By Madeline Kurtz
One of the hallmarks of Brockport’s Dance Department is the Sankofa African Dance and Drum Ensemble. This year, the Ensemble assumed new leadership under Assistant Professor Jenise Akilah Anthony. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Anthony brings a wealth of knowledge to the Department via her teaching, research, and choreography, and the Department is thrilled to see how Sankofa will continue to thrive under her direction.
Growing up in the Caribbean, Anthony was constantly told that dance was not a viable career option, so she planned to pursue science. However, in high school, an instructor asked her why she was not studying dance more seriously, and ended up driving Anthony and two other students to weekly pre-professional level dance classes. They started with jazz, and upon receiving distinctions on their dance exams, added in studies in other genres. Upon graduating high school, Anthony made her way to Coppin State University in Baltimore on an Honors College scholarship. A self-proclaimed “Brainiac,” she took school very seriously and garnered opportunities and accolades because of her diligence. Her sophomore year, she was named “Most Outstanding Dancer” by Coppin State’s Dance Department and was given the opportunity to continue honing her pedagogy as a Teaching Assistant and Community Dance instructor. By her junior year, Anthony became founder and co-director of the Annual “MERCY” Liturgical Dance Conference and Concert, leaving a strong legacy in the department to date.
It was during her undergraduate studies that Anthony realized that culture and technique could go hand in hand, thanks to Professor Darby Pack. Previously, Anthony had always felt trapped by the binary of cultural dance and Western dance (i.e. ballet and modern). She recalled, “if you did Western [dance], you had no culture, and if you did cultural dance, you had no technique.” Pack allowed Anthony to find the meeting place of these two worlds as a fusion form, which ultimately became her area of expertise and research.
With this clearly defined interest in fusion that surfaced in her undergraduate career, Anthony Immediately moved on to Texas Woman’s University (TWU) where she pursued her M.F.A. in Dance. For her thesis project, she developed a technique that she calls “Modern-Afro-Carib,” which is a fusion between African dance, Caribbean folk dance, modern, and ballet. Her movement vocabulary was heavily informed by her time in graduate school where she was first exposed to postmodern dance in addition to other styles with which she was already familiar. Also during graduate school, Anthony held coveted teaching assistantships, and was twice awarded the Excellence in Teaching award from the graduate council at TWU. Simultaneously, she worked professionally with dance companies, including Dallas Black Dance Theater and the Bandan Koro African Drum & Dance Ensemble. She was most fortunate to work alongside the honorable Baba Chuck Davis as performer, choreographer and coordinator of the Dance Africa Festival and Concert Dallas, an experience that she would always cherish.
While she enjoyed teaching students of all ages through various programs within the Dallas Independent School District, Anthony knew that higher education is the place for her. She furthered her teaching and research as an adjunct instructor and guest artist at Texas Christian University, Texas Woman’s University, and Tarrant County College. Ultimately, Anthony wanted more leverage that would only be possible in a full time teaching position. In a serendipitous turn of events, Anthony applied for the position at Brockport and, ultimately, landed her dream job.
Currently, in addition to her teaching load of Introduction to Dance and multiple levels of African Dance, Anthony is creating a choreographic work on Brockport dancers to be presented as part of the faculty and guest artist concert, Danscore, on November 17, 18, and 19. The work, Rhythmic Vocabularies, has evolved out of a project she began while working with students at Tarrant County College. She notes the excitement of the process and the fact that working with her dancers here at Brockport has truly affirmed that she is where she belongs. Anthony is thrilled to be part of the diversely talented roster of faculty here at Brockport, and notes that the training that dancers get from Brockport faculty is top notch. She is excited to get to add another form to the foundation that they provide. She is especially looking forward to the spring semester when she will lead Sankofa and notes, “I love the fact that I have leverage, too, with Sankofa because the faculty is looking for more 21st century African Dance.” Anthony’s exciting research does just that, and both students and faculty are excited by the prospects ahead!