Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Media Contacts

George Vlahakis
IU Media Relations

Martha Dutra
African American Arts Institute

Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Backgrounder: IU African American Dance Company

EDITORS: Here is supplemental information to a news release also issued today (March 30) about the upcoming 30th concert of the African American Dance Company at Indiana University Bloomington. The release can be found at More background materials, including print-quality photographs, are available online at

When was the company founded? The African American Dance Company was organized in the fall of 1974. Typically, company members do not have to be dance majors, although they must demonstrate an ability and ambition to perform. After auditioning for the company, they enroll in a two-credit-hour course, "African American Dance: Culture and Performance." The company is part of the African American Arts Institute, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary later this year. Other performance ensembles in the institute are the African American Choral Ensemble and the IU Soul Revue. The ensembles are offered concurrently as courses through the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.

What is African American or black dance? According to Iris Rosa, director of the African American Dance Company at Indiana University Bloomington, African Americans have been involved in mainstream modern dance since about 1929. "They wanted to be able to illustrate through performance, the performing arts and dance the experiences of African Americans and get away from the 'slave dances' and minstrel shows and what people see today as degrading types of performances," she said.

African Americans were drawn to modern dance's breakaway from the linear movement patterns and other aspects of traditional ballet, in order to be more expressive. It today draws from all other forms of dance, including jazz, ethnic traditions, tap and even ballet. "People can use and infuse all of those forms of dance in order to relate the experience," she said. "I tell stories through dance. Being able to tell stories through dance is being able to fuse many different types of movement together in order to be able to tell that story and that experience."

Who is Iris Rosa? Iris Rosa was born in Puerto Rico, the daughter of a migrant worker who later moved his family to East Chicago, Ind., where he worked in a steel mill. In 1968, she took advantage of a new IU program called Groups for young people from urban and under-represented populations. In 1973, she earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and a year later, a master's degree in dance. She has been the director of the African American Dance Company since its founding, and six years later she was named an assistant professor of African American studies. Today, she is an associate professor of African American and African Diaspora studies. She also directs the performing ensemble, Sancocho: Music and Dance Collage, in Indianapolis, which enables her to present her research in African- and Cuban-influenced dance. She is developing another company, Seda Negra/Black Silk.