Islam’s influence on the Black Arts Movement

A Duke scholar highlights the prominence of Black Muslim artists in the Black Arts Movement.

by Catherine Angst

San-Ra’s cacophonous composition for Amiri Baraka’s A Black Mass pulsed through the air on Wednesday, October 2nd, during Professor Ellen McLarney’s lecture, “Black Arts, Black Muslims: Race, Religion, and Culture.”

“Interestingly, people think of Muslims as against art and music,” said McLarney, “This project challenges that assumption.” McLarney is a professor in Duke’s Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies and the Department of Gender, Feminism, and Sexuality Studies. Her recent research focuses on Black Muslims, and she teaches a popular course on the topic.

Ellen McLarney presents to a full room of people.

Professor Ellen McLarney presents on Amiri Baraka’s “A Black Mass”.
photo by Catherine Angst

McLarney positioned her lecture in the late 1950s through the 1970s during the heart of the Civil Rights era, the Black Power revolution, and the Black Arts Movement. She noted a rise in public awareness of The Nation of Islam from a famous Mike Wallace PBS documentary, “The Hate that Hate Produced.” The film feature Malcolm X for the first time in a national forum.

With the rise of The Nation of Islam, Black American Muslims were defining an empowering space for themselves with Islamic teachings in an environment of white supremacy. McLarney quoted a well-known Malcolm X speech Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, “Who taught you to hate the texture of your hair? Who taught you to hate the color of your skin?… Before you come asking Mr. Muhammad does he teach hate, you should ask yourself who taught you to hate being what God made you.”

During this period of history, several artists in the Black Arts Movement converted to Islam. These artists took Muslim names, and the nature of their work shifted to reflect Islamic beliefs. Perhaps most famously, the poet and playwright LeRoi Jones converted to Islam after the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and took the name, Amiri Baraka.

As a Muslim, Baraka created his famous play, A Black Mass, which tells the story of a Black scientist, Yakub, who breeds the white race through eugenics. McLarney notes that this play and the Yakub story draws a lot of criticism towards the Nation of Islam, but she sees the play as a dramatized allegory which is reflective of the period.


" In the face of this repeated onslaught against Black lives, this poetry talks about rebirth, new life, brotherhood and sisterhood, and nation-building." Ellen McLarney, Duke University

“The Nation of Islam accrues charges of violence, anti-Semitism, and misogyny, but if you look at their writings, they actually talk about self-defense in the face of genocide,” said McLarney, “In the face of this repeated onslaught against Black lives, this poetry talks about rebirth, new life, brotherhood and sisterhood, and nation-building.”

McLarney’s lecture was part of the John Hope Franklin Center’s Wednesdays at the Center series and was made possible by the Duke Islamic Studies Center and the Duke University Middle East Studies Center.

The Wednesdays at the Center series is a free, weekly public lecture held every Wednesday at noon in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall in the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road, Room 240).

Walking the Campus with Father Mike

This article originally appeared on the Duke Global blog.

A priest discusses how his service at Duke has deepened his faith.

-By Duke Global staff

Duke students call something forth in me, said Father Michael Martin, better known as Father Mike, at a Wednesdays at the Center event on Sept. 18.

Giovanni Zanalda, Fr. Mike Martin, and Julie Maxwell talk at a table

From left to right: Giovanni Zanalda, director of the Duke Center for International and Global Studies; Father Michael Martin, director of the Duke Catholic Center and Julie Maxwell, program coordinator at the Duke Islamic Studies Center.
Photo by Renate Kwon / Duke Center for International and Global Studies


“I thought I had grown into an adult faith, but I realized after being here that there’s still much more,” said Father Mike, director of the Duke Catholic Center. “These students make me want to be a holier man, a better priest and Franciscan.”

At Duke, Father Mike sees his role as “walking with others” to assist them in learning more about their spirituality and to empower students to walk with their peers.

Father Mike spoke at the John Hope Franklin Center as the first speaker in the series, “Conversations with Duke’s Religious Life Leaders.” Giovanni Zanalda, director of the Duke Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) explained that the idea of the series was to get a sense of what religious leaders are doing on campus. This academic year, DUCIGS will host four different speakers, with representatives from Hindu Life, Jewish Life and Muslim Life.

