MFA in Dance Welcomes Third Cohort to Duke

The Duke Dance Program has welcomed its third MFA cohort to campus. Brooks Emanuel, Marika Niko, Leo Ryan, and Zhixuan “Miki” Zhu are the latest multi-faceted artists to join the Master of Fine Arts in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis Program. The Duke Dance MFA is a two-year, full-time terminal degree program dedicated to expanding dance and embodied knowledge across cultures, communities, and contexts. The program endorses dance as a transformative force in society and engages students whose research centers around interdisciplinary experimentation. The presence of these four students on the Duke campus will undoubtedly multiply the number of contexts through which dance and performance matter in this contemporary moment. We are so excited to welcome the MFAEIP class of 2024!

The MFA application process for 2021-2022 is now open. For more information, to ask questions, and to apply, please visit the website


From Director Sarah M. Wilbur:

As the new and incoming Director of Graduate Studies for the Dance MFA/EIP Program, I am thrilled to support Brooks, Marika, Leo, and Miki in their pursuits of advanced dance research and creative activity on and around the Duke campus. Alongside our returning power-cohort of Lee Edwards and Amari Jones, these impressive individuals will pursue research projects that intentionally connect dance to non-dance areas like design and material culture; cross-cultural theology and spirituality; anti-racist policymaking and political organizing; intergenerational oral histories and revisionist historiography; audio, visual, and kinesthetic documentary; and queer and trans rights and representations through film and live performance. I have zero doubt that the creative ambitions and diverse commitments of these students will shatter narrow perceptions of what dance is, where dance happens, and why dance matters in this historical moment. In collaboration with our truly exceptional Duke Dance faculty, it is my honor to learn with them and from them, going forward. On behalf of our growing program, I want to personally encourage everyone from every corner of the campus to join us and experience firsthand how a truly interdisciplinary take on dance enables more people to see themselves in dance—at Duke and elsewhere.

Brooks Emanuel 
Brooks Emanuel MFA 2023

Hometown: Atlanta, GA
Degree: B.A. Race, Gender, and Sexuality in U.S. Society, University of Georgia;
J.D., New York University School of Law

Brooks has a long history of both dance and social justice work and has danced and choreographed for a decade in New York City and Atlanta, including work with Michael Mao Dance, PearsonWidrig DanceTheater, Independent Black Film Festival, Beacon Dance, and Several Dancers Core.

Shifting out of dance for the next phase of his professional life, he lobbied for progressive groups at the Georgia legislature and worked on numerous political campaigns. As director of legislative services for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, under Stacey Abrams, he served a key role in opposing a racist redistricting plan put forth by the majority party. He then obtained his J.D., where he interned for the ACLU Capital Punishment Project and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

After law school, he worked at Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. There, he represented people sentenced to death and life without parole and those suffering horrific prison conditions, as well as contributing to reports on the nation’s history of racial injustice. He also served as deputy director of voter protection for the Democratic Party of Georgia and as legal counsel for The Justice Collaborative.

M.F.A. Research
Brooks was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of the Duke MFA program, and he plans to use his time investigating the most effective ways to combine dance and social justice work. His primary focus is racial justice, and he also plans to further engage with questions about the racial justice implications of his being a white person who does primarily African diaspora dance.

Marika Niko 
Marika Niko MFA 2023

Hometown: Yokohama, Japan
Degree: B.A. Theater,
New York University Abu Dhabi

Marika’s dance background began at the age of three in London, when she started classical ballet. Although she continued with ballet for 11 more years, she wanted to explore other realms of expression and pursue movement forms that were more liberating and personal. Marika wanted to deconstruct the ballet language that she had embodied for years, and found herself being slowly drawn to interoceptive movement forms, especially the Japanese dance form of Butoh. She responded to how the body became a site of knowledge about herself and her understanding of the external world. 

Having spent the majority of her time living outside of Japan, Marika wanted to focus on getting to know the contemporary dance scene in her home country. She worked at Dance Base Yokohama, a newly opened dance house that aims to cultivate and nurture a solid ground for contemporary dance to develop in Japan. Dance Base Yokohama introduced her to the kinds of artistic expression that are relevant in the Japanese socio-political climate, as well as the intricate, yet unnoticed, labor that goes behind art production.

Why Duke University?

“I wanted to find a dance program that will allow me to stay fluid in my research—moving in between research and practice, interweaving dance with other academic disciplines—and I thought Duke’s program structure would support me in that.”

M.F.A. Research

Because she grew up among differences, Marika has constantly felt the need to reflect on the historical narratives that surrounded her. Wanting to break the linearity and singularity—and the exclusion and violence that comes with it—in historical recollection, she hopes to seek for an alternative commemorative process through dance and ultimately contribute to building a more transnational and compassionate space for remembrance. Her research will look closely at Butoh and investigate how historical memories can be remembered, as well as forgotten, through embodiment, particularly across generations and geographical regions.

After graduation, she wants to maintain this hybrid identity as a researcher and practitioner, while making works that explore the relationship between historical commemoration, personal recollection, and embodied dance practices.

Leo Ryan 
Leo Ryan MFA 2023

Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Alabama 
Degree: B.A. Dance, French, and Art History, University of Alabama

Leo Ryan is a movement artist who has trained in ballet, contemporary, jazz, and rhythm tap. Leo is a diverse dancer and choreographer whose work is interdisciplinary. Most recently located in Oregon, they choreographed and performed in Beaverton's Ten Tiny Dances, a selective site-specific showcase of work in 4' by 4' spaces. They were also a featured member of The Holding Project company. Leo's current focus is on developing a movement language through a lens of Southern queerness. 

Since graduating, Leo has focused on moving away from traditional codified dance techniques while leaning into improvisation and authentic movement. They have also been a dance and movement educator for 17 years, most recently teaching for Portland Public Schools’ SUN Schools program and the non-profit organization, The Aspire Project. When not dancing, they are sewing and creating slow fashion.

Why Duke University?

“I chose this dance MFA because it will allow me the opportunity to explore embodiment across multiple disciplines. I want a safe space to explore my transness through movement, and I believe Duke will grant me that. I'm also looking forward to working with Duke's incredible dance faculty and my impressive cohort.”

M.F.A. Research

Leo hopes to create meaningful work while at Duke, researching queerness and somatic experiences via Southern landscapes and culture. They're excited about potential site-specific performances, installation art, and collaborations with other dance, visual, and audio artists. At the end of their program, Leo hopes to be creating multimedia dance experiences and installations that showcase the power of queerness.

Zhixuan “Miki” Zhu 
Miki Zhu MFA 2023

Hometown: Ningbo, China
Degree: B.A. Dance,
Beijing Normal University

Miki has had a keen interest in dance from a young age, studying classical ballet, Chinese dance, and folk dance in her high school’s professional dance groups. Her college thesis explored the combination of puppetry and dance, and was chosen as the outstanding graduation thesis for her major by the faculty. She also won the grand prize at the Korea Culture and Art International Exchange Association in 2019 for her piece In and Out. Since graduating college, Miki has focused on the possibilities of body movement, improvisation, and modern dance. 

Why Duke University?

“I’m drawn to the inclusiveness of the Dance Program—lots of people from different countries and with different personalities and interests. Also, the interdisciplinary component fascinates me. I think this is a new concept in dance, and I’m excited to see the influences it has on the future of the discipline.” 

M.F.A. Research

Miki’s research will focus on divinity objects such as shamans, Buddhism, sacrifice, and spirits.