Dance Research

Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) features research, scholarship, and creative work carried out by UMBC undergraduates. Student work is shared through oral presentations, posters, artistic exhibits and performances, and film. Over 250 presenters participate annually. Researchers work with faculty mentors on independent research, or research that is part of the mentor’s on-going projects. They are from all disciplines, and can be working on a thesis, capstone project, part of a scholars or honors program, or they can be unaffiliated with other programs.




Choreographing Intersectionality: A compositional Exploration of The Challenges Black Women Face (Kayla Massey)

Mentor: Shaness D. Kemp, Dance

The goal of this research project was to acknowledge the physical insecurities of Black girls that negatively affected their self image: a prevalent issue the affects the mental and emotional health of Black girls. I bring awareness to this concept through a choreography and composition in a three-section work. By using an artistic medium, dance performance, I believe that the audience has the opportunity to see the topic through a different perspective, and I give them a chance to see our physical features in a celebratory light.   

This work was funded through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Kayla’s VoiceThread presentation click here.



The Fourth Wall: A Choreographic Inquiry into Breaking the Invisible Divide Between the Dance Work and Audience (Rachel Wesley)

Mentor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

This research was a creative inquiry into the audience experience of dance through the development of a choreographic model in which the audience were an active partner in the creative outcome of a live performance. Using a real-time digital audience survey, the data influenced the work’s compositional algorithm (score) and these collective responses determined the compositional structure of the live dance performance. The research culminated in an interdisciplinary dance work that sought to alter the current structure that defines the audiences’ role as a passive observer of dance.

This work was funded through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Rachel’s VoiceThread presentation click here.



Under This Roof: Examining the Effect of Power Imbalances in a Family Dynamic through Choreographic Processes (Michaela Emmerich)

Mentor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

This creative investigation explores to what degree narrative and gesture based choreographic devices can be used compositionally to examine and bring awareness to the gray area in relationships affected by power imbalance. The gray area is a state in which someone involved struggles to determine what constitutes right and wrong, leading to inner conflict and confusion. My work will be examining traditional values as justification for abuse of power, and the navigation of extreme high and low emotional states caused by power imbalance in relationship structures. Negative impacts can be felt in romantic or non romantic relationships structured by values of love or relation. The objective for the work, and the specific use of gestures and narrative-based movement, is to create a visual experience of grayness that will generate conversation around what grayness is, how to recognize it, and what to do about it.

This work was funded through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Michaela’s VoiceThread presentation click here.



Choreographing Intersectionality: A compositional Exploration of The Challenges Black Women Face (Joshua Gray)

Mentor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

Mentor: Liz Patton, Media and Communication Studies

The presence of political debate and activism at dining tables, conference rooms, and other traditionally apolitical spaces has burgeoned in recent history. The Black church has been one of these politically transformed spaces that have been impactful in promoting movements around political ideologies. The Black body is political, and so are all cultural and religious practices from that experience. This research uses ethnographic and choreographic practices to explore themes of embodied Blackness, relational power, and institutionally-bound socio-political obligations. This research considers the question: how do congregants within Black Religious Institutions identify with their role in the political landscape that has led to change in diplomacy, legislation, awareness and transparency, civic engagement, and rights expansion — even on a microscale. Through collecting and interpreting oral histories within Black Religious Institutions, these stories and interactions informed a new contemporary choreographic work and an inquiry into choreographic methodologies foregrounding Africanist movement expression and values.

This work was funded through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Joshua’s VoiceThread presentation click here.





MotionWriters: Choreographing Syntactic Knowledge Awareness (Angelika Albertorio)

Mentor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

English Language Learners’ (ELLs) experiences can often be frustrating because their education may not address learning modalities that suit them, specifically when it comes to teaching English grammar. MotionWriters, a learning program created by Assistant Professor Ann Sofie Clemmensen and Dance/English Literature major, Angelika Albertorio seeks to address this problem by implementing a multimodal teaching approach that engages practicing English grammar through the involvement of the moving body. Inspired by the choreographic process, MotionWriters guides participants through a creative process structured around the creation and continuous revision of a fictional narrative. Students will go through a series of modules and creative devices/tasks. The differences of parts of speech, vocabulary, and sentence structure are explored through the whole body, including visual, verbal, and kinesthetic modes of learning. The MotionWriters pilot program is targeted at ELLs who are between the ages of nine to eleven. The community aspect of this program, coupled with the creative approach to English language and grammar, hopes to make for an interactive experience for students and inspire confidence for their future educational endeavors.

