Makeda Thomas‘ artistic practice, scholarship and teaching situate at the intersection of dance studies, diaspora theory, and Black feminisms. She has presented intermedia performances in relation to her scholarship internationally. Thomas’ work is published in "My Voice, My Practice: Black Dance", "Curating Live Arts: Critical Perspectives, Essays, and Conversations on Theory and Practice" and Small Axe: A Caribbean Platform for Criticism. Thomas serves on the founding board of the Collegium for African Diasporic Dance.
Research Interests: Afro-diasporic dance, performance practice, Black performance studies, theories of diaspora, transnational theory, Black feminisms, Carnival, critical pedagogy, and curatorial practice.
Thomas, Makeda. “Dance Like Douen”. Oxford Handbook of Black Dance Studies (upcoming 2022)
This chapter engages the Trinbagonian folklore character of the Douen to examine the presence of Black radical feminist emancipatory praxis in Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival. It examines the role of Black women in the archive of Carnival through the work of Adeola Dewis, Jamie Philbert, and Adele Todd, and posits that in looking back, these artists make a forward motion towards Black radical feminist emancipatory futures.
“When Dolls Dance” studies the choreographies, embodied knowledges, and technologies of the Baby Doll masquerade, documented as being performed in Trinidad as early as 1885 and in Martinique’s Carnival of Saint-Pierre as early as 1888. The research connects to the emergence of the Baby Dolls masquerade in New Orleans in 1912 out of Perdido-Gravier area of New Orleans, known as Black Storyville; its resurgences during the 1950’s and again, most recently, in the last decade. This chapter situates the work of the Trinidad & Tobago traditional mas band Belmont Baby Baby Dolls, particularly the band’s 2019 and 2020 Carnival performances - “Carnival Baby” and “Spirit Dolls”, respectively - in a Black radical feminist emancipatory praxis. Furthermore, it articulates how this “encoded masquerade”, as performed by Belmont Baby Dolls, subverts representations of Black women and girls in the Caribbean. This performance tradition is highlighted as a healing modality for Black women that motions to the connections, complexities and divergences in imagining radical Black feminist futures.
A version of “When Dolls Dance” was presented as "Fractal at the Surface, Rhizomatic at the Root" for “Fluid Black::Dance Back” at Duke University, February 2020.
Thomas, Makeda. “Fantastic Bodies: On Archival Performativities”. Seeing Black Dance, 18 April 2019. Brown University, Rhode Island. Lecture.
Thomas, Makeda. “Making Stage: Dance & Performance Art Curation in Trinidad & Tobago”. Curating Live Arts: Global Perspectives, Envisioning Theory and Practice" by Davida, Dena, Gabriels, Jane, Hudon, Véronique, and Pronovost, Berghahn Books, 2018.
This work is culled out of my work as a practicing dance artist and director of the Dance & Performance Institute. Examines how the presentations and commissions of the Institute - Santee Smith (of the Kahnyen’kehàka (Mohawk) Nation, Turtle Clan from Six Nations, Ontario), Trinidad’s Sonja Dumas/Continuum Dance Project, and U.S. based dance organizations Ananya Dance Theater and the Dancing While Black - have engaged Caribbean artists and audiences in imagining new interdisciplinary models and frameworks for presenting contemporary dance work that centers on the Caribbean and its diasporas. Explores how particular aesthetic frameworks have informed the curatorial practices of the Institute, and the role of the Institute’s curation in creating a dialogue between those works that realizes whole new possibilities in how the very region is defined.
This research considers how Caribbean cultural forms navigate time and space, and innovate new histories, sciences and aesthetics that inform a matrix of what Conor Tomás Reed calls “Caribbean Futurisms”. As we move through what an Afrofuturist lens does for an epistemology of Caribbean performance studies, I consider how those futurisms could be embodied, choreographed and performed by contemporary Caribbean dance artists and makes for a robust Afrofuturist aesthetic, practice, and performance.
