Robin Gee’s Fulbright award gives her the opportunity to live a dual existence as both student and teacher.

Gee, an associate professor of dance in the School of Music, Theater and Dance, will spend the spring semester in French-speaking West Africa, documenting the cultural influences that shape dance there — and sharing her own experience of African-American dance and music.

After a two-week stop in France to re-immerse herself in the French language she speaks fluently, she heads to Burkina Faso, once part of Mali, where she will remain from January through July.

She will produce a film depicting native dance styles while teaching traditional African-American dance, jazz, hip hop and contemporary styles to students at the University of Ouagadougou.

“Africans have little knowledge of the African-American, voice and experience in the West,” she says. “There’s a lot of French influence in the arts in West Africa of course. Their exposure to what it means to be contemporary in the Western sense comes from France.”

Gee has been in and out of Francophone West Africa for almost 20 years, she says. She spent the spring semester of 2007 studying in a small village in Guinea, West Africa. Although France enjoyed a golden-age of African-American jazz infusion in the 1920s, Gee says the contemporary French art scene runs to the avant garde and abstract. The African-American style of storytelling with infused musicality is new to West African countries like Burkina Faso and Mali, which were colonized by the French.

Gee will work primarily with a large international dance center, the Ecole de Danse Internationale Irene Tassembedo in Burkina Faso, staying in “the urban and slightly Westernized” capital of Ouagadougou. The Université de Ouagadougou and the U.S. Embassy will also host her visit.

Gee’s project is called “Urban Griots: (Re) imagining the Word.” In addition to producing a documentary and dance for the camera, she will study the artist/musician caste there, known as jalis, and how their work has been impacted by urbanization and globalization. She will also choreograph a dance performance based on what she has learned there upon her return. Look for that performance on campus in February 2014, in celebration of Black History Month.

The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Gee is among about 1,100 faculty and professionals who wil travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar program in 2012-13.

Photography by Chris English, University Relations