From the Chair
On behalf of the Duke Dance Program faculty and staff, congratulations to the class of 2022!
We celebrate you for your resilience, brilliance and creativity. We witnessed you working diligently—not only imagining, but also knowing that this day would come. We are proud that the Dance Program has been part of the road to your success, as well as your exploration and questioning of the world around you so that it may become kuumba, more beautiful than the way you found it.
Trust that the challenges you faced have made you stronger, more creative and a better peer and friend. Move into the next phase of your life with the inspiration and motivation that you have shown to us and that we admire about you. Continue problem solving and believing that every challenge has a solution and you are part of making it manifest. Reflect deeply on the complexities of the world you have inherited and move through it with confidence, generosity, intelligence and wisdom.
The world is waiting for your gifts on so many levels. Stand up for, and with, people who need your fire and grace. You are more than prepared to “commence” so begin fresh and excited, but with this incredible bounty of unique experiences. Thank you for landing here with us for a good spell. While it is bittersweet to see you go, we look forward to your visits and communication as you journey into the world beyond Duke. We wish you the very best and now celebrate you as our alumni! Continue to continue.
-Andrea E. Woods Valdés
Chair Duke Dance Program
The Class of 2022
B.S. Electrical Computer Engineering & Computer Science; minor Dance
Hometown: New York, New York
- November Dances (2018, 2019)
- Waters to Waters: Between Yu & Flow (2021)
- ChoreoLab (2019, 2022)
- Lucid Dreams (2021)
- Sabrosura, student dance group (2020-2022)
- Devils en Pointe, student dance group (2018-2022)
- Embodiment, student dance group (2020-2022)
- Julia Wray Dance Award (2022)
- DTech Scholar (2019)
Career aspirations: Upon graduating, I will be working at Cerberus Capital Management. While I’m still unsure of my long term goals, I am confident that I am not done dancing. You will definitely see me on stage again.
When I think back on my four years at Duke, it is in images of dance classes, tech weeks, dressing room conversations, and warm-ups. I cannot conceptualize what my time at Duke would have been like without dance. The community of like-minded dancers that I met are what made Duke feel like home for the time I was here, and I will forever be grateful for that.
It’s hard to pick out specific favorite memories, but I know I will never forget all my 10:15 ballet classes in the Cube. Even during really tough weeks, when I was drowning in work, I was filled with gratefulness while I stood at the barre and looked out the window. Similarly, I will always miss Nina Wheeler's Jazz II class. Her tough warm-up and her long combinations always gave me a sweat and a lovely break from my day.
More specifically, I want to thank some wonderful people who shaped my time here. First, I want to thank all of the faculty that led me through my time at Duke. Julie and Tyler Walters, Andrea Woods Valdés, Purnima Shah, Barbara Dickinson, and Kristin Duncan— thank you all for the wisdom and knowledge you bestowed on me.
And lastly, I want to give a few extra special thank yous to the people that gave me undying support throughout my time here.
Nina Wheeler, you were so much more than my jazz teacher. You have always seen my potential and do not settle for less. You are always lifting me up, and I will always appreciate your kind words that I rarely give to myself.
I want to thank Courtney Liu. Not only is she a fantastic ballet teacher, a talented choreographer, and a hard-working MFA student, but she is a constant source of wisdom and care. She has consistently been a person I go to as I work through my own dance journey.
I also want to thank SarahAnne Perel. Although she was not technically a teacher, she was and continues to be a role model, mentor, and close friend. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, pushed me when no one else would, and never let me walk away from something because it was hard. I wouldn’t be the dancer I am today without her.
Finally, I want to thank Iyun Harrison. Although he was only my professor for senior year, he advised me through all of my tough moments. His care for his students goes beyond the dance studio. Without his support, I would not believe in myself the way I do today, nor would I be able to do a solid adagio. Thank you!
B.S. Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science; minor Dance
Hometown: Rockville, Maryland
B.S. Computer Science; minor Dance
Hometown: Randolph, New Jersey
- November Dances (2019)
- Waters to Waters: Between Yu & Flow (2021)
- Defining Movement (2019-2022)
Career aspirations: Although I am not sure of my next steps as of right now, I would love to work in a space that incorporates both art and technology together. I am particularly interested in data science and how this can play a role in bringing people together.
