CVPA’s Wanda Ebright Delves Into HBCU Dance History
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CVPA’s Wanda Ebright Delves Into HBCU Dance History

December 05, 2019

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ebright, associate dean and director of graduate studies in Winthrop University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, recently published her new book, “Dance on the Historically Black College Campus.”
  • She joined the Winthrop community in 2018.

ROCK HILL, SOUTH CAROLINA—For some, the word ‘research’ may bring up images of dusty book piles, endless Internet searches and overflowing library shelves.

But for Wanda Ebright, it was like a treasure hunt. 

Ebright, associate dean and director of graduate studies in Winthrop University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, recently published her new book, “Dance on the Historically Black College Campus.” The text explores the history of dance at HBCUs: from the current state of dance program practices to how HBCUs’ visions and missions give students a dance education while still honoring the African diaspora, whether or not the HBCU has a bachelor’s program in dance. 

Ebright’s work represents one of the few, if not only, texts on the subject – a sad fact she encountered during the research process. 

“Every once in awhile, I’d see an item about step shows. …But nothing substantial about dance programs at HBCUs,” she explained. 

Ebright chose five HBCUs as subjects for her research. She mined yearbooks, programs and newspaper articles, studied the history and mission of the HBCUs, examined how dance was viewed on campus and even searched YouTube videos with the school’s name plus the word ‘dance.’ She also looked into the HBCUs’ library holdings to see what resources were available for students and faculty/staff. 

“I felt like I was stumbling on buried treasure,” Ebright said. “There were these rituals, ceremonies, traditions, histories, and no one was going to talk about it outside of their gates. 

“We’ve all existed together in the same space for centuries, but only a fraction of histories are taught…and valued.” 

Ebright felt the same about dance curriculum at HBCUs. At the start of her research, of the approximately 106 HBCUs in the United States, only three had existing dance programs. 

“I see dance everywhere [at HBCUs], whether it’s a two-hour choreographed performance for Homecoming, which a huge percentage of the population is a part of; a Commencement event, where students dance on the stage in excitement – at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), Commencement had stilt walkers -- or Convocations. JCSU had African drummers and dancers leading the processionals. What does it mean that dance is everywhere but the HBCU curriculum?” Ebright said. 

“Dance on the Historically Black College Campus” is available on Amazon and Palgrave

‘Becoming a ballerina was the closest way to be like her’ 

Born in Savannah, Georgia, to an Air Force family, Ebright’s parents had a big rule for her and her brothers: they all had to be involved in at least one sport and one arts activity. 

Ebright, 52, chose softball, gymnastics…and dance. She started dancing at the age of 4. 

“I wanted to be a ballerina,” she said. “The qualities I associated with ballerinas – elegance, grace, superhuman strength – all reminded me of my maternal grandmother. She was frail physically, but a strong matriarch, and influenced the character of her family. Becoming a ballerina was the closest way to be like her.” 

She majored in French at Memphis State University and taught dance privately before earning a master’s in dance performance and choreography from Florida State University and a Ph.D. from Texas Woman’s University. 

She taught at several schools over the years and performed and began the dance program at Johnson C. Smith University. She’s a former president of the South Carolina Dance Association, and her choreography has been featured in Charlotte’s Festival in the Park, the Denver Independent Choreographers Project and the Panoply Choreography Festival in Alabama, among others. 

She joined the Winthrop community in 2018. 

For more information, contact Nicole Chisari, communications coordinator, at 803/323-2236 or chisarin@winthrop.edu.

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Last Updated: 2/18/20