Ava L. Vinesett

Associate Professor of the Practice in the Program

Director of Undergraduate Studies

205 Bivins Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
(919) 660-3354
(919) 668-7858

The transmission of danced legacies and the identification of their evolutionary presence in contemporary venues are the primary underpinnings of my artistic work. The physical articulation of cultural beliefs is the space from which I continue to research, choreograph, and perform in order to contribute to creating deeper expressions of the living art of African dance forms and their connection to personal/group identity. My research continues to examine how African and African-derived dance unfolds its many identities. Dance is an expression of perseverance and is a creative continuation of cultural mores. As a symbol of survival, dance both embodies and transmits traditions. These time honored, well established dances provide a means for present day access to, and direct experience with earlier traditions which oftentimes only exist in the context of dance related rituals. The unfolding identity of dance creates a framework for analyzing the aesthetic, technical, ceremonial, spiritual, and sacred tenets that layer traditional African and African-derived dance forms. This concept provides the foundation for several of my completed projects and it continues to shape the thematic content of present works. I coined the term “dance translator” to address my process of examining my personal voice in dance. Using my body as text, I am able to communicate an existing legacy of danced religious, spiritual, and cultural beliefs.

Education & Training

North Carolina Central University, Bachelor of Arts, Spanish and choreography, 1987

University of North Carolina, Greensboro, Master of Fine Arts, 1998

Academic & Professional Positions

Primary Teaching Experience

  • 2012 Fall Co-Director, Baldwin Scholars, Duke University
  • 2010-Present Associate Professor of the Practice of Dance, Duke University Dance Program
  • 1999-2010 Assistant Professor of the Practice of Dance, Duke University Dance Program
  • 2008-Present Co-Instructor, Baldwin Scholars, Duke University
  • 2006-2007 Six-month residency in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador da Bahia, Brasil.
  • 2005-2006 Guest Artist Residency Elon University Department of Performing Arts, Elon, NC.
  • 2003-2006 Pre-Major Advisor, Trinity College, Duke University.
  • 2003-2006 Residence Life Housing Faculty-In-Residence, Trinity College, Duke University.
  • 1994-1999 Instructor, Techniques in African Dance, Duke University Dance Program Durham, NC.     

Additional Professional Experience

  • 2012 Guest Choreographer for E. Gwynn Dancers, North Carolina A&T University
  • 2011 Narrator for the documentary, “Dancing with the Goddess” directed by Purnima Shah.  Snow Hill Recording Studio.  Hillsborough, NC.  
  • 2011 Guest Instructor, Projeto Didá Banda Feminina. Didá Escola de Música.  Salvador da Bahía.    
  • 2008 Performance at Second Annual Oshun Festival, Magen’s Bay, St. Thomas, VI. Presented African dance workshop at Antilles School, 7280 Frenchman’s Bay 16-1, St. Thomas, VI.  
  • 2006-2007 Instructor for several master classes for Escola de Dança, of the Fundação Cultural da Bahia, Salvador da Bahia.
  • 2006 Four week Instructor Grupo Senzala at the Intercâmbio Cultural in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.
  • 2001 Two week Instructor for Grupo Senzala intensive, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil.  
  • 2001-2003  Six week Instructor for AVA (Artistic Visions of Aché) Community classes East Club Boulevard Humanities Magnet Elementary School.
  • 2001 Founder of AVA (Artistic Visions of Aché) An initiative for researching dances of the African Diaspora with an emphasis on how African culture is preserved through dance and spirituality.
  • 1999-Present For Duke University:  Founder/Artistic Director/choreographer for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Residency activities including workshops and lecture demonstrations for area schools and university events.
  • 1983-Present Founding member of the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble.
  • 1993  Educational Coordinator for the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble.  
  • 1990-1993 Assistant Director for the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble. Principal dancer, instructor, choreographer, and consultant.  I have performed in at least one thousand lecture-demonstrations, concerts or other related residency activities over a twenty-four year period.
  • 1995  Canada Council. Ottawa, Ontario. Dance Assessor.  Evaluate performance quality of professional dance companies and solo performers.