Some of my favorite memories were just having the best time in Nina Wheeler's Jazz class with some of my best friends that I have made thanks to dance! Also, performing with my DefMo family for our 20th anniversary showcase was incredibly special, as it was our first big performance post-COVID.
I'd like to thank the Dance Program for making these four years so enjoyable. A special thank you to Andrea Woods Valdes, who has been such a source of wisdom for me, and Nina Wheeler, who has been such an amazing mentor and support system throughout my time here. Thank you to the amazing friends I have made through the Program who make me excited to come to class every day. Thank you to DefMo for being my home away from home. Finally, thank you to my family for being there for me every step of the way and always cheering me on no matter what.
B.A. Dance; minor Chemistry
Hometown: Los Alamos, New Mexico
- November Dances (2018)
- ChoreoLab (2022)
I want to thank Sarah Wilbur for her fervent efforts to elevate the work of and make resources available to artists who have been excluded and devalued by arts institutions. I have been honored to glean even a fraction of insight into her immense knowledge of the arts world and ability to leverage institutional power for the people. She truly cares about her students and puts so much time and effort into helping them with their work.
Michael Klien, thank you for your tireless deconstructing of reality which helped me be more critical of institutions and structures. Thinking about emotions, everyday experiences, and relationships in an academic setting was really important for me to start imagining how I want to move through the world.
Thank you, Andrea Woods Valdés for creating a class which values celebrations of Black life and claiming and changing of spaces and bringing in incredible guest speakers. Your classes are always really beautiful communities to be a part of.
Thank you to Jessica Nammakal for teaching how colonial structures of power continue today through systems of border imperialism and how the university supports these systems, and to Wahneema Lubiano for your brilliant techniques for critiquing how you understand how things function. Thank you to Purnima Shah for the time you dedicate to your students, and Alyah Baker and Courtney Crumpler for supporting your students' artistic projects even during a pandemic.
I appreciated being a part of the process of creating the work Matters of the Heart choreographed by Kristin Taylor Duncan. Thank you to all the teachers (Andrea Woods Valdés, Kristin Taylor Duncan, Ava LaVonne Vinesett, Katya Wesolowski, Nina Wheeler, Keval Khalsa, Tyler Walters, Julie Walters) whose movement classes are spaces of community and joy as well as classes about history, culture, and technique. Thank you to the incredible talented musicians that had me bopping. I am forever grateful to the Dance Program for the incredible guest artists that were brought in. I still cannot believe the people I have been able to take classes from and hear speak at events like Collegium for African Diasporic Dance for example.
Thank you to Iyun Ashani Harrison for being an ardent supporter of students. I appreciated glimpsing Ava LaVonne Vinesett’s processes in creating Indigo Yard Gal’s Preparing Grounds :: Portals and Portability installation and in making the CADD 2022 happen, and being able to help out with a couple simple tasks for both of these events.
Thank you to my friends, Leo Ryan, Zhixuan “Miki” Zhu, Marika Niko, Brooks Emanuel, Emma Geiger, Luna Beller-Tadiar, Ooha Reddy, Barbara Dickinson, Ludovica B. Romano, and Avery Lythcott-Haims for dancing with me in the Meshroom, Amendment, Parliament, What We Should Do, and simply every Thursday in the Ark.
I hold dearly the memories of dancing “the jerk” to Smooth Criminal with Amari Jones and Aneliese Morales, and birdwatching with Brooks, Miki, and Marika. To my fellow undergraduate dancer friends, Avery, Ooha, Simone Wall, Lihua Mo, Kamryn Stafford, Olivia Reno, Joey Rauch, y’all are so talented I am constantly in awe of you guys. Finally thank you to the rest of my lovely friends for being in community with me. You all have my infinite love and gratitude.
Alexa Blair Robertson
B.S. Biology; minors Dance and Chemistry
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
- Jazz Rep (2021)
- Dance Council's O-Show (2019, 2021)
- Sabrosura Spring Showcase (2019)
- Embodiment Spring Showcase (2021)
- Sabrosura, Duke’s premier student-run Latin dance group (2018-2021)
- Embodiment, Duke’s student-run contemporary dance group (2020-2021)
- Dancing Devils, Duke’s official dance team (2020-2022)
- Project Arts, Duke’s student-run art-centered pre-orientation program
- Kwatra Laboratory research assistant (2019-2020)
- Immaculate Elementary School: special education dance instructor (2019-2020); special education teacher assistant (2022)
- Alpha Phi sorority
- Panhellenic Association Executive Board
Benenson Award in the Arts (2022)
Career aspirations: Following graduation, I plan to move to Los Angeles to pursue dancing and acting professionally full-time. I plan to spend several gap years pursuing these artistic ventures before eventually matriculating to medical school. In regards to my career in medicine, I aspire to work in the field of pediatrics, ideally surgery or oncology.
