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Questions of Practice: Choreographer Nora Chipaumire on a Dancer’s Skin

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You are in the skin that you are. And it's pretty much-- it's so loaded, you know, what histories can be read onto skin-- you know, black, yellow, white. Those assumptions that people come with towards a certain skin, I'm very interested in those assumptions. I'm interested in what people see when a white woman comes in, white, blonde, you know. There is baggage that we're projecting. I am interested in what happens when I walk in as a black African. And I am trying to work with or against that assumption.

And you can cover up the skin to make yourself, in a way, the Butoh practice, the Japanese practice of putting on a mask basically, so that the relationship is to that mask and not to the skin. So you almost eradicate another tension that is present because of the way you look and the baggage that is related to the way you look. I'm interested in having that baggage always be kind of present. And that happens by revealing the skin that you're in, and living in the skin you're in, and knowing that it does have a history.

Whatever a dancer looks like, an audience will project onto her a set of assumptions. Choreographer Nora Chipaumire is fascinated by this. Rather than obfuscating her appearance to hide from an audience’s “baggage,” Chipaumire instead works with—or against—these assumptions. Here, she explains how embracing her skin allows her to more deeply investigate what audiences impose on dancers.

Watch Chipaumire on art and advocacy and connecting with her audience.

Nora Chipaumire will take part in The University of the Arts School of Dance’s presentation of The School for Temporary Liveness, an eight-day pop-up performance experience running September 25 through October 2. The “school” is staged throughout the Philadelphia Art Alliance building, designed to generate new forms of spectatorship and participation. As part of the project, Chipaumire will stage a “live performance album” inspired by her formative years in Zimbabwe and the energy and rebellion of 1980s punk and New Wave music.

Born in Mutare, Zimbabwe, and based in New York City, Nora Chipaumire creates work that challenges and embraces stereotypes of Africa and the black performing body. Supported by a Center Advancement grant, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presented Chipaumire’s portrait of myself as my father in the fall of 2016 as part of Creative Africa, an exhibition and performance series centered on connecting historic and contemporary African art through public programs and audience development initiatives.

Project Grant
University of the Arts School of Dance, Nora Chipaumire, "#PUNK" performance shot. Pictured: Nora Chipaumire and Shamar Watt. Photo by Ian Douglas.

The School for Temporary Liveness

University of the Arts