This fall, 11 new tenure-track faculty members joined Scripps College. As part of our ongoing series on Scripps’ faculty, the Office of Marketing and Communications recently sat down with Meiver De la Cruz to discuss the relationships between dance, community, and activism, as well as De la Cruz’s hidden talent.
Meiver De la Cruz is an assistant professor of dance and a Consortium for Faculty Diversity Fellow at Scripps College. She is completing a PhD in performance studies from Northwestern University and holds a master’s degree in gender and cultural studies from Simmons College. She has used dance in community organizing and empowerment work, and her areas of expertise also include Arab American studies, diaspora studies, critical race studies, migration, and political economy.
Marketing and Communications: One of your areas of expertise is migration and political economy. How do those topics play into the context of dance?
Meiver De la Cruz I’m looking at the spaces of practice of dance in the Arab diaspora. Specifically, I’m looking at Middle Eastern nightclubs as important historical institutions that facilitate community space. Arab nightclubs in the United States have a really interesting history—there are documented nightclubs from the 1950s and photographs from even earlier. At first, the audience for these spaces was primarily working-class, first- and second-generation migrants who had factory jobs and could go to dinnertime entertainment. But when the makeup of the community transitioned from people with factory jobs to business owners who couldn’t come to dinner entertainment because of long working hours, it changed the nature of the audience. So, I’m also thinking about the economics of these spaces and how nightclub economies are sustained when they have this particular audience.
MC: You also see these nightclubs as spaces where people build community.
MDLC: Middle Eastern nightclubs have a number of characteristics in common: live music and dance performances, spaces for families to gather, participation in social dancing, full menus, and, in some places, smoking sections. Newcomers come to nightclubs to be welcomed into the social community and to network for employment. The experience of community is fundamental to determining identity, and in this case, we’re talking about a highly politicized identity, considering current U.S. government policies toward people from these regions. Nightclubs are spaces where people go to identify with each other and create something that generates political weight outside of the nightclub.
MC: You’re teaching a class called Feminist Ethnography and Performance. What do you hope students will learn from this course?
MDLC: Ethnography is an anthropological tool that’s based in the observation of human behavior over a period of time. Students will learn feminist debates in ethnographic research and, using that perspective, they’ll conduct research about something in their immediate environments that impacts their everyday life. They’ll select a site where they regularly spend time—a coffee shop that they visit or a club they’re a part of or their academic department, for example—and start to understand the dynamics of that space through observing behavior, interactions, language, and the way people use their bodies in that space. They’ll learn how to see it with new eyes and how to ask feminist questions about it.
Because the course is about learning research methods for eventual performance-making, students will ultimately create performances about these places that are part of their everyday life. They may go back to the spaces they observed and perform their reports, which could generate interesting conversations. Performance is a way of sharing research—an alternative research report.
MC: What other classes are you hoping to teach or develop at Scripps?
MDLC: I’d like to teach my Dance and Activism course, where students work in small affinity groups to understand each other’s community concerns and navigate their political priorities and differences in order to make movement work. It’s not meant to be for dancers only; it’s for anyone who wants to think about movement as activism. And I would love for students to come to my Raqs al Sharqi [Egyptian dance technique] Level I in the spring, so that they can come to Level II next year!
MC: What is a fun or interesting fact about yourself that you’d like to share with the community?
MDLC: I’m a community actor. For the last two years, I performed with the Cleveland Public Theater’s Spanish-language ensemble, Teatro Público de Cleveland. I’m excited to bond with those communities here in Claremont.