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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Reinstated Native American Studies course incorporates music and dance

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

core courses.

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



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