt to reproduce a “new” hegemony to conceal the crisis of bourgeois society. The reason why religion still plays an important role in defining political expression in Arab and Middle Eastern societies is due to Western colonial rule. Capitalism created both nationalism and sectarianism, defined as a reaction and a by-product of the crude social transformations it generated.

Before colonial occupation, religious institutions in the Middle East did not rise to the commanding heights as those in the West. Instead they played a servile role to the existing autocracies. Under the Ottoman Empire the Qanun (the secular legal system) coexisted with religious law (Sharia).

During the period of deteriorating feudal power religious institutions shifted their allegiance to the new bourgeois classes, and in some cases these institutions expanded their power base through the acquisition of land or by encouraging capitalist investments in land under their control.”

During most of the last five centuries, modern-day Syria was part of the Ottoman Empire, groups of Orthodox, Catholic, and other Christians; Alawis, Ismailis, and other sorts of Shia Muslims; and Yazidis, Kurds, Jews, and Druze lived in enclaves and in neighborhoods in the various cities and towns alongside Sunni Muslim Arabs.  The concept of a state, much less a nation-state, did not enter into political thought until the end of the 19th century. Inhabitants of the various parts of what became Syria could move without feeling or being considered alien from one province of the Ottoman Empire to the next. Thus, if the grandfathers or great grandfathers of people alive today were asked about what entity they belonged to, they would probably have named the city or village where they paid their taxes.

To understand Syria today, it may be better to study this “contact zone” historically with reference  to global and local process that shaped the extant power relationships.

With Wooster students

Transcript of Speech by Alia Malek at Denison U.

Sonia Kennebeck to screen documentary on the human cost of US drone program

The College of Wooster is excited to host Director Sonia Kennebeck who will screen her film, “National Bird” on Tuesday Feb 21st at 7:30 pm in Scheide. The event is free and open to the public. The film is an investigative documentary that explores the complex issue of drone warfare from a human perspective. Through this film, the director/producer, Sonia Kennebeck hopes to enrich the public discourse on the U.S. drone program. The film illuminates the impact the drone program has on people – veterans and survivors. It asks the audience to confront the human side of the drone program. In a recent article in the Guardian – Heather Linebaugh, one of the whistleblowers wrote: “Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them a few questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.” Another drone operator echoes, “Its like borders don’t matter anymore”.

Like previous advancements in military technology, combat drones have transformed warfare, outpacing the ability of legal and moral frameworks to adapt and address these developments. A broad public discourse is critical to understanding the social cost of drone warfare.

Screening and Conversation with the director is sponsored by: Global and International Studies, Political Science, Cultural Events and the GLCA Grand Challenge Grant. Wooster’s Grand Challenge Grant will build an interdisciplinary research and learning community beyond the borders of our educational institutions. Our goal is to recast limiting notions of migration towards inclusive notions of mobility and movement. We also want to extend the idea of mobility to include objects and ideas and suggest that mobility is part of being. In inviting Kennebeck, we are exploring how mobile war technology has altered the forms of interaction between soldiers, states, citizens, and the victims of war.