Ava LaVonne Vinesett
Professor of the Practice of Dance

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.

Current Research Interests

I am an artist-scholar whose interests lie in the relationship between art and the cultural movements and identifying factors, which influence the creation, or manifestation of particular dance forms. The physical articulation of cultural beliefs is the space from which I continue to research, choreograph, and perform; this is my contribution to creating deeper expressions of the living art of Black African diaspora dance forms and their connection to personal/group identity. 

I continue to reflect on how I define my role in the treatment of materials, which may be identified as intangible cultural heritage.  Cultural issues regarding ownership and authenticity in the presentation of Black African diaspora dance forms, and questions of whether choreographing traditional, or neo-traditional dances are acceptable means of preserving particular dances, often impact my creative process while choreographing.  Many of the dances I create articulate historical views or Afro-futuristic possibilities.

As an artist, through ongoing projects intentionally connected to ritual, I explore the environment, healing, memory, freedom, and concepts connected to “escape” and place or home, and transformation.   But what are my responsibilities as a dance researcher?  Is it acceptable to draw from traditional dance forms and ritual practices to create staged works?  Does the dance cease to be authentic once it is staged?  What makes the work authentic/un/inauthentic?  Who decides? And what authority makes the decision?  There are unavoidable areas of tension that surface in every piece of choreography I create, however by problematizing the choices I make, I deepen my sensitivity, respect, awareness of, and appreciation for African dance forms. These are concerns and interests I consider in the process of creating staged works, developing course content and identifying research projects. 

I am concerned with the dialogue of human movement, feminist thought, memory, spirit, imagination, and healing.  As an artist, I work to move and affect space, and make visible an approach to styling my formation of an Afro-identity. I strive to create and craft works, which touch the very core of those who view, but more importantly, experience my work.  I want the viewer to be changed in some way because of the work they have seen. I center community in my work—breathing both the trials and the magic of experience into my art. In understanding dance has a representational import, I hope participants and observers learn more about the contexts, which ground my artistry and embodied practice.  

Of particular interest to me is questioning how dance creates, or perpetuates a legacy of resistance.  What are the multiple identities cited in these danced legacies?  Within this context, my primary concern is creating choreographic projects based on tracking Black Diasporic dance and the ways women within these forms take up space—intellectual space, physical space, spiritual space, and political space.  As a mode of praxis, I specialize in danced legacies, and the physical articulation of cultural beliefs; I investigate and celebrate identities and dance as a healing modality. 


Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

  • 2020 Campus Drive, Suite 209D, Durham, NC 27708
  • Box 90686, Durham, NC 27708-0686

Some information on this profile has been compiled automatically from Duke databases and external sources. (Our About page explains how this works.) If you see a problem with the information, please write to Scholars@Duke and let us know. We will reply promptly.