By: Gail Obenreder
“There are environmental processes and scientific information that I want to convey, [and] I want people to be inspired by the hope in the dance.”
Twelve years ago, Dr. Jamē McCray was on a Florida beach tagging sea turtles to analyze their data and teaching dance classes “for fun.” But now, this artist/scientist has coupled her PhD in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation with dance and choreography to show how “dance and theater can extend the [environmental] conversation beyond scientists and engineers.”
The oldest of three, the Brooklyn native grew up in Bedford Stuyvesant with two passions: She was equally curious about the natural world and in love with dance. McCray attended afterschool science programs and also took dance classes at both Broadway Dance and the fabled Dance Theater of Harlem. “I was lucky enough to have parents who supported both interests,” and McCray has fused areas that might seem disparate into a unique career.
Her scientific research has taken her nationwide, but in 2017 McCray moved to Delaware. Here, she works as an Environmental Social Scientist for Sea Grant in Lewes and is an instructor at the University of Delaware. But earlier in her career, while serving in the Peace Corps at Samoa’s Ministry and Natural Resources and Environment, she discovered something revelatory. The island had “a culture in which dance was a language that everybody spoke . . . [it] spoke to the past, present, and future.” Her experiences there helped McCray to create the professional fusion of her two loves.
Darwin’s The Loves of Plants: Poppies, 2019
Length of Full Work in Minutes: 1:27
Role in Creation: Choreographer
“It’s easy to have my work be didactic,” but the scientist challenges her artistic self to set up frameworks that convey environmental processes and scientific information that are “informed by participants’ life experiences and connect to the world around them.” As a dancer and choreographer, McCray was influenced by artists as diverse as Arthur Mitchell (who founded Dance Theater of Harlem), Alvin Ailey, Gene Kelley, and Fred Astaire – and by musicals ranging from West Side Story to Savion Glover’s Bring in Da Funk.
She continues to follow closely the artists who are putting “stories and movement language of Black and Brown people onstage,” but she’s also inspired by scientific organizations now visible in the “intersectional environmental movement” and focus especially on the Black scientists in her field. “The central question that drives my work is: How can we gain a better understanding of the natural world and our place in it?”
For McCray, that answer is a fusion of her two passion. She has created an environmental dance piece for the Philadelphia Flower Show, presented scholarly papers and talks, is active in professional associations for both dance and science, and co-chairs University of Delaware’s Partnership for Arts and Culture.
“Receiving the Fellowship means I get to manifest some of my bigger ideas,” perhaps working intergenerationally or collaborating with musicians to compose original scores for dance works. The pandemic has “shifted my thinking to how to put dance on film,” but it has not dimmed her drive. “Starting from a place of fear and paralysis” will not solve our environmental dilemmas. For McCray, creativity in both of her fields – science and dance – is the answer.
Artist website: www.ecotonicmovement.orgFellowship Home
Related Topics: 2021 Artist Fellows, art, artist fellowship, arts grants, choreographer, choreography, dance, Delaware, Delaware Department of State, delaware division of the arts, Dr. Jame McCray, established artist, grants for artists, individual artist fellowship, State of Delaware