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Photo: Ian Douglas

Tara Aisha Willis

Former Curator in Performance & Public Practice at the MCA


Tara Aisha Willis is a dancer and a writer. She holds a PhD in Performance Studies from New York University, where she received the Deena Burton Memorial Scholarship in Dance Scholarship Award and was the first arts-focused candidate to receive the university-wide Outstanding Dissertation Award in Arts & Humanities. Her dissertation focused on contemporary practices of improvisation and experimentation in Black dance performances. Willis performed in a collaboration between Will Rawls and Claudia Rankine (2016–21), which traveled to Bard College, Danspace Project, Walker Art Center, REDCAT, the MCA, and ICA Boston, and in the 2016 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award–winning performance by The Skeleton Architecture; she is also a recent recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency for her choreographic work. She held a Jerome Robbins Dance Division Research Fellowship at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts and has been an editorial collective member of Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory since 2013. She has served as comanaging editor of TDR/The Drama Review, and was coeditor of both a special issue of The Black Scholar with Thomas F. DeFrantz and the performance writing project, Marking the Occasion (Wendy's Subway, 2021), with Jaime Shearn Coan. Her writing appears in the exhibition catalogue Blondell Cummings: Dance as Moving Pictures (Getty Research Institute/X Artists' Books, 2022) and is forthcoming in the anthology Dancing on the Third Coast: Chicago Dance Histories (University of Illinois Press, 2023; eds. Susan Manning and Lizzie Leopold). Willis also worked in programming at the NYC dance incubator Movement Research, where she was the founding administrator of the Artists of Color Council. She was an original working group member of “Creating New Futures," the COVID-19 responsive guidelines for ethical dance presenting, and currently sits on the board of Links Hall, and is part of the Anti-Racism Task Force of Chicago Dancemakers Forum and the Artistic Advisory Board of The Field Center residency in Vermont.

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