#LoveIrishResearch BLOG: Bridging horizons with ethio-modern dance

Michael (RAS Mikey) Courtney is a PhD Arts Practice candidate at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick and an IRC Postgraduate Scholar. His thesis is entitled “Bridging Horizons: Embodied Cultural Understanding Through the Development and Presentation of Ethio-Modern Dance.” 

Come along to our Culture Night, Dublin event, next Friday, 16th September, in Boston College, Ireland to see Ras Mikey’s performative presentation and hear more about his work.

Ethio-Modern Dance is a movement study based on my amalgamated embodiment of global cultures, with an emphasis on Ethiopia, used as a tool in my creative process as an urban contemporary performing artist.  Before beginning my PhD research, I completed an MA in Ethnochoreology from the University of Limerick and a B.F.A in Modern Dance Performance from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  My current research is grounded in ethnochoreology and from this interdisciplinary perspective I investigate the use of dance composition/performance as a cultural conduit. I have taught, presented, and produced in the performing arts world-wide with my company Fore I’m a Versatile Entertainer (F.I.V.E.) Productions.  

I have resided in Ethiopia since 2006 where I use autoethnographic research methods to investigate my embodied lived experiences and habitus, in order to refine our understanding of Ethio-Modern Dance.  Ethio-Modern Dance uses indigenous African and Diaspora movement as a medium for cultural exchange, knowledge sharing, and community building.  As an Arts Practice-Based researcher, I am able to investigate the physical and philosophical understanding of movement and its connection to human existence.  Movement, the language of dance, has been a means of communication and cross-cultural expression since the beginning of human existence, providing us with creative narratives about peoples’ origins, identity, experiences, and aspirations.  For me, “movement is life.” I am a “lifist,” which means that I find the aesthetics in all of life’s experiences. These frame my works and my philosophical approach to movement as a culture. 

Ethiopia, known as the birthplace of civilization, has diverse dance traditions, with over 80 nationalities, yet many of these dance styles have not been fully exposed to the global community.  Ironically Ethiopian and African movement in general, can be found in many contemporary dance forms in the African Diaspora.  As part of my PhD in Arts Practice requirements, I recently produced and directed two Ethio-Modern Dance Performances: Yebuna Alem/A Coffee World, which explored the stories of Arabica Coffee’s journey from its origins in Ethiopia to the world, and Common Threads, which reinforced Ethiopia’s ‘common thread’ through movement across countries and cultures.  Aside from this, I have facilitated a network between The University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy and Addis Ababa University’s College of the Arts, and the two are set to do more cultural/research exchange in the near future.  I plan to continue postdoctoral commitments to the development of a Dance Program curriculum for Addis Ababa University’s School of the Arts.  As well as by conducting more field research in order to assist in the documentation of the Ethiopia’s traditional dance heritage. 

For this year’s Culture Night, Dublin I will do a performative presentation that illustrates my embodiment of Ethiopian and other world dance cultures, in my research on the development and presentation of Ethio-Modern Dance.  In an effort to ‘bridge the gap’ of cultural understanding, using movement as a medium.