2023 Selma Jeanne Cohen Dance Lecture Awardee: Tria Blu Wakpa

Tria Blu Wakpa is an Assistant Professor of Dance Studies in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received a Ph.D. and M.A. from the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley; an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Diego State University; and a B.A. in English with an option in Film summa cum laude from Oklahoma State University. Her research and teaching center on community-engaged, decolonizing, and dance studies methodologies to examine the politics and practices of dance and other movement forms—such as theatrical productions, athletics, and yoga—for Indigenous peoples in and beyond structures and institutions of confinement. She is a scholar, poet, and practitioner of Indigenous dance, North American Hand Talk (Indigenous sign language), martial arts, and yoga.


Photo by Kristine T Pham

Her first book project, Bodies as Battlegrounds, Institutions as War: Native American Choreographies in Confinement, historically and politically contextualizes dance, theatrical productions, basketball, and/or yoga at four sites on Lakota lands: a former Indian boarding school, men and women’s prisons, and a tribal juvenile hall.

Photo by Yöeme Hömari

Her published writings appear in scholarly journals and books, including: The American Indian Culture and Research Journal, American Quarterly, Critical Stages/Scènes, Dance Research Journal, The International Journal of Screendance, Performance Matters, Urdimento, Carceral Liberalism: Feminist Voices Against State Violence, Dance in US Popular Culture, Indigenous Motherhood in the Academy, Milestones in Dance History, Practicing Yoga as Resistance: Voices of Color in Search of Freedom, and Scholar & Feminist Online. She has received major fellowships from the Ford Foundation, the Fulbright Program, the Hellman Fellows Fund, and the UC President’s Postdoctoral Program. At UCLA, several entities have supported her research: the Academic Senate, the Center for the Study of Women, the Institute of American Cultures, the Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the School of the Arts and Architecture.


Photo by Dr. Mique’l Dangeli

In addition to her appointment with the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, Professor Blu Wakpa is affiliated with UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center and Center for Community Engagement. She has taught a wide range of interdisciplinary and community-engaged classes at public, private, tribal, and carceral institutions. For her pedagogical commitments that bridge the academy and off-campus communities, she has received support from the Center for Advancement of Teaching and the Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Scholars, the University of California Humanities Research Institute, and the Radical Teacher Fellowship Grant. She is also a co-founder and the Editor-in-Chief of Race and Yoga, the first peer-reviewed and open-access journal in the emerging field of critical yoga studies.

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