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Frontera Pedagogy: how to reposition dance from the liminal space across the US and Mexico

Author: Cristina Goletti

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This paper proposes to establish the border-la frontera- as a field of play in itself, and not in relation to the center, which is helpful in swinging the pendulum towards acknowledging how autonomy and freedom can foster a greater sense of community, belonging and empowerment through dance in higher education.


Since I started teaching at The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), I begun questioning the idea of a “universality” of dance pedagogy versus a context driven one. Is dance pedagogy a set of “rules” or guidelines that can be replicated and reproduced globally?  Is this a case where the disciplinary content prevails over the historic, cultural, and social realities of where and whom we teach? As Linda Ashley illustrates in her book "Dancing with Difference; Culturally Diverse Dances in Education" “In dance education recognition of cultural values and significances is crucial in a postmodern age where cultural plurality and difference are concomitant with social justice” (3)

So what are the cultural values and significances that characterize the US/Mexico border? And how can I incorporate them into my dance pedagogy class? In other words, what is missing in a dance pedagogy syllabus that is specific and particular to the US-Mexico border? What guiding principles should I use to position my course within the larger project of social justice and social mobility that has characterized UTEP mission and vision for the past 30 years? What is the border narrative and the radical pedagogy that stems from it?

The Paso del Norte region is the biggest bilingual/binational community in the world.  The actual socio-political context of this US-Mexico border region, including the demographic profile of UTEP students, mainly LatinX and first generation, and low-income, needs to be fundamental to a fresh and realistic look at the profound reasons and values for a course in dance pedagogy, which addresses why and how we teach dance and, more broadly the performing arts, in the 21st century.

Through self-ethnography, performative writing and a qualitative approach to research, I ask how can I aid my students in gaining a sustainable pedagogical knowledge that can contribute to, and foster a peaceful dialogue across the US-Mexico border? How can bilingual fluidity between Spanish and English become an embodied practice in the corporeal exchange between students and teachers, nurturing learning communities that ethically support free migration through national and identity borders? Analyzing, reconfiguring and implementing the principles I believe characterize the frontera pedagogyallows dance educators and their students to begin exploring a shift and reclamation of art education in relation to the local specificity of the frontera, without loosing sight of the global discourse.

Examples of students success stories, practical tools and self discoveries will be shared in the final section of the paper, where this radical pedagogical approach based on the frontera unique advantages, opens the door to a structure that use de-centering as a responsible act of care.



Education and the Performing Arts:

- Educational reforms and shortcomings in Higher Artistic Education.


Pedagogy, frontera, higher education, LatinX, cultural shift


Author Biography:

Artist and educator, Cristina is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Theatre and Dance department at UTEP and is serving as President for the World Dance Alliance Americas.

She holds an MFA from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a secondary emphasis in Gender Studies and Somatics and previously trained at the London Contemporary Dance School where she gained a Postgraduate Diploma with distinction dancing and touring across Europe with Edge, the Postgraduate Company of LCDS. As a dancer, she performed works by Hofesh Schechter, Jonathan Lunn, Charles Linehan, Maresa Von Stockert and Yann Lheraux, Arno Schuitemaker and Darrel Jones amongst others. In Ireland as part of the Daghdha Mentoring Programme, she was in Michael Klien’s “Sand Section” and in “Ruins” for Myriad Dance Company. In 2007 she co-founded together with Nick Bryson Legitimate Bodies Dance Company, the dance company in residence at Birr Theatre and Arts Centre and supported by Offaly County Council. The company has toured to some of the most important venues and festival in Europe, the USA and Mexico like Aerowaves Dance Festival at The Robin Howard Theatre London, Dance House Limassol, Auditorium Theatre Rome, the European Parliament in Brussels, the Dublin Absolute Festival and Tanzmesse Dusseldorf, Purdue University and the Black Box at the National School of Contemporary Dance in Mexico City, thanks to the support of Culture Ireland.

Cristina's awards include “DanceWEB European Scholarship”, two Bursary Awards, the Project Award and several travel awards from The Irish Arts Council and the European Cultural Foundation. From 2008 until 2014 she was the director of I.F. O.N.L.Y. the first and only festival in Ireland dedicated to dance solos. In 2013 she moved to Mexico to work at Universidad De Las Americas Puebla as a full-time professor, becoming the Chair of the Arts Department there in 2015. During her time in Mexico, she co-directed the festival Performatica and was a finalist in the 4x4 choreographic contest in Tijuana. Cristina has presented her scholarly work in several conferences in the US and Europe, like CORD, SDHS, SECAC and MACAA and has created original choreographies and performances for several universities like UTSA, Purdue University, Texas State University San Marcos and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. Her research interests lie in dance dramaturgy, interdisciplinary performance practices and gender studies.