TDPS is pleased to announce that Performance Studies doctoral candidate Naomi Bragin is co-winner of TDR: The Drama Review’s 2013 Student Essay Contest for “Shot and Captured: Turf Dance, YAK Films, and the Oakland, California, R.I.P. Project.” The essay will be published in the journal’s Summer 2014 issue.
Turfing is an improvisation-based hood dance style created in West Oakland, in the early 90’s. “There are particular ways of moving in turf style, even when it incorporates moves from other hip-hop dance styles,” says Bragin. “The movements tend to be abstract but they express pain and joy in ways that reflect a larger understanding of blackness and at the same time speak particularly to black life in neighborhoods of Oakland and the Bay Area.”
“The article focuses on YouTube broadcast turf dance memorials created by and for black Oakland youth whose deaths go unreported in mainstream news media,” says Bragin. “I use the term ‘hood dance’ to describe how local hip hop dance forms enact embodied conversations within and between black neighborhoods. At the same time, black culture is consumed globally, so it’s necessary to consider how antiblackness effects processes of remembering and forgetting, in light of the disproportionate policing, incarceration and death of black people.”
Bragin’s research directly connects with her background as an Oakland-based artist-activist. She served as a teacher, director and administrator at Destiny Arts Center, a community-based organization dedicated to teaching youth aged 3-18 performing and martial arts, leadership and violence prevention skills. In 2002, she founded DREAM, a street dance company that toured nationally and won the Haas Creative Work Fund award in 2005.
Bragin holds a BA in Dance from Wesleyan University in 1995 and returned to graduate study at UC Berkeley, receiving her MA in Folklore before being admitted into the Performance Studies Ph.D. program. “From a professional artist’s perspective,” she says, “I was attracted to the program’s efforts to support scholars as practitioners, by offering graduate students a range of resources (venue, studio space, production staff, etc) to stage professional productions.”
She’s been equally pleased with the guidance she has received from the TDPS faculty. “The professors I’ve worked with at various stages, from coursework, to teaching, exam preparation, and dissertation writing, have been exceptionally generous and encouraging, often going beyond the call to give me opportunities and provide mentorship, not only intellectually but also professionally.”
As someone returning to graduate study after many years of professional experience, Bragin has discovered interesting parallels between the worlds of hip-hop and academia. “Hip-hop has its own exclusive language,” she says. “It doesn’t have the luxury of being exclusive in the same way academia can be, but there are similarities. While it is anti-institutional, it is obsessed with the same things as academia – language, coding, jargon, inventing words.”
She is currently in Los Angeles conducting research for her dissertation, titled, “The Black Power of Hip-Hop Dance: On Kinesthetic Politics.” She explains, “Street dance is such a transnational community that wherever you go, you can find dancers doing interesting work.”
Aside from the TDR essay, Bragin’s article “Techniques of Black Male Re/Dress: Corporeal Drag and Kinesthetic Politics in the Rebirth of Waacking/Punkin’ – will appear this March in a special issue of Women & Performance entitled, “All Hail The Queenz: A Queer Feminist Recalibration of Hip Hop Scholarship.” Her chapter “Dear Harlem/Love Oakland: Hood Dance Transmissions for Black Political Memory” is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Screendance Studies (2015).
Bragin feels fortunate to study a type of dance that is not just an art form, but also a philosophy, theory and way of life. Street dancers participate in a worldwide community while giving respect to unique local cultures. “It is a gift to be able to take part in the kind of research that forces me to not to be stuck in my head,” she says. “If my work isn’t relevant, what would my community think?”
This philosophy extends beyond her work to the entire field of performance studies. “I find that performance studies scholars, in comparison to other disciplines, tend to approach their work with a bodily sense of their place in the world,” she says. “This awareness translates to actively engaging and building community, which is the manner in which I understand my work as a scholar and artist and which I’ve seen the department put into practice in concrete ways.”
Read more about Naomi Bragin’s work in this recent article by the Berkeley Center for New Media:
By Marni Davis