Lea Marshall is the associate chair of Dance + Choreography, and has served as a producer for dance companies since 1999. Her academic background is in writing, with a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MFA in creative writing from VCU. Her written work has appeared in The Atlantic, Dance Magazine, Style Weekly, Thrush and more.
Marshall was recently selected to be the regional director for the Mid Atlantic South Region of the American College Dance Association and the interim director of the Arts Research Institute. To learn more about her new roles and poetry projects, VCUarts reached out to her for a brief Q&A.
How has your personal artistic practice affected the way you teach and lead your students and peers?
My creative practice is grounded in experience within several disciplines, including studio arts and performance, undergirded by my primary training as a writer. This background enables me to support emerging artists in developing their own practice by thinking expansively about creative process, whether the work takes the form of a dance, a poem, a video or a painting. I think my multi-disciplinary background has enhanced my ability to collaborate and problem-solve within and beyond the dance department and the School of the Arts.
In one of your projects, you revisit your own poetry to identify personal biases. What was that process like, and what did you learn from it?
After a great deal of personal study and reflection, working with many writings such as the work of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Claudia Rankine, I am attempting to make visible my perspective as a white writer by annotating my own poems. Given the nature of whiteness, and how slippery it is for white people to grasp within themselves, I am not sure whether this is actually possible.
I embarked on this effort not as an exercise in self-abasement or as an egocentric display of my own complicity in our national project of white supremacy, but in the hopes of making visible for other (particularly) white writers that which usually (or hitherto) has gone unacknowledged or unseen (by us) in our work.
This project is ongoing and I find it requires intense study and concentrated time—which I don’t often have. But it, along with listening and rigorous self-reflection, is helping me in the work of de-colonizing my mind and practice as a maker, teacher and administrator.
You were recently chosen to be the regional director for the Mid Atlantic South Region of the American College Dance Association. What responsibilities will that entail for you?
Regional directors are also members of the Board of the American College Dance Association, which facilitates a series of regional annual conferences for students and faculty, hosted by colleges around the country. Regional directors support the work of the conference coordinator in their region each year, and track and support ACDA membership in their region.
As the new interim director of the Arts Research Institute, how do you think performing artists enrich the institute’s interdisciplinary collaborations and dialogues?
Collaboration forms the DNA of most performing arts. Choreographers, for example, must rely on dancers to realize their vision, in addition to a potential range of other artists including musicians, lighting designers, costumers, etc. Where collaboration is a primary language, rich partnerships and dialogues across disciplines can follow.