Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Message without Words

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

A Message without Words

Article excerpt

In another life, perhaps, Charles O. Anderson would have been an engineer.

As a scholarship student at Cornell University, he was headed down that path until his roommate's girlfriend, a dancer who saw how Anderson worked the floor at a party, invited him to one of her dance classes.

Suddenly, the aspiring engineer's life became as fluid as his dancing.

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"Choreography is what drew me into dance," says the Richmond, Va., native, who ended up graduating from Cornell with a bachelor's in choreography and performance. "It's the idea of being able to say things through my own body and my own work. Ironically, that idea was kind of what drew me into engineering in the first place, so my imagination has sort of been pushing me all along."

That imagination has served Anderson well. At 39, he's now an associate professor of dance at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania, where he also heads the African-American studies program. Anderson is also the artistic director of Dance Theatre X, a multicultural dance company he founded in 2001.

For Anderson, dance is more than a form of expression. Dance Theatre X, he says, is "committed to investigating ideas of identity, race, social change and social justice." Performances feature a mix of contemporary and traditional African movement with contemporary Western modem dance and reflect the traditions and points of view of the African diaspora.

Anderson's shows are also heavily inspired by literature. His "World Headquarters" production, staged in early December in Philadelphia, recalls novels by science fiction writer Octavia Butler. Other projects have relied on writings by James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, author and professor emeritus of dance studies at Temple University, says Anderson "shows intelligence in mind, body and spirit." And his work, she says, has only matured since she met him nearly 10 years ago.

"He has embraced wider horizons," says Dixon Gottschild, who moderated "World Headquarters." "It's evident in the [literary] texts he chooses, in how he takes schematic leaps that bring together social and cultural expressions."

Anderson says he's always been interested in cultural expression within the African diaspora. "Particularly, I got very interested in social justice," he says. "That's what drove me to the academic side of African-American studies."

That interest led Anderson to meet with Muhlenberg's provost in 2006 to launch the college's African-American studies program. …

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