Reading the Invisible Script: How Black Dance Pioneers of the 1930s-40s Danced Between the Lines

April 22, 2024

Gaynell Sherrod and her book
Gaynell Sherrod

Meet VCU Authors: E. Gaynell Sherrod, PhD

Start time: 12:00 p.m.

End time: 1:00 p.m.

Location: Virtual

Register here


In this talk, Dr. Sherrod will illustrate the dance pedagogy created by Black dance artists in the 1930s and 1940s in America. Dr. Sherrod will discuss the ways in which this dance instruction undergirded the emergence of the Black concert dance construct, which manifested in the late 1950s and took on a definitive global presence in the 1960s with the popularity of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She will also document the dance contributions of dance pioneer Katherine Dunham and her peers, whose works blazed a trail for many contemporary dance artists.

About the Speaker

E. Gaynell Sherrod – dance educator, choreographer and historian, danced professionally with the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO!) and Urban Bush Women, Inc. She earned a master’s degree in dance education and a Doctorate in dance pedagogy and performance from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Sherrod is a Fulbright-Hayes scholar in dance research. Her artistic and theoretical works are steeped in the dance and music of African American vernacular and the African Diaspora – mentored by acclaimed scholars Drs. Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, Kariamu Welsh and (the late) Katie G. Cannon. From 2001-2003, she was the Director of Dance Education for New York City public schools, wherein she designed and implemented professional training initiatives for dance educators, teaching artists, and classroom teachers. Most notably she co-founded and directed the New York City Department of Education Dance Institute: Based on the Katherine Dunham Model, for which she was awarded a DANA Foundation Grant. Dr. Sherrod has taught at New Jersey City University and New York University (NYU). From 2004-2014, she taught at Florida A&M University (FAMU), earning tenure (Associate Professor) and subsequently becoming the Interim Chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER). In 2014, Dr. Sherrod joined the faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) as Chair of the Department of Dance and Choreography, for which she served for three years. From 2019-2020, she served as the Interim Executive Director of PHILDANCO! – an organizational sustainability position funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation.

Currently, she is a professor of dance at VCU, and aside from teaching, she continues to create work in dance, mixed media and dance writing. Her work TWINE!, earned her a Sage and John Cowles Residency at University of Minnesota Dance in 2022. In 2022, Sherrod was commissioned to create the choreo-sonic (sound score) for Dawoud Bey’s film installation 350,000, part of Dawoud Bey: Elegy at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in November 2023-February 2024. Dr. Sherrod is the author of The Dance Pedagogy of Katherine Dunham and Black Pioneering Dancers in Chicago and New York City, from 1931 1946 (Edwin Mellen Press – May 2019) and African-Derived Dance Pedagogy in Chicago and New York City, 1931-1946: The Dance Griots - Reading the Invisible Script (Mellen Press – September 2022).