About 20 percent of Duke students are Roman Catholic, according to the Duke Catholic Center, and the Catholic community is the largest single denomination on campus (the Jewish community is the next largest on campus at 11 percent). On average, 500 students attend weekend Mass at the Duke Chapel.

At the talk, Father Mike emphasized the growing need for a shift in Duke culture, away from an emphasis on “doing it all” to one focused on building student strength and resiliency. Coming to Duke after serving as president and headmaster of his former Catholic high school in Baltimore, Maryland, Father Mike has seen major shifts in education over the past 20 years. Asked about the difference to coming to Duke, he noted that “the stakes and the stress are higher.”

Dismissing the notion that an exposure to higher education replaces religious faith, Father Mike argued that the long tradition of Christianity has focused on creating spaces of mindfulness. He believes that prayer is rooted in the individual but connects to something outside of ourselves."I never thought that coming to Duke would deepen my faith the way that it has. I am humbled by the studetns here who engage their faith. I feel they call forth from me something greater." Fr. Michael Martin, Duke Catholic Center

“Students come to me and say they don’t know how to pray,” Father Mike said. “I tell them not to chase God, but to acknowledge his presence in your life at the moment.”

Wednesdays at the Center is a free, weekly public lecture series held every Wednesday at noon in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall at the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road, Room 240). The series is sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies.

Here are the upcoming talks in the series:

Five Ways to Market Your Global Experience

This article was published on the Duke Global website on August 28, 2019 (LINK).

Duke experts offer advice on how international experience can enhance your career.

-By Alexis Owens

Global experience could be what sets you apart from others while applying for a job or post-graduate studies. Below, our campus experts outline five ways to gain international experience and apply it to your career goals.

Hands holding globe

1. Create global networks

Making global connections can start on social media, says Marion Pratt, director of global careers at the Sanford School of Public Policy. Students can use their social media platforms to create global connections with others, document their experiences and keep up-to-date with global topics.

“Take full advantage of social media platforms to connect with and follow like-minded people,” Pratt says. “Ask for informational interviews with people in jobs that interest you, or if you know them well and they are willing to let you, shadow them for a day at their job.”

Here are some additional tips Pratt offers to help build your global network:

  • Keep up with the international news, such as The Economist, The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal.
  • Volunteer to assist local immigrant and refugee organizations.
  • Go to international food and craft fairs.


Academic building

2. Utilize local resources

Making global connections can start right in North Carolina. Amanda Frederick, assistant director for Duke University Center for International & Global Studies, encourages students to not only use campus resources, but to branch out locally, as well.

Here are some resources that Frederick recommends:

Visit the Global Education Office (GEO) to learn about the activities and programs they offer. Speak with GEO advisors, study away ambassadors and peer advisors about study away opportunities and the benefits of off-campus study.

  • Visit Duke’s International House to learn more about how to join campus international groups and connect with international students.
  • Connect with faculty from abroad or faculty who conduct programs abroad.
  • Join community organizations and groups, such as Raleigh Sister Cities and International Focus.


Woman writing down notes with pen and paper

3. Start with small steps

“Even seasoned travelers are sometimes nervous about traveling!” Marion Pratt says. “Try your first overseas experiences in small doses to build up your confidence.”

Do plenty of research before picking a study away or work abroad destination, says Pratt, because being prepared for your trip can help alleviate some of your worries.

Here is some more advice from Pratt for would-be global travelers:

  • Take short volunteer or language training trips to nearby countries, such as Latin America or Caribbean nations.
  • Reach out to the Duke Career Center for guidance on internships and work opportunities.


Hand holding pen

4. Highlight your experiences

There are several ways having international experience can make students more employable in the job market, according to Amanda Frederick. For example, students can provide examples from their study abroad experience and explain how those skills or qualities may relate or be beneficial in the position to which they are applying.

Here are some skills and qualities Frederick suggests:

  • Identifying and solving problems (crisis management)
  • Able to learn quickly in a new environment
  • Seeking opportunity for continuous learning
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity


Man with briefcase

5. Apply your learned skills

Employers anticipate finding certain skills and traits when global experience is mentioned, but it is the student’s responsibility to identify what they learned, says William Wright-Swadel, assistant vice president for student affairs. Having the experience creates opportunity, he adds, and with opportunity, you are able to gain valuable skills you can apply.

