DANC 312—Special Topics: Dance and Commemorative Justice, CRN 18219

Department of Theatre and Dance

Prof. Alicia Díaz

Fall 2019





Who decides whose histories are remembered, and whose contemporary realities are valued? How can dance be activated to amplify intentionally submerged histories and be part of broader conversations towards social change and racial justice? How can academia support RVA’s newly emerging Commemorative Justice movement?

This course has been designed as a Community Based Learning class. It will be a collaborative effort with VCU dance faculty/choreographer, MK Abadoo, and Historical Strategist Free Egunfemi of Untold RVA. UR and VCU students will work together in their course “Dance and Commemorative Justice: Brother General Gabriel” at VCU. Students will participate in the creative process and production of Brother General Gabriel, a site-based Commemorative Justice dance and design work co-directed by Abadoo and Egunfemi. The work will enact and reclaim a deliberately submerged narrative of historical resistance that emerged from the collective work of intersectional communities in antebellum Richmond, VA. Students will join an array of local community justice workers to honor the memory of 24-year old Brother General Gabriel, Richmond’s unsung insurrectionist who led an uprising against African enslavement in the year 1800. The work will also commemorate the 400th year since the first approximately 21 African people were forcibly brought to the Powhatan country of Tsenacommacah and enslaved by English people on a land grab that would come to be called Virginia.

There will be multiple ways to participate in the course as performers, working on the production team, documenting the creative process and performance, and/or documenting the significance of this history through interviews, research, and writing.

The performance of Brother General Gabriel is one of the commissioned works of the year-long Tucker Boatwright Festival–Dancing Histories: This Ground, curated by the Department of Theatre and Dance. It will take place on Friday, October 10th with 2 consecutive performances at 6 pm and 7pm.



FIRST HALF OF THE SEMESTER: For the first half of the semester, you will join the creative process of Brother General Gabriel, with MK Abadoo and Free Egunfemi. You will have the opportunity to work alongside VCU students, local and guest dance artists, and other community members. With them, you will study Untold RVA’s coined phrase Commemorative Justice, Adrienne Maree Brown’s Emergent StrategyAngela’s Pulse, the Design Justice Network, and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. Using an anti-racist framework, you will learn how to openly, boldly and compassionately share practice within a creative process and make art from an analysis of power and accountability to community organizing. At UR, you will be assigned additional texts, videos, and online sources, and attend performances and museum exhibits that will further contextualize your work. You will be required to submit weekly blog entries and other written assignments that will inform your final project.

LOGISTICS: During August-October you will travel to attend class sessions/rehearsals 10-11:30 AM at VCU and/or the performance site at the former Richmond City Gallows, an unmarked site located within the perimeter of the Ancestral African Burial Ground. Transportation will be provided for you to leave UR at 9:30 AM so that you can arrive at VCU by 10 AM and return shortly after 11:30 AM so you can arrive back at UR by 12 PM.

Additional evening rehearsals will be held between Monday Sept. 30 and Wednesday, October 9, in preparation for the performance on October 10th. Exact times and dates are TBD. I will let you know more details once I have them. For now, please plan to be flexible during those dates. Transportation will be available for all rehearsals.

The performance of Brother General Gabriel will be on Thursday, October 10. There will be 2 consecutive performances at 6 PM and 7 PM. Call time for that day is TBD. Transportation will be available.

If the performance is cancelled due to inclement weather, it will take place on Saturday, October 11th. Please make plans to be in Richmond for that date just in case.

CREATIVE PROCESS CLOSING REFLECTION, NEXT STEPS & VISIONING: UR and VCU students will come together to process their experience in the project and to envision possibilities for the future on Thursday October, 17 during class time @ 10:00 – 11:30AM.

SECOND HALF OF THE SEMESTER: During the second half of the semester, our class will meet at UR during the regular 10:30-11:45 AM class period. You will analyze the historical significance of the history amplified in Brother General Gabriel, the creative process of the production within an anti-racist framework, and the performance. For your final project, you will create a digital story drawing from your experience and your blog entries. Your digital story will focus on both the history of the insurrection in 1800 as well as your own journey throughout this project. You will have an opportunity to consider the significance of the process of creation and how it may have differed from any previous experiences you have had with other creative process or community organizing. You will also have the opportunity to consider how amplifying a deliberately submerged history of the pursuit of liberation in Richmond, VA, presents an opportunity for you to think about your own family history, where you come from, and how that history shapes your identity and your work today. You will receive training and assistance from the Faculty Hub for the creation of your digital stories.


  • Required text: Richmond’s Unhealed History by Benjamin Campbell.
  • Additional readings, videos, and online sources will be distributed throughout the semester.


Grading will be based on a 100-point system:

30         Blog Posts and Written Assignments

10         Attendance and Response to Performances/Exhibit

10         Midterm—Reflection Paper

20         Final Project—Digital Story

30         Class participation: disposition and effort. You are expected to be open to learn new and unfamiliar material, and to participate fully, both physically and verbally in class discussions.  You are expected to fulfill all assignments on time.



