Julianna Cressman has integrated research into her performance-based dance major. By looking into real-world social issues, she has become more aware of the world around her and broadened her education. She has also found ways to incorporate that awareness into her artistic expression as well. Julianna encourages undergraduates considering research is to find ways to follow their curiosity and passions, both to get the most out of their education, but also to learn how their pursuit might empower them to make a difference in the world. UROP is pleased to recognize Julianna for the passion she has brought to her undergraduate research experience.

1. What is your specific area of research (include the name of your faculty and/or laboratory)?

This year, I completed two UROP projects in similar research areas: the first considering contemporary Brazilian dance under the mentorship of professor of Dance Dr. Sheron Wray, and the second highlighting Whiteness in Modern dance under the mentorship of Dr. Jeanne Scheper, professor in Gender & Sexuality Studies. Both projects are in the field of Critical Dance Studies, which examines the matrices of race, class, and gender, within dance performance and practice. My research explores issues of representation, appropriation and authenticity within the private and public spaces in which dance is created and reproduced. Specifically, I aim to identify the ways in which anti-blackness is rendered through the aesthetic, narrative, and structural components of art making, using my research to challenge notions of post-raciality and bring light to the ways in which dance pedagogy and performance reinforce colonial ideologies and processes. Perhaps you can tell from what I have already said that my work is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing from a framework that weaves critical dance studies, social justice pedagogy, critical race theory, performance and media studies, communications studies, and education research.

2. When and how did you first get involved in research?

I first became involved in research my freshman year, when I took a year-long writing intensive course through the Freshman Integrated Program, called How Race Is Made. It was a fantastic course that covered material ranging from the history of race, class, and gender in Latin America and in law, to issues of representation in film and media. It was incredibly difficult, but the challenge provided me new tools to develop a critical consciousness at the beginning of my UCI career, as well as a supportive space to work diligently on getting my writing and researching skills up to par. The final quarter was called Screening Race, taught by the incredible Chair of the Department of African American Studies, Dr. Bridget Cooks. This course transformed the way I thought about media and arts analysis, and I was especially delighted when at the end, I was able to choose a film to analyze and research myself for a large capstone project. I blended my love and specialized knowledge in dance with what I had learned throughout the course, in choosing the 2001 film “Save the Last Dance” to unpack. This I think was the catalyzing moment for me, for I did not know that you could research something so personal and current as popular culture. Since that capstone paper, I have been devoted to transforming my Dance major degree to include a more critical academic experience, which meant seeking ways to independently research. Enter, UROP!

3. How has research enhanced your education?

In a personal way, it has given me a space to learn how to teach myself, which isn't always that easy in a typical classroom setting. In a more general sense, research has allowed me to fill the gaps in the curriculum at my home school in areas where I felt that there was a lack. It has helped me understand dance in both a more detailed and broad sense, and has acted as the well from which I draw to supplement my dance training. My research has most importantly told me that I can do something special with my life. It has shown me that what I write has power has the potential to sway important conversations and influence future generations of learners.

4. What has been your favorite experience with research (include any interesting stories or specific events)?

There are so many! My favorite experiences with research are twofold: One is having the opportunity to completely “nerd out” with scholars in the field. I was able to contact the authors of my primary sources, which is an experience I could never have imagined. To speak with people who are not only experts in a field, but also as passionate as you are about a topic, is a blessing and a tremendous opportunity for learning. My second favorite experience is putting theory and knowledge I produce through research into practice. My research has been the basis and reservoir of energy for actual interventions and programming I have organized within the dance program. Because my research is in dance, embodied experience is of the utmost importance. Doing independent research allows me to prepare for my actual dance career and create the ethical and accessible arts programming that I have always aspired to create.

5. What are your future plans and how has being involved in research helped to prepare you to meet your goals?

My future plans are to hopefully research Dance abroad (I am looking to extend my preliminary SURP research in Brazil to a year-long trip), and enter into a Ph.D. program in the field of my current research. But before I pursue my higher education career, I am looking to dance professionally and work in the music industry. I am sure that these experiences will lead me to more questions for future research!

6. What advice would you give to a student interested in pursuing a faculty-mentored undergraduate research project or creative activity?

I would tell the student that they should see their curiosity as a special, precious resource and intrinsic gift that they uniquely possess. I would tell them to take their curiosity and passion to engage with people similarly inclined, and to not wait for people (staff, faculty, admin) to give you the authorization to pursue it. You authorize yourself. The important thing is to recognize these areas of interest and let them lead them on a longer journey.

Dear future researcher: your passions will carry you if you let them, and the ride will be incredible if you trust your questions and do the work to answer them.

Past Researchers of the Month

May. '17 Julianna Cressman
Apr. '17 Navid Reza Ghaffari
Mar. '17 Martha Arhemi Morales
Feb. '17 Jafar Al Souz
Jan. '17 Joseph Mehrabi