Areas of Specialization

  • Techniques in African and African Diaspora Dance
  • African Repertory
  • Dance and Religion
  • West African Rootholds in Dance
  • Perceptions of the Self, Society and the Natural World

Honors and Awards


  • 2009 Received the University of North Carolina at Greensboro 2009 Ethel Martus Lawther Alumni Award presented by the School of Health and Human Performance to former students who have made a “significant contribution through scholarship, leadership or service, in their career and/or civic involvement”.
  • 2002 Duke Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award
  • 1995-1998 Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship


Principal Choreography

  • 2012 Kanyalang.  Choroegrapher.  Commissioned work for E. Gwynn and Dancers Company, North Carolina A&T University.  Length 9 minutes
  • 2011 We Leave Behind.  Choreographer.  Ensemble work for Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Percussionists: John Hanks, Oesa S. Vinesett, Richard J. Vinesett, Musical Director, DARE.  Costumes:  Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Length 9 minutes.
  • 2009. Aunt Sarah. Co-choreographer for the Chuck Davis African American Dance Ensemble’s “Powerful Long Ladder/Four Women”.
  • 2009. Maferefun Obatalá.. Re-staged and added a new section using rhythms from the Candomblé orixa, Oxumare.  Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Percussionists:  Beverly Botsford, Domingo B. Vinesett, Oesa S. Vinesett, Richard J. Vinesett, Musical Director, DARE.  Costumes:  Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Length 12 minutes.
  • 2008. Vévé.  Choreographer.  In Vodoun ceremonies religious symbols are drawn on the ground either before or during rituals. Like the dances and the music, the symbols are a visual prayer used to invoke lwas, deities in Haitian Vodoun.  Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Musical arrangement by:  Richard J. Vinesett.  Musicians:  John Hanks, Beverly Botsford, Domingo B. Vinesett, Richard J. Vinesett, Musical Director, DARE.  Costumes:  Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Length 15 minutes.
  • 2007. Yansã the Tempest.  Choreographer and Performer.  Based on research in the Candomblé religion in Salvador da Bahia, Yansã, the only female orixá, or divinity represents transformation.  Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.   Musical arrangement by:  Richard J. Vinesett using traditional music of the Candomblé Orixas and West African dun-dun.  Musicians:  John Hanks, Fahali Igbo, Domingo B. Vinesett, Richard J. Vinesett, Musical Director, DARE.  Costumes:  Mabinti Shabu.  Yansã Headdress:  Cici Stevens.  Length 15 minutes.
  • 2006 Soli.  Choreographer.  Among the Susu and Malinke groups of West Africa, the progression of life is observed as a festive occasion. The annual initiation ceremony begins and concludes with social dancing and music.  Soli is one of several rhythms played during this period.  Restaged for Elon University Dance Department. March 2006. Length 12 minutes.  Music:  Fahali Igbo, Richard Vinesett, Musical Director DARE.  Costumes:  Balubas
  • 2005. Crossing the Color of the Sky.  Choreographer.  This work references the African and Southern African-American tradition of “bottle trees” as they have long been used to guide wayward spirits.  Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble. Music:  Section I:  Fahali Igbo, Domingo B. Vinesett, Richard J. Vinesett, Musical Director, DARE. Section II:  Ry Cooder.  Visual Artist:  Cici Stevens, Lighting Designer:  Ross Kolman.  Length 11 minutes. 
  • 2005. Seruba.  Choreographer, Musical Co-Director.  An original work featuring 12 women singing, dancing and playing traditional “jun-jun” drums. For this work six drums were commissioned by drum craftsman, Ayinde Nataka.  An ensemble work for the 16 members Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Length:  27 minutes.
  • 2004 Mballax-kat.  Choreographer.  Mballax-kat refers to an individual who dances and plays the popular Senegalese rhythm, sabar.  The dance layers a second dance style, Sunu to create a new listening experience for the observer, as well as a complex understanding of the choreography for the dancer.  Created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Length:  11 minutes. 
  • 2003. Dundun ba. Originally choreographed as part of a larger work by Guinea national, Pele Camara for the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble (1988), Chuck Davis granted me permission to re-stage and contribute new choreography.  Although Dundun ba is widely known as “the dance of the strong men”, here the powerful contributions of women are celebrated for their influence on a tradition that continues to evolve.  An ensemble work for the 14 member Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Length:  12 minutes.
