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Reflections on Angela’s Pulse in Residence at VCU

VCU Dance Student Joi Brown reflects on Angela's Pulse year-long engagement.

Angela’s Pulse wrapped up our year-long residency at VCU, which focused on building upon, deepening and developing student leadership. Led by Paloma McGregor and AP Core Collaborator MK Abadoo, it was an extension of Paloma’s ongoing residencies with the VCU Department of Dance since 2018. This year we were joined by the Angela’s Pulse network: Core Collaborators Jessica Lee and Christine King; North Star Arts Incubator cohort members Joya Powell, Maria Bauman-Morales and Sarita Covington; and longtime comrade Johnnie Mercer. VCU Dance Students are now self-organizing in these three Working Groups: Communications: Systems of Practice and Modalities; Health, Wellness and Care; Deepening Values and Agreements.

VCU student Joi Brown reflects on the experience:

Angela’s Pulse year-long engagement here at VCU Dance came at such a critical time for our department. With all that had transpired throughout the Spring and Summer of 2020 the students of our department felt a tremendous need to organize and facilitate tangible forms of change within our community coming into the fall semester. Organization was already beginning to happen, but as the rigors of the semester progressed and students became less available to facilitate student organizing, some of that momentum for change fell by the wayside. However, with the help of Angela’s Pulse we were able to reestablish that energy and by the end of their engagement, we had several practices in place to bring outcomes to the goals we had created.

One goal was to find a way to foster better communication both among students and between students and faculty. The result of that goal was the creation of a student newsletter committee, that we entitled Modern Times. Our first publication will be sent out to the department during the first week of April. It will include columns for student announcements, alumni news, audition information, recipes, social justice resources, and mental health resources. All this came from an idea generated in a meeting with Angela’s Pulse. This is only one of several examples of the work done throughout this year’s engagement.

In addition to the successful results of the engagement, the actual experience of the sessions was also well needed. It provided a way to build community, which we all felt the absence of in the wake of Covid. Our department is so close-knit, it’s like a family. The lobby of the dance department building is usually packed with couches and tables as if it were a living room, and it felt as though it was. To come back to campus and see our building stripped of all those amenities barring us from gathering was devastating. We felt a loss of community in the sense that we no longer had a way to communicate in the in-between spaces. There was no getting to know the new freshman in the lobby between classes. There was no laughing (or crying) over assignments nearly due in between rehearsals. There was no flagging down a professor before they rushed from the studio to their office. There was no trading stories, or gossip, or jokes. There was only blank space, and that space was heavy. Angela’s Pulse helped us to fill that space through our sessions. We engaged with each other through culture shares, dance parties, games, and one on one breakout rooms.

Angela's Pulse at VCU (students and facilitators smile on screen in a collection of Zoom boxes)

One of the most memorable sessions for me, occurred when Angela’s Pulse brought in several guest speakers to create a panel discussing their work. The panel included Maria Bauman, Joya Powell, Johnnie Cruise Mercer, and Sarita Covington. Throughout our discussion with them, the topic of storytelling came about. I found the information they shared incredibly helpful as storytelling is something I consider integral to my work as a dancer and emerging choreographer. We discussed kinetic storytelling, archival storytelling, ritualistic storytelling, and autoethnography. All of which provided a great starting point for further research that I am currently engaging in.

The work done with Angela’s Pulse was so important because it allowed us to begin imagining ways to keep our community connected even across the virtual space, as well as fuel our individual creative endeavors in a creatively challenging time. I’ve seen so much more student organization both formally and informally since the end of the engagement, and I believe it is a direct result of the work Angela’s Pulse helped to facilitate in our community!

Joi Brown smiles in front of trees.

Joi Brown is a third-year dance and choreography major at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her work involves storytelling, personal narrative, and familial connections, through movement and performance-based practice.

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