“Most employers anticipate international experience will create, in candidates, an awareness of and an appreciation for difference, an ability to engage and to learn in different environments and a willingness to take some risk in securing the answers necessary to make decisions,” Wright-Swadel says.

Here’s more from Wright-Swadel on what employers hope to find in candidates with international experience:

  • Individuals with different perspectives, communication styles and problem-solving processes
  • Candidates who will demonstrate the ability to become a leader
  • A manager who will effectively unite a diverse team in accomplishing organizational goals

The ‘Unseen Power’ of Silenced Black Women During the Civil War

Through her archival work, a Duke historian revives hidden stories of the Civil War era.

This article was published on Global Affairs on September 13, 2019 (LINK).

By Alexis Owens

For Thavolia Glymph, spending days in government archives – searching for one detail – can be worth it to help tell forgotten and dismissed narratives of the lives of Black women who labored during the Civil War.

“The documentation is here, and we’ve just ignored it,” said Glymph, a professor of history and law at Duke University.

On Sept. 4, Glymph gave the first lecture of the Wednesday at the Center series. Her talk titled “Civil War Refugee Camps: Camp ‘Commandants’ and Black Woman and Children,” chronicled a few of the numerous untold stories and experiences of Black women who lived, worked and raised families during the Civil War.

Throughout the lecture, Glymph allowed her research to speak volumes about those untold stories. Glymph shared accounts from an overwhelming history filled with the trauma that both Black women and Black children endured during the Civil War, as well as their triumphs.

Glymph is the author of “Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household,” “The Women’s Fight: The Civil War’s Battles for Home, Freedom, and Nation” and other works.

I insist we put African American Union women back in the Civil War story. They didn't just fight for their freedom, they fought for our nation." -Thavolia Glymph

“I explore what it means to ‘listen’ to the sounds of violence that accompanied the project of making freedom and, simultaneously, what anthropologist Nancy Hunt calls the ‘hushing of sound’ and what Rob Nixon terms ‘unofficial hostilities’ and their lingering impact into the 21st century,” Glymph said.

The stories Glymph read emphasized key moments in Black women’s lives that showed how their contributions to the war were devalued and slowly erased from the dominant historical narrative. Because some of these women applied for pensions as soldiers’ widows through the federal government, “immense records” are available through the U.S. National Archives. Glymph’s work also uses wartime documents from the treasury, war and state departments, and the previous Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands.

Those stories reveal negative representations of Black women, unfair treatment, underpaid labor, as well as discriminatory state policies and practices. This is a history that Black women are far too familiar with, but the pattern of dominant history often excludes these details.

During the talk, Glymph told the story of U.S. Navy nurse, Ann Stokes (née Bradford), and the unceasing obstacles she faced while trying to receive a well-deserved pension from her work tending wounds and comforting soldiers during the war.

Stokes was an escaped slave, and she was one of the first women to enlisted as active-duty personnel in the Navy during the Civil War. She resigned from her position in October 1864 and later sought a widow’s pension. In 1890, she applied to alter an invalid pension in her own name based on her service as a Union army nurse. She was qualified for a pension after resigning, but the process was complicated due to her inability to be able to read and write. She was also put through an exhausting process that would first lead her to be denied her pension.

Though Stokes died from “disease of heart and rectum,” Glymph argues the strenuous work Stokes performed as a nurse contributed to her death in 1903.

Like many other Black women applying for duly earned pensions in the Civil War era, Stokes experienced excessive scrutiny of her personal records, body and details of her personal life. Examiners even questioned family members and neighbors, only to discredit their accounts that supported Black women as “unreliable.”

The violence Black women experienced during the war often occurred “out of sight,” to borrow from Nixon, and was normalized.

“Some would say Stokes died of old age,” Glymph said. “I like to think of Stokes’s death as a death of slow violence.”

Wednesdays at the Center is a free, weekly public lecture series held every Wednesday at noon in the Ahmadieh Family Conference Hall at the John Hope Franklin Center (2204 Erwin Road, Room 240). The series is sponsored by the John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies.