Thomas, Makeda. “Bring de Power: Orisha Dance as a mobile technology of African diasporic identity-making”. Dancing the African Diaspora: Theories of Black Performance, February 2014, Duke University, North Carolina. Lecture.
Bring de Power” is a global transnational historical research project that navigates through West Africa, Western Europe, the United States, Venezuela, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Trinidad in seeking new critical understandings of history and identity in the African diaspora. The embodied aspects of that research explores how Orisha dance, which bears unique syncretisms of those distinct cultural histories, can be embedded into the improvisatory dance practice of contemporary dance and create new choreographic, movement, and performance processes.
Thomas, Makeda. “Legacy & Laterals: A Rhizomatic Study of the Black Arts Movement”. American Dance Festival, July 2009. Duke University, North Carolina. Lecture.
“Legacy & Laterals” offers a rhizomatic analysis of The Black Arts Movement in the creative work of Eleo Pomare, and a collaboration by Germaine Acogny’s Compagnie Jant-Bi-and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Urban Bush Women. I look to Eleo Pomare’s “Hushed Voices” in study of dance theater works created during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s; and to Germaine Acogny and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s 2008 dance theater work, “Les Écailles de la Mémoire” in meditation on how the tenets of the Black Arts Movement are maintained in today’s reality.
Thomas, Makeda. “Costa Del Alma”. Small Axe, 24 December 2008.
Thomas, Makeda. “A Sense of Place" - Dance for Development, Education, Empowerment and Change“. New Perspectives in African Performing & Visual Arts, April 2007. Ohio University. Lecture.
Examines a 6-month residency in Mozambique, Africa under auspices of the United States Embassy in Maputo and U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Education & Cultural Affairs for the development of an interdisciplinary dance work anchored by a series of conversations with 40 women living with HIV/AIDS in Maputo and Gaza provinces. Report documents the process and creative development, which involved over 250 participants. Research offers insight on issues facing women living with HIV/AIDS in this region, and material on engaging communities in cross-cultural collaborative processes.
“Saartje Baartman and Black Female Sexuality” (2004)
Paper on a 12-month transnational research residency including 3-weeks of research in Hankey in the Gamtoos River Valley, Eastern Cape, South Africa (2004) and 2-month research residency in Holland (2003) on the body in and as spectacle, the colonial performance presentation, and its intersections with Black feminism in contemporary dance. Funded by Arts International. Advisors: Eleo Pomare and Y. Dahlberg
"Eat Little and Live Long" by Makeda Thomas in Issue 2 of BlackInk. BlackInk is a magazine focusing on Black arts, heritage and cultural politics. An interface between a physical magazine and digital content, BlackInk is a creative response bringing together a range of interconnected international voices from across the African and African Caribbean Diaspora and indigenous communities.
"When Dolls Dance" by Makeda Thomas in "My Voice, My Practice: Black Dance" (Serendipity, UK, 2020). Giving voice to the lived experiences of Black artists this new publication celebrates dance from the African and African Caribbean Diaspora in the UK and internationally. Featuring articles from Eduardo Vilaro, Cynthia Oliver, Lénablou, Gladys M Francis, Annabel Guérédrat, Henri Tauliaut, Thomas Prestø, Alice Sheppard, Makeda Thomas, Vicki Igbokwe, Project X and Jonzi D.
“Making Stage: Dance & Performance Art Curation in Trinidad & Tobago”. Curating Live Arts: Global Perspectives, Envisioning Theory and Practice"
Curating Live Arts brings together bold and innovative essays from an international group of theorist-practitioners to pose vital questions, propose future visions, and survey the landscape of this rapidly evolving discipline. Reflecting the field’s characteristic eclecticism, the writings assembled here offer practical and insightful investigations into the curation of theatre, dance, sound art, music, and other performance forms—not only in museums, but in community, site-specific, and time-based contexts, placing it at the forefront of contemporary dialogue and discourse.