Halfway through my sophomore year at Duke, the world came to a sudden halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When I was finally able to return to campus in August 2020, I had endured a near six-month artistic drought and feared my passion for performance may be lost forever. Thankfully, I was granted the opportunity to dance within Nina Wheeler’s 2021 Jazz Repertory Piece and felt my inner creative fire stoked once again. Nina Wheeler reignited by love for dance, and for that I am forever grateful. I am so lucky to be a vessel through which her palpable passion for dance can continue to shine.
While every class I have taken throughout my journey within the Duke Dance Program has helped me to grow as both an artist and student, I would like to extend special thanks to Professor Woods Valdes, Ife Presswood, and Professor Shah. Each of these powerful educators have helped me intertwine my academic and artistic pursuits, and I appreciate their patience and encouragement in the classroom and on the dance floor. I also want to thank my friends and family for their support in all of my creative ventures, at Duke and beyond. Their love gives me the courage to pursue even my loftiest goals. Most importantly, I want to thank my parents for believing in me and for allowing me to live out my lifelong dream of dancing at Duke—a dream only attainable due to their sacrifices and unwavering support. I look back on these past four years with overflowing gratitude and look to the future with a hopeful heart.
B.A. Program II: “Black Representations in 20th & 21st Century Arts & Media”
Hometown: Washington, DC
- Duke Dance Program Student Showcase November 2021
- Nakisai African Dance Ensemble (2018-2022)
Career Aspirations: While I am still unsure of where my career path will take me next, I plan to work in the arts & entertainment world assisting other Black creatives such as myself and creating a platform where we all can learn and work with each other in a comfortable setting.
Some of my favorite memories include learning how to vogue and dance in heels in Ife Presswood's dance class and learning ballet in Alyah Baker's class—and spending time with my dance team Nakisai ADE. Through this group, I was able to form some great bonds with amazing individuals that I cannot thank more for allowing me to be in their lives. My favorite memory is performing at Dance Council’s homecoming show on the BC Plaza my freshman year. To see all the support and comfort I received from the team pushed me to continue to dance for the rest of my years at Duke and even after my career at Duke has ended.
I’d like to thank all the faculty and members that I had the joy of learning form over the years: Thomas F. DeFrantz, Ife Michelle Presswood, Alyah Baker, and lastly, my advisor, Andrea Woods-Valdés.
I would also like to give a special shoutout to my parents for pushing me and allowing me to pursue my dreams at a top university such as Duke.
B.S. Biomedical Engineering; minor Dance
Hometown: Wilmette, Illinois
- ChoreoLab (2020) cancelled due to COVID-19
Career aspirations: I want to be a biomedical researcher, so I will be starting a Ph.D. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this upcoming fall. Of course, I hope to keep dancing as well.
As part of the Dance Theater repertory class, I was able to pitch costume ideas, and the one Professor Thomas DeFrantz and I agreed on was an inflatable dinosaur costume. When it arrived, I had to rehearse in it. The moves that had looked so sharp and technical looked comical when I tried to do them with the costume. It was so silly and was fun to rehearse every time.
My other favorite memory was the final day of Ife Presswood's hip hop class when each one of us had to prepare a three-minute solo. I was awed by the artistry of my classmates. Each of their solos were an authentic expression of who they are, and it was a joy to witness everyone’s creativity and to have a small slice of the energy of a live performance when most shows were still only able to be seen virtually.
I am grateful to the instructors who I have been lucky enough to learn from — Tyler and Julie Walters, Keval Khalsa, Kristin Taylor-Duncan, Andrea Woods-Valdes, Sarah Wilbur, Michael Klien, Thomas DeFrantz, and Ife Presswood. They have helped me improve my technique, challenged me to be a better dancer, and pushed me to grow as an artist and creator. I would also like to thank John Hanks and all the other accompanists that make the soundtrack of our dance classes new and exciting every time. My dance studies at Duke have always been a highlight of my semesters and these people are what made it so enjoyable.