Native American Studies 032: Native American Music and Dance,
a lower-division class, will be entirely revamped next quarter. The
class, which focuses on music and dance, aims to introduce students
to indigenous Native American artistic expressions, as well as to help
students develop new perspectives on cultural art forms different from their
Created in 1969 by the late UC Davis Native American Studies
Department founder David Risling, the course consistently reached full
enrollment. It was so popular that it remained one of the few courses
Risling continued to teach after earning emeritus status in 1993. However,
the course has not been offered in over a decade largely due to Risling’s
passing in 2005.
UC Davis assistant professor Jessica Bissett Perea will now be
in charge of the course and intends to offer it once a year. Perea has
a postdoctoral degree in ethnomusicology with an emphasis on Alaska
Native and circumpolar Inuit cultures, urban indigeneities, African/Native
alliances and cultural production in the Americas.
Perea recently received an Undergraduate Instructional Improvement
Program Large Grant for 2014-2015 to revitalize the course. MUSE spoke
with Perea to get to know what the new Native American Music and Dance
course has in store.
MUSE: What exactly does Native American Music and Dance entail?
Perea: [Native American Music and Dance] focuses on music and dance in
ways that offer students a comparative, interdisciplinary and hemispheric
approach to studying the diversity of indigenous peoples and cultures of
the Americas. Students will learn about historic and contemporary issues
central to Native American music and dance research by engaging in a
variety of participatory, hands-on activities, ranging from interactions with
Native American musicians, dancers and community members to analyses
of print and audiovisual media, including new social media.
By critically examining structures of difference, exploitation and
colonization in relation to processes of cultural revitalization, self-
determination and intergenerational healing, students will gain an
understanding of what it means to be a Native American person in the
present day. [They will learn] how Indigenous histories and cultures are
significant to understanding who we are as human beings and global
MUSE: What motivated or inspired you to revamp the class?
Perea: I am a musician and a scholar, and have always been interested in
researching the roles creative and performing arts play in cultural studies
[curricula]. This course has not been offered in over a decade and thus
requires a substantial redevelopment phase, or what I prefer to think of
as a revitalization. This project will improve instruction for a substantial
number of students by revitalizing one of our department’s most popular
MUSE: What sorts of additions/changes do you plan to make to the
course? Will the course offer more hands-on experiences than it did
Perea: Indigenous ways of knowing and learning heavily emphasize an
experience-based approach. If you want to know or learn about Native
American music and dance, you need to learn by singing and dancing. I am
currently investigating the possibility of offering an intensive drum-making
workshop, as well as inviting several local Native American musicians to
offer guest lecture-demonstrations. UC Davis is an R1 (high-research)
institution, so I am also very excited to introduce students to the diverse
research projects that have been undertaken in native communities over
time and to highlight current trends and directions for future projects.
MUSE: How do you hope the course will impact students, especially
those new to learning about Native American culture?
Perea: A primary goal of my [course] revitalization project is to equip
students with skills, materials, and applied experiences that allow them to
better understand issues central to Native American Studies and to identify
similarities and differences in other socio-cultural contexts.
As a first-generation college graduate and woman from an
underrepresented minority, I am keenly aware of the need to incorporate
new approaches to teaching and learning that foster a vibrant and equitable
classroom environment in which students can thrive academically,
personally and professionally.
I am particularly dedicated to developing and implementing relevant,
current and sustainable course learning outcomes and assessments of
student learning, especially those that support diverse lived experiences,
perspectives and learning styles.
Perea expressed enthusiasm about the course’s expansion and its
mission to give students a more engaging experience with indigenous
cultures. She said that she hopes many students will join her in exploring
indigenous music and dance.
If you are interested in Native American culture, you can add Native
American Music and Dance this Winter Quarter. You may also learn
about Native American events within the Davis campus and community at