Fall 2019 – Wednesdays at the Center

Wednesdays at the Center (W@TC) is a topical weekly series in which scholars, artists, journalists, and others speak informally about their work in conversation with the audience. This semester the John Hope Franklin Center is proud to collaborate with partners across Duke and throughout the larger academic community to present a discipline diverse series.

Join us on Wednesdays throughout the semester from 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm in the Franklin Center’s Ahmadiah Family Conference Hall, room 240. A light lunch is served at each event.


September 4, 2019 – Civil War Refugee Camps: Camp “Commandants” and Black Women and Children

with Thavolia Glymph, Ph.D., History Department, Duke University


September 18, 2019 – Conversations with Duke’s Religious Life Leaders

with Fr. Michael Martin, O.F.M. Conv., Duke Catholic Center


September 25, 2019 – Collecting the Web Collaboratively: Web Archiving and the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation

with Samantha Abrams, Columbia University Libraries


October 2, 2019 – Black Arts, Black Muslims: Race, Religion, and Culture

with Ellen McLarney, Ph.D., Asian Middle Eastern Studies Department, Duke University


October 16, 2019- Conversations with Duke’s Religious Life Leaders

with Madhu Sharma, Ph.D., Duke Hindu Life


October 23, 2019- Ain’t I a Women Too? The Intersections of Race, Victimhood & Survivorship in Sexual Violence

with April-Autumn Jenkins, Duke Women’s Center


October 30, 2019- Intimate Communities: Wartime Healthcare and the Birth of Modern China, 1937-1945

with Nicole Barnes, Ph.D., History Department, Duke University


November 6, 2019- Non-academic Job Possibilities in Washington D.C. for Social Science Ph.D.s

with Andrew Stein, U.S. Department of State’s Office of Opinion Research


CANCELLED November 13, 2019- Why and When People See Immigrants as Threatening?

with Juris Pupčenok, Ph.D., Political Science Department, Marist College

This event will be reschedule for Spring 2020.


November 20, 2019- Smart Archaeology: Uncovering Secrets beneath the Surface

with Maurizio Forte, Ph.D., Regis Kopper, Ph.D., Katherine McCusker, Duke University


December 4, 2019- Representing Migration through Digital Humanities

Charlotte Sussman, Ph.D., Duke University


Is That All Your Hair?

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesdays at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed Bibi Gnagno, J.D. for a conversation on her new documentary project, “Is That All Your Hair?”


The John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke University Center for International and Global Studies (DUCIGS) sponsored this event, which discussed beauty in the context of identity, belonging, and power for African and African-American women. Bibi Gnagno is a graduate of Smith College with an M.A. in French Language and Civilization from New York University Graduate School of Arts and Science in Paris and a J.D. from North Carolina Central University. She is the founder and owner of a company called OMG I Love Your Hair and is now working on a documentary film focused on her experiences in western Africa, specifically Côte d’Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast.


Gnagno was born in California, but she spent about twelve years of her life growing up on the Ivory Coast before her parents moved back to the U.S. When she returned to the Ivory Coast for a policy fellowship, she had mixed feelings about her identity. Would she be considered an insider or an outsider by the local people? Gnagno expected that more women would wear their hair natural in Ivory Coast, but in fact, she observed the opposite—most women there did not wear their hair natural. Instead, the local women followed trends that were “imported” from places like the United States and consumed media highlighting African-American women with straight hair.



Gnagno wanted to explore the power of beauty, especially hair, and how it related to women’s lives and access to resources in Ivory Coast. Since West Africa is run by a patriarchal system, Gnagno noticed that women there felt pressure to look good for men. In both the U.S. and the Ivory Coast, Gnagno observed women who felt they had to look a certain way to advance their career or gain acceptance from others. Gnagno also realized that capitalism played an important role in beauty standards. She noticed that this culture of commodity was built on a sense of losing one’s identity, urging people to buy products in order to look a certain way and feel a sense of belonging.


The idea that women could not be confident, comfortable, and accepting of themselves in their natural state bothered Gnagno. When she wore her hair natural on the Ivory Coast, women were constantly asking her, “is that all your hair?” They wanted to know how she styled it so well. Gnagno brought together groups of women and taught them how to style their natural hair with healthy products that were local to the Ivory Coast like shea and cocoa butter. Unfortunately, these products were hard to come by because so many were being exported to other countries. Yet, health was another major motivation for Gnagno—many women end up damaging their hair and scalps with products like hair relaxer, which is a chemical formula that can burn the skin if not used properly.


