Mickela Mallozzi of PBS’ “Bare Feet” to Teach Intercultural Communication Through Dance at NYU
December 1, 2023

Mickela Mallozzi, the host and executive producer of the PBS series “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi,” has fostered cross-cultural exchange through dance on her show since 2014. Now, she will impart her knowledge to students at New York University Steinhardt’s School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with a new course, Intercultural Dance (also titled Intercultural Communication Through Dance), which will be offered during the spring 2024 semester.

Intercultural Dance is open to all NYU undergraduate and graduate students, including dance and nondance majors. Providing university-wide access to the course deeply mattered to Mallozzi. “It’s about community-building and communication,” she says, describing both as critical skills to develop empathy and prepare for any career. “If you have empathy, you will do your job better,” she says. “We want everyone to understand communicating through body language.”

Students will learn through a combination of Mallozzi’s lectures and dance classes taught by six experts in cultural styles that have appeared on “Bare Feet,” including Argentine tango, Balkan kolo, and Puerto Rican bomba. Mallozzi had been developing the idea for an intercultural dance communication course at NYU—her alma mater—since her television show began. She viewed the school’s home in New York City as the ideal location due to its diversity and proximity to wide-ranging dance specialists. “Being at NYU and in New York is so important, to have access to world cultures and dances and the people who are the experts in these dances,” she says.

Photo by Ben Ouriel of NYU Steinhardt, courtesy NYU.

The first half of the semester will focus on communication through dance as a necessity, including cultures that used dance to transcend language barriers. The second half will cover dance’s evolution, and how group and partner dances facilitate communication through touch. 

Roughly half the course will consist of dance sessions, and the other will be lecture-and-discussion–based. To supplement work in the classroom, students will read the book Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us, by Ivy Ross and Susan Magsamen. “It’s talking about how art and expression of art are necessary for communities to exist,” Mallozzi says. Auxiliary materials will also include the book How Musical Is Man?, by John Blacking, “Bare Feet” episodes, and other videos and archives.

Students’ midterm project will require writing about a guest teacher and their respective dance. Mallozzi will encourage asking critical questions about the dances and their cultural context, and removing Eurocentric biases about what constitutes the right style or proper form. For the final project, students will collaborate in groups to choose a dance genre and a teacher to learn it from, present to the class using dance, images, video, or speech, and individually write an accompanying paper. “It’s taking what they’ve learned and seen,” Mallozzi says. “We’re going to use some of the episodes of ‘Bare Feet’ for them to understand how to dig deeper into that.”

Mallozzi has considered the impact that the course can have on students with varying levels of familiarity with movement. “With dancers, there’s this idea of perfection and performance, and we need to remember the joy that comes in dance,” she says. She wants less experienced participants to push past their comfort zones and know that dance is for them, too. “We’re touching people very respectfully and exchanging these energies of being in step together,” Mallozzi says of the classroom environment. “It’s a basic human element of your heartbeat in the same rhythm. If they can just take away ‘I can do this,’ then I’ll have done my job.”

Registration for Intercultural Dance at NYU Steinhardt is open through February 4, 2024, for all students enrolled at NYU.

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