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Ford Foundation Funds Native Dance Conference

Ford Foundation Grant Will Fund UC Riverside “Red Rhythms” Conference in May

Scholars and Performers From Across North American Will Explore, For the First Time, the Importance of Native Dance Traditions to the U.S. Academic and Dance Worlds

(February 9, 2004)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( -- The Ford Foundation has granted UC Riverside $75,350 to host a three-day conference in early May that will be the first to increase awareness of the rich field of Native American dance studies in the United States.

Two professors, Jacqueline Shea Murphy in the dance department and Michelle Raheja in the English department, will bring together scholars, teachers and dancers from a variety of traditions to illuminate the contributions of Native dancers and choreographers in a national conference, called “Red Rhythms: Contemporary Methodologies in American Indian Dance.” The conference will be held May 5, 6 and 7 of this year.

“This is an exciting step for Native American dance and dance studies in general,” said Shea Murphy, an assistant professor of dance who studies Native American dance in relation to modern dance history. While funding agencies like the “Canada Council” have actively supported Aboriginal dance in that country, there has been little institutional or academic support in the U.S. for the work of Native American dancers and choreographers. “We want to change that by providing a chance for dance scholars to see some of this work and begin considering its complexities. We want to facilitate a way for the dancers themselves, who often work far apart from each other, to meet and network.”

Raheja, an assistant professor of English who studies media and literary images of and by Native Americans, said she is most interested in bringing scholars of Native American history together who have not considered the dance tradition part of their scholarship. She said this will be the first major conference in the U.S. that brings together dance scholars, Native Studies scholars and American Indian dancers.

“We want to expose dance scholars and Native American studies scholars to the richness of this dance, and provide a forum for discussion of the complex historical and theoretical issues involved,” said Raheja.

The conference will include roundtable discussions about issues such as the relationship between staged and ceremonial dance, religious freedom and dance, federal land use, the media representation of native dance and the issue of authenticity.

Public dance performances, including an evening of Aboriginal and American Indian stage dance, will be videotaped, with permission of the performers, so they can be shared with others.

The organizers plan to include several Indian dance groups from across the state and a long list of scholars, dancers and choreographers from around North America. A full schedule will be released as the conference date approaches. Additional funding for the conference comes from the University of California Humanities Research Institute and the UC Riverside Center for Ideas and Society.

UC Riverside is near neighbor to more than 30 federally recognized tribes and California Indians helped found the campus and established its first academic chair. The campus offers one of only two Ph.D. programs in American Indian History in the nation, and was the first university in the nation to offer a Ph.D. program in dance history. Other institutional resources include the Rupert Costo Library of American Indian History, one of the largest collections of research materials relating to Native Americans in the nation, and the proposed Center for California Native Nations.

The Ford Foundation since 1936 has provided more than $10 billion in grants and loans to charitable and educational projects that strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation and advance human achievement. (

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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