Gnagno’s definition of beauty has evolved, and she says that “beauty, for me, is character. As I’ve gotten older, looks fade… beauty is what’s on the inside, but a lot of times we don’t encounter that first.” Gnagno realizes that changing society’s perception of hair and beauty is a massive project, but that doesn’t stop her. She praises women in positions of high power who have chosen to make a statement by wearing their hair natural. Gnagno hopes to return to the Ivory Coast in the near future to create more content for her documentary so that she can share her film, “Is That All Your Hair?” with the world.

Crisis in the Andes: Why Venezuela is Different

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesdays at the Center series, Keith Mines to give a lecture named “Crisis in the Andes: Why Venezuela is Different”. Mines currently serves as Director of Andean Affairs in the State Department with responsibility for managing U.S. relations with Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.


The John Hope Franklin Center and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies co-hosted the event, which discussed what makes the Venezuelan crisis different from other crises.


During the 1970s oil was discovered, and Venezuela became one of the largest oil producers in the world. Mines spoke about how there have been political problems embedded in the Venezuelan government since the rise of oil production. Mines describes the current conflict as “one of the few crises in the world today that is completely unnecessary,” and as “a purely self-inflicted wound.”

Patrick Duddy and Keith Mines take questions from the audience.

Keith Mines and Patrick Duddy field questions from the audience.

Venezuela eventually succumbed to intense corruption, as Mines stated, “[there has been] no period in history where you have that much corruption, on that scale, by one entity.” Mines pointed out that it was “unprecedented” that so many Venezuelans fled the country despite its recent status as middle class. He also stated that it was “quite an inspiring case of other countries taking in the Venezuelans that have been fleeing.”


Venezuela’s government became so embedded with corruption that it now relies on its own dysfunctional economy as a requirement to maintain political control. Mines stated that it is “a system and web to keep as many people dependent on the government as possible.” Meanwhile, presidential controversies between different leaders such as Juan Guaidó (partially recognized interim President of Venezuela) and Nicolás Maduro (disputed President of Venezuela) contribute to the complexity of the situation.


Two main features that set Venezuela apart from other crises include its regional support and the fact that other countries are so willing to intervene. Another main feature is the role of American policy in the crisis. There is no American military involvement. The Venezuelan crisis will require time and patience to mend. Mines believes that “these things don’t last forever… it’s not a normal way to live for them or for anyone else.”

Visualizing the Muslim Gandhi

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesdays at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed Tim Dobe, Th.D. and Sumathi Ramaswamy, Ph.D. for a conversation on “Visualizing the Muslim Gandhi.”


The John Hope Franklin Center, Duke India Initiative, and Duke Islamic Center hosted the event, which discussed the connection of Gandhi to Islamic culture. Dr. Dobe is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Grinnell College and a current visiting fellow at the Duke Islamic Studies Center. Dr. Ramaswamy is a James B. Duke Professor of History and International Comparative Studies at Duke, Co-Director of Duke’s India Initiative, and President of the American Institute of Indian Studies.



Dr. Dobe discussed how there is often a focus on Gandhi’s Hinduism and western influence, but less attention on his ties to Muslim culture. In his earlier years, Gandhi was often depicted in art as “a man of the people,” and he was known to put immense effort into dressing appropriately to fit in with his surroundings. For instance, there are images of Gandhi in a suit while he was training to be a lawyer, and images of him in traditional Indian dress when he returned to India.


Furthermore, Dr. Dobe shared many works of Khwaja Hsan Nizami, who studied Gandhi and is known for his literary pieces. Nizami even predicted that Gandhi’s legacy would extent to the year 2050, when there would be a landscape of ethics and non-violence and nearly all Muslims would be vegetarian.


Dr. Ramaswamy shared artistic depictions of Gandhi later in life, when he would go without clothes and present himself nothing but a loin cloth. Artists depict this stage of Gandhi’s life in different ways—for instance, the modern Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain did not shy away from painting Gandhi’s unclothed body. Meanwhile, Sayed Haidar Raza, who was also a modern Indian painter, rarely showed Gandhi in his paintings. Yet Raza’s work is still a reflection of his perspective on Gandhi.