1–NOTEBOOK—Devote a notebook to this course to record material covered in class and relevant discoveries. Please bring your notebook every day for in-class written assignments and discussions. You can also use this notebook to record any personal reflections that you prefer not to share publicly in your blogs but that are important to you and may inform your final project. (Not Graded)

2–BLOG POSTS AND WRITTEN ASSIGNMENTS (30 points)— For this class, we will be using UR Blogs and BOX. There will be a Project Hub site with all course documents and centralized discussion. Each student will also create their own site for their blog entries. (Instructions for UR Blogs will be provided separately). You will be required to submit weekly blog entries reflecting on the creative process of Brother General Gabriel. You will also write blog entries discussing assigned readings and videos. Specific prompts will be provided throughout the semester. Students will read and comment on each other’s entries. These written assignments will be graded on content rather than writing style. However, bear in mind that the rest of the class will be reading them and commenting on them. At the end of the semester, your blogs will constitute a portfolio of your work and will inform your final project. You will receive points for fulfilling the assignment with integrity and on time. Be prepared to present your ideas and thoughts in class discussions. (Guidelines will be provided separately).

3–ATTENDANCE AND RESPONSE TO 5 EVENTS (10 points)—You will receive points for attending the event and posting a blog entry. See calendar of required performances/events on p.7 at the end of this document. (Guidelines will be provided separately).

4–MIDTERM—Due Tuesday, October 22 (10 points)—Reflection Paper (5 pages) on your participation and experience in the creative process and production of Brother General Gabriel at the former Richmond City Gallows, an unmarked site located within the perimeter of the African Ancestral Burial Ground. (Guidelines will be provided separately).

5–FINAL PROJECT/DIGITAL STORY (20 points)—You will create a digital story that addresses 1) the historical narrative(s) researched and explored in Brother General Gabriel; 2) the creative process; and 3) personal reflection on your own history and experience. You will have an opportunity to define the specific focus of your digital story. Preparation for your final project will begin at the beginning of the semester with your blog entries, shared footage of the creative process, and collecting of visual images and/or any other materials that you consider might of interest for your digital story. Your Final Exam will be a public sharing of the digital stories to invited guests. We will discuss how these digital stories may be shared later with a broader community. (Guidelines will be provided separately).

6–CLASS PARTICIPATION (30 points)—You are expected to actively co-create and participate in a safe and respectful environment that supports exploration, promotes learning, and demands excellence. You are expected to engage in discussions, to listen carefully to others, and to offer thoughtful and informed contributions. You are expected to fulfill all assignments on time—failure to do so will result in loss of grade points.

7–SELF-CARE—Your body is your creative instrument. In order to participate fully in this project, you must take care of yourself in and outside of the studio.  That means:  healthy nutrition, healthy sleeping habits, injury prevention, physical therapy if needed, and overall life behavior that supports a healthy, vibrant body, mind, and spirit that can be fully present during class and the creative process. Please reach out to me if you are experiencing any difficulties that interfere with your well-being and we can discuss UR resources that might be able to help you.

8–FLEXIBILITY AND ADAPTABILITY—This class will embark in a unique community engagement project. You will be participating in the creation of an exciting event in the city of Richmond that has already gained the interest of many community members, organizations, and city officials, including Mayor Levar Stoney. Furthermore, this will be an on-site, place-based project in the city. Part of the nature of these multi-layered projects is that there are many different components and unknowns along the way. It may feel intense and perhaps even confusing or frustrating at times. Students must be willing to be flexible to changing plans as they evolve, and adaptable to unforeseen circumstances. Clear communication will be of utmost importance for the success of our work together and with our community partners. Please respond to emails/calls/texts promptly and never hesitate to ask questions and request clarity whenever needed.


  • T-shirts or tank tops and long comfortable pants that cover the lower part of the legs.
  • Sunscreen lotion and/or hats to cover from the sun during rehearsals at the site.
  • Kneepads. I recommend these: http://www.contactquarterly.com/kp/cq_kp.php
  • Sweatshirts may be worn to soften shoulder area during floor work in the studio.
  • Keep hair off the face but wear in such a way that facilitates floor work (i.e.: no buns or pony tails in the center of the head).
  • No jewelry.


  • Punctuality is expected.
  • Full participation is expected in every class.
  • Illness or injury must be discussed with the instructor BEFORE class. If unable to take class physically, students will be expected to observe, take notes, and participate in group discussions.
  • Turn off all phones.  No texting during class.
  • No gum.



Attendance & Student Safety

Attendance is essential for the learning process in a studio-based course. Students are allowed 2 absences and are responsible for all material covered. After two absences, the final course grade will drop one-half (1/2) letter per absence.

Students who are sick (not contagious) or injured may observe class and take detailed notes in class or write a 1-page response paper of the class in order to get credit for class participation. The notes or response paper must be typed and submitted on Blackboard by the following class period.

If you miss more than two classes, I will be concerned with your ability to keep up with the course

work and discussions. I do however recognize that life is complicated and you may be sick or have familial obligations. Your health comes first, if you are sick, please stay home and take care of yourself. If attendance becomes a problem, communicate with us. Credibility is earned and communicating clearly is one way to earn credibility.


Absences for Religious Observances and Holidays

The University is a secular institution that values a diversity of religious expression. Any student may be excused from class or other assignments because of religious observance. If you know you will miss an academic obligation because of religious observance you must let me know within the first two weeks of the semester. You will be responsible for completing missed work in a timely manner.  The entire religious observance policy may be found at:



Late Assignments

Students are expected to submit all assignments on the day that they are due. If they

are not submitted on time, you will be penalized 1 point of your grade for every day the assignment is late. If there is an emergency or problem with submitting an assignment, please let me know as soon as possible.


Cell Phones & Other Electronic Devices

This course is designed to be a collaborative and discussion based class. Please put away all cell phones and electronic devices during the class period. You are required to bring a notebook and pen to each class for in-class writing exercises. We will use phones, video cameras, computers, and/or other electronic devices for specific purposes throughout the semester.