This work was funded, in part, by the Alex Brown Center for Entrepreneurship Scholar

To see Angelika’s VoiceThread presentation click here



The Obedient Body: Investigating Trained And Culturally Informed Movement Biases (Gretta Zinski)

Mentor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

Bias has become a buzz word in the movement for diversity and inclusion in our evermore diverse country. In posting the questions, what exactly is a bias and how do they affect our daily lives, this research investigated how biases manifest in movement habits using three movement prompts to call upon various biases including; the availability bias, confirmation bias, selective treatment bias and the in-group bias. Several patterns of emotional and physical reactions were observed from the submitted filmed and written responses. The first prompt inspired shame, betrayal, covering of the face and incorporation of everyday objects. The second prompt triggered fakeness, frustration and pantomime, and the final prompt surfaced longing, carving space with the limbs and touching one’s own body with their hands. These patterns show there is a common and physical way biases influence our experiences and will be further explored as artistic themes in this project’s final creative dance film. This study will serve as a basis for further investigation into the ways movement choices differ across cultural differences, and ultimately develop dance movement practices from these findings to deconstruct our perceived knowledge where these biases begin to turn into prejudice.

This work was funded, in part, through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Gretta’s VoiceThread presentation click here




The Guardians Of These Truths (Joshua Gray)

Metor: Ann Sofie Clemmensen, Dance

We have all felt the pain of homelessness in one capacity or another. The concept of exploration is that there are various manifestations of homelessness. Homelessness can be taken out of its literal context and can then be defined as lacking long-lasting possession or protection. Within this definition that can mean, abstractly, an absence of education, family, career, friends, etc. This choreographic research process and investigation dives into personal instances of being a victim of various manifestations of homelessness as well as leveraging the stories and circumstances within our communities. Additionally, there is an emphasis on the rehearsal process being an instrumental factor in the outcome of a piece of performance art.

To see Joshua’s VoiceThread presentation click here


“terminal”: Contemporary Choreographic Perspectives (Emily Godfrey)

Mentor: Carol Hess, Dance

“terminal” is a dance that explores the individual choice forced upon family members when a family dynamic is drastically changed forever. The work was researched and created for the Senior Dance Concert (November 2019), performed at the Fall Dance Showcase (December 2019), and will perform again at the “American College Dance Association” in March 2020. The inspiration of the work derived from observing the different ways a family reacts to the slow passing of a loved one that once connected the community. While the movement and placement of the dancers should somewhat show the original and intended message the choreographer envisioned, the audience is given the choice to create their own meaning to the dance, derived from what they experienced. Emphasizing the dimensionality from a range of minimalistic gestures to athletic locomotion, four dancers show a wide range of movement vocabulary to express confrontation, intimacy, and the feeling of imbalance. The piece is intentionally left open-ended, leaving the audience to reflect, react, and invoke discussion. So long as the work resonates with the viewer, the experience is what matters, not the presentation of a theme. This work was funded, in part, through an Undergraduate Research Award from the UMBC Division of Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

To see Emily’s VoiceThread presentation click here


I Make Milk (Sammy Siegel)

Mentor: Doug Hamby, Dance
“I Make Milk” is a dance exploring the biological and societal pressures on women to have children, and their mixed, intense emotions in response to those pressures. The work is a rebellion against female anatomy and the roles that dictate female-bodied individuals’ decisions. Female bodies are equipped with constant, high-maintenance biological reminders of their archaic role as a mother. Today, women have options for what to do or not do with their bodies. And yet, simply having the ability to reproduce carries an enormous pressure to reproduce in a country that has almost no structures in place to support parents, and then to raise children “correctly;” mothers are so frequently blamed for “flaws” in children that are out of their control. Physically, the choreography delves into confrontations and intimate partnerships among the three female dancers, highlighting their strengths through lifts, complex partnering, violently fast and demanding movement phrases, and navigation of scenery and props. This work was researched and created for the Senior Dance Concert.

“stoP ActiNg hysterICal” (Emily Godfrey)

Mentor: Doug Hamby, Dance
“stoP ActiNg hysterICal” is a dance piece that challenges the societal view and stigmatization of panic attacks. “stoP ActiNg hysterICal” will be premiered at the Spring Dance Showcase in May 2019. Due to biases, preconceived notions, and lack of understanding, the topic of mental health awareness has been pushed aside and not taken seriously, especially in adolescents and young adults. Panic Disorder, defined in the DSM-5, is an anxiety disorder based on the occurrence of recurrent and unexpected panic attacks, an abrupt surge of intense fear. The dance is a deconstruction of the biological symptoms of panic attacks and analyzes the societal stigmatization that acts as a barrier to people seeking help. Created on four dancers, the choreographer was created in undefined movement sections, while holding onto the overall timeline structure of the piece. The movement is inspired by humanistic gestures, bodily contortions, and physically demanding locomotion that recollects the symptoms and internal emotions of a panic attack. The dancers are a manifestation of the physical symptoms of panic disorder and represent the parts of society discriminating against the illness and not providing the needed support because of preconceived misconceptions.

