Dancing woman(ist)/black feminist aesthetics: An embodied epistemology of sweat and spirit
ABSTRACT ANDREA E. WOODS VALDES DANCING WOMANIST/BLACK FEMINIST AESTHETICS: AN EMBODIED EPISTEMOLOGY OF SWEAT AND SPIRIT DECEMBER 2023 This qualitative narrative study explores Black aesthetics as embodied affirmation of Black life through the performative work of three women choreographers in dialogue with me as a dance artist and researcher. The participants are Michelle N. Gibson, Michelle Grant Murray, and Dr. L’Antoinette Stines. In this dissertation, I posit that centering Black women’s spirit experiences and the rigors of creativity, or what I refer to as sweat, enable us to theorize embodied Black aesthetics not only as a concept but as an activity that manifests knowledge. I relate to dance scholar Luana’s definition of Black aesthetics as sensibilities that inform Black art creation; however, I center art creation as dynamic and embodied cultural production through sweat and the presence of spirit. I contend that attention to sweat and spirit as generative Black aesthetics opens up attention to Black women’s embodied work and their inner landscapes, including their self-perceptions, values, and beliefs. Moreover, through aesthetic risk and aesthetic agency, the participants’ distinct sweat and spirit work shapes Black experience as critical embodied cultural production. I examine the participants’ lives and teaching, performing, and choreographing through interviews and videos of their work. Our creative and life experiences generate theories and discourse from the fields of Black aesthetics, Black performance, womanism, and Black feminism. I engage in this study to amplify Black aesthetic discourse with Black women’s presence as dynamic and integral to Black experience.