  • 2003. Manjani.  Choreographer.  This fast paced piece displays a very popular Mande dance and music tradition from the Bamana people of West Africa.  Through athleticism, creativity, and a full understanding of the multi-metered rhythm text that is Manjani, 14 dancers and musicians from the Duke African Repertory Ensemble express the vitality of this artistic form.  Length: 13 minutes. 
  • 2002. Jalidon.  Choreographer.  Jalidon is a collaborative work with the 149th generation oral historian, or “jail”,  Djimo Kouyate.   This work was set on the 17 member, Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Richard Vinesett, Musical Director.  Length:  13 minutes.
  • 2001. CuleBra.  Co-choreographer and performing artist.  This ensemble work was created for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble and the Duke Capoeira Cooperative. Section I, CuleBra, is a fusion of contemporary, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian movement, choreographed by Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Master Brazilian capoeirista, Jose Luis Ramos of Grupo Senzala (Rio de Janeiro), mounted Maculele (a popular traditional dance form), on the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  Additional staging for Maculele and Roda featuring the Duke Capoeira Cooperative, by Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Fahali Igbo and Richard Vinesett co-musical directors.  An ensemble of 31 performers.  Length:  17 minutes.
  • 2000. Kunda.  Ensemble work for DARE. 21 dancers and musicians.  Dances presented from the Old Mali Empire (Ku-ku, and Dun-dunbah).  Special guests:  The Duke Djembe Ensemble, directed by Bradley Simmons.  Length:  24 minutes. 
  • 2000. Out of the Dust Ensemble work for DARE.  29 dancers and musicians.  Boke regional song and dance styles from Guinea, West Africa.  Length:  22 minutes.
  • 1999. Solima Sene Fari (Rites of Passage).  An ensemble work in three sections for the Duke African Repertory Ensemble.  21 dancers and musicians. Solima presents the progression of life as a festive occasion as observed among the Susu and Malinke groups of West Africa. Section II-Jaime Kira (Path for Men) choreographed by Thaddeus Bennett.  Length:  23 minutes. 
  • 1999. Contents Under Pressure (1999).  Performed, co-conceived and co-choreographed this evening length production about bias. Choreography and conception by Barbara Dickinson and Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Original music composed by James R. Carlson and Beverly Botsford.
  • 1998. Origins Rising/Holding Souls.  An Ensemble work for 17 dancers.  Music by Richard J. Vinesett and community drummers.  Length:  15 minutes
  • 1998. Vestiges.  A Master Production for my thesis concert sponsored by the UNCG Department of Dance. An ensemble of 42 performing artists.  This concert combines traditional African, Afro-Cuban and contemporary/modern dance.  Length:  90 minutes.
  • 1997. Passages 43 students and community dancers from my technique I & II classes performing dances from the Mande traditions; Temate, Ekon-kon, Sorsonet, and Manjani. Music by Richard J. Vinesett, Bradley Simmons and Durham community drummers.  Length: 17 minutes.
  • 1997. Hush My Glistening Heart Dwellers.  Ensemble work for 6 dancers.  Music by Afro-Celt Sound System.  Length:  10 minutes
  • 1997. Tulongo.  39 students from my technique I & II classes performing the dance styles from semester work.  Ark Dances. 
  • 1997. Cultural Journey IV:  Back to the Roots  A dance and music/choral concert for a cast of 37 performing artists.  Co-produced by the Duke University Institute of the Arts and St. Joseph’s Historical Society/Hayti Heritage Center. Collaboration with musical director, Bradley Simmons and choral director, Boyd Gibson of the African-American Chorale.  Additional vocals for the Orisas by Amma McKen and Randy Alston.   Co-director, choreographer, and costume designer.
  • 1996. Sogolon’s Revenge.  Ensemble work for 6 dancers based on the griot’s legend of Sundiata, “The Lion King of Mali.” Traditional instruments by George Glenn.  Vocals by Ava LaVonne Vinesett.  Length:  11 minutes.
  • 1995. Eclipse Duet.  Music:  “Main Title,” “Harry’s Game,” and “Closing Credits” from “Patriot Games Soundtrack” by James Horner.  Length:  12 minutes. (This work was re-staged in March 1998 for my thesis concert and in June 1998 for the American Dance Festival Faculty Concert).