Becoming Survivor: Understanding Human Trafficking Through Dance (Alexia Petasis)

Mentor: Steven McAlpine, Individualized Studies; Doug Hamby, Dance
This live dance performance, titled “Becoming Survivor”, explores the issue of human trafficking from a survivor’s perspective. Thanks to an Undergraduate Research Award, Alexia traveled to NYC to shadow activist choreographer Sarah Panayiotou, founder of BABEL Movement. BABEL Movement is a social justice dance company that uses dance to initiate social change. BABEL Movement partners with other social justice organizations to increase the rate at which they make an impact in addressing issues of inequality, racism, human trafficking, and more. This research included conducting interviews with dancers and audience members, participating in field studies, and observing Panayiotou’s choreographic process to gather information on the most effective ways to choreograph social issues. As a result of this research, this piece was choreographed to raise awareness about the realities of domestic sex trafficking in the United States. This dance was researched and developed with some of the methodologies and advice from Panayiotou. This piece calls attention to the various ways a victim can become trapped in the life of human trafficking and offers a deeper understanding of the manipulation into exploitation that occurs.

“Here On Shaky Ground, We Move” (Kasey Mannion)

Mentor: Doug Hamby, Dance
An exploration in contemporary dance trends, the creation of “Here on Shaky Ground, We Move” used a collaborative process between choreographer and dancers Joshua Gray, Alison Lavia, and Gretta Zinski. The dance performance work examines the idea of impermanence and how we may navigate the many unique ways change manifests itself in our lives. The dancers experimented with the concept of existing in a temporary place-both on a physical and emotional level. The focus of the choreography is primarily on the quality and nuances of the movement, unhindered by distractions beyond an understated musical score. “Here on Shaky Ground, We Move” is a movement conversation between the dancers. Each dancer moves as a soloist, as one half of a duet, and as a member of a collective unit. Unison movement is emphasized as the dancers bond with another as the dance continues. “Here On Shaky Ground, We Move” is an intimate look at this close-knit community of dancers.

Vagabond (Giavanni Powell)

Mentor: Doug Hamby, Dance
“Vagabond” is a dance performance work that challenges the stigma associated with artists who do not have a “back-up plan”. The work depicts self-evolution from adolescence into adulthood. There are three defined sections. The first section introduces the joy associated with recreational art when there is little responsibility associated with creativity. Dancers exhibit playful, child-like actions that parallel lighthearted music. Throughout this section there are moments of sharpness that subtly disrupt the initial liveliness. In between the first and second section there is a solo that represents the transition from adolescence to exposure to worldliness. The second section speaks to how external factors can influence the mindset to assimilate to normative ideals. This loss of identity is personified in the work as the dancers control each other’s movements to be more robotic or staccato motions. The third section portrays a physical representation of self-actualization. Human qualities are re-accessed through touch amongst the dancers revealing the common understanding that all things are tangible. This work is a redefined presentation of groupthink. Together the dancers grow from innocence that develops into wanting to fit in and conform, and from conformity that changes into the desire to discover and redefine self-capability and self-acceptance.

When Eve And Eve Bit The Apple (Teresa Whittemore)

Mentor: Doug Hamby, Dance; Sandra Lacy, Dance
“When Eve and Eve Bit the Apple,” is a duet choreographed by Teresa Whittemore, which premiered in UMBC’s 2018 Fall Dance Showcase. This work focuses on identity, its components, and the rejection of its permanence, specifically in the lives of queer people. It illustrates and challenges the perception that one characteristic or lifestyle-choice prohibits the presence another. The sound-score for my dance includes excerpts from an essay by Caitlin O’Keefe, in which she describes her experiences living as an evangelical Christian and a lesbian, and how she struggled to accommodate the union of church, homosexual love, and self. Through use of intricate partnering work and gaze, dancers Sarah Brewer and Michelle Ye embody this conflict. It opens with a solo performed by Brewer, whose movements represent a personal battle between what is expected and what is intriguing. Later, Ye enters, embodying the intriguing, liberated lifestyle that Brewer pursues. The dancers’ exchanges and movements allow an audience to observe the restrictions Brewer feels, drawn both to her faith and her sexuality. Labeling queer people as “different” serves as means to isolate and marginalize them, which influences both their experiences and agency in their own identity, as illustrated in this work.