On Thursday March 1, Keene State College students gathered in Centennial Hall to attend a lecture titled, Critical Race Feminism and Tap Dance.
Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Colby College, Sonja Thomas, has been tap dancing for over 30 years. She came to the KSC to educate women’s and gender studies students, as well as others who attended the open lecture, about the class she teaches at Colby College. By incorporating tap dance, Thomas teaches her students about race, gender and sexuality.
When asked why she decided to pursue the study of women and gender, Thomas expressed that feminism has always been a topic that she has been passionate about. “I’ve always been a feminist, I think,” Thomas said. “I totally remember when I was in high school, when Hillary Clinton did her whole women’s rights are human’s rights speech, and I remember turning to my dad and saying, ‘She’s right!’”
Thomas explained that her class structure features a one hour period of learning about how the topics of race, gender and sexuality are featured in tap dance, followed by one hour of learning how to tap dance.
The idea of how feminism is related to tap dance may seem unclear at first. In fact, Thomas was recommended to take tap dancing off her résumé. However, Thomas explained through the injustice given to certain profiles of dancers, and the over-sexualization of body, it has become impossible for her to think about her topic of study without associating it with tap dance.
Associate professor of women’s and gender studies, Patricia Pedroza Gonzalez explained her view as to why it’s important to include tap dance in the teaching of race, gender and sexuality. “Everyone has heard or knows what is tap dance, so connecting tap dance with history is a benefit.”
With the addition of incorporating a universal subject like dance, the element of tap dance encourages students to talk about a topic they might not be typically comfortable talking about. “I think, initially, [tap dance] was just an idea to get us into talking about race and gender,” Thomas continued. “Tap dance provides this lense to think about race and bodies in motion.”
Gonzalez shared Thomas’ view; it can be difficult to get students to open up when talking about subjects of race, gender and sexuality, especially in areas that mainly reflect a single demographic. “It’s difficult sometimes to discuss about these topics because it sometimes polarizes people, and polarizes ideas,” Gonzalez said.
Senior Maxine Gray attended the lecture for her Capstone in Women’s and Gender Studies class, and was impressed by Thomas’ lecture. “I thought it was awesome. I really didn’t know what to expect coming into it because I never really thought about tap dancing before at all, and how it could relate to race and gender and sexuality.”
Gray’s insight after the lecture is what Gonzalez hoped students would get out of the lecture, and why she organized Thomas to come from Colby College to speak.
“I organized this lecture because the topic that she talked about are specific to what we study in the women’s and gender studies major and minor. Sometimes it’s like ‘okay so we discuss race,’ but it helps to discuss it in different frames because it changes the perspective,” Gonzalez said.
Gray also added her thoughts on the style of learning Thomas presents in her class. “I think it’s a really great learning experience, like learning about something and using your body. Physically learning is such a powerful thing, and people really learn better when they learn through movement.”
Thomas will be releasing her new book titled, “Privileged Minorities” this summer.
Erin McNemar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org