As Ramaswamy explained, “there is no single way in which Muslim artists respond to Gandhi’s barely clothed body.” There was also the potential that artists were worried about allowing their faith to stand in the way of their art. However, the limitations that faith may have had on an artist’s work can be difficult to determine.

Deconstructing American Theater’s Great White Way


by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesdays at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center welcomed a panel of theater experts to speak about incorporating minorities into American theater. The guests included Sophie Caplin, Onastasia Ebright, JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, Lulla Kiwinda, Monét Marshall, Dr. Jules Odendahl-James, Maria Zurita Ontiveros, and Casey Pettiford.


The John Hope Franklin Center hosted the event, which focused on Black and Latinx spaces in theater. The panelists discussed what it is like to be a minority in theater and the challenges and hopes that they have for the field.


Lulla Kiwinda, Sophie Caplin, Jules Odendahl-James

Lulla Kiwinda, Sophie Caplin, Jules Odendahl-James


Panelists explained that when they direct a play, it is not simply a play— it is a message to the world. These artists want everyone to exist as more creative citizens. Monét Marshall said that if an audience member leaves the theater without a new “nugget” of perspective— such as a provoking idea, an interesting encounter with a new person, or meeting themselves in a new way— then she feels like her plays are not giving back to the community in the right way.


Onastasia Ebright stated that she has learned “not to wait for permission,” even on the Duke campus. She explained that she has to go out and work on her ideas if she wants to make them happen, by forming and maintaining committed relationships. The fact that Duke is a predominantly white campus can make it more challenging for diverse theater to emerge. When the play with an all-black cast called Once on This Island was first proposed, some people said that there were not enough talented people of color. However, a play like Once on This Island had never been done before and there was no prior experience to back up excuses like not enough talent.



Even all-black casts can be controversial. By separating out black shows from “everybody else” (white shows), black shows become a scarcity and black actors feel like it’s their only opportunity to be in a show. The panelists also warned about “token-ize”ing people- for instance, highlighting the one Black, Latinx, or woman actor in a show. Marshall recommended leaving behind this scarcity mindset and instead “leaning into abundance.”


Marshall said that she creates work for her future self. People from other backgrounds can come, but they don’t have to come. She sticks to what brings her joy, and encourages younger artists to not carry the emotional work of catering to a white audience. Bridging the gap between black and white audiences will require hard work and a commitment to relationships of value and acceptance from both sides.

Dancing from the Inside/Out

by Kelley Reardon

As part of the Wednesday at the Center series, the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies welcomed internationally acclaimed Canadian dancer and choreographer Margie Gillis to give a lecture called “Dancing from the Inside/Out”.

The John Hope Franklin Center and the Duke Dance Department co-hosted the event, in which Gillis discussed her experiences with dance throughout her life, including her career as a dancer and her role as a teacher of conflict resolution through movement. Gillis also talked about her dance company, the Margie Gillis Foundation.

Gillis grew up in an extraordinarily athletic family with two Olympic skiers as parents and a brother in the National Hockey League (NHL). At age 8, she experienced a nervous breakdown due to multiple unexpected changes in her personal life. To overcome this challenging time, Gillis learned to reintegrate herself from the inside, out. She turned to dance as a form of expression. Dance taught Gillis to move “through” life’s obstacles with both physical and emotional dexterity.


Margie Gillis quote




From being the first artist to bring modern dance to China in 1979 after the Cultural Revolution to performing in tours all over the globe, Gillis has gained a unique perspective of the world. She sees dance as a universal form of communication, and is fascinated by the “limits of language,” yet the “clarity of physicality”. Gillis said, “I’m not really precious about [my identity], including my name,” and emphasized that she cares more about fluidity, community, and understanding.



All of Gillis’ work is “based on notions of health,” including both physical and mental health. Gillis’ mentorship in conflict resolution has changed many lives for the better. Gillis believes that “dance is devalued in many of the cultures of our society,” and she has experienced the strong transformative power of movement first-hand. Gillis has seen dance used as a method to bridge communities, heal trauma, and embrace character. She encourages others to interpret dance in a way that works best for them, and stated, “I find people miraculous, absolutely miraculous in their strategies… their challenges become their areas of strength.”