TDM Instructor Spotlight: Aysha Upchurch

March 14, 2022
TDM Instructor Spotlight: Aysha Upchurch

This week's TDM Instructor Spotlight features dancer and embodied storyteller Aysha Upchurch! This semester, Aysha is teaching TDM 149UB: Performing Culture: Exploring Identity and Power Through Hip Hop.

What excites you about working in TDM?

Working with TDM affords me an opportunity to bring my work as a scholar, arts advocate, and movement educator into a beautiful chord through courses that offer students an opportunity to study and appreciate dance connected with history, context, research, and critical analysis.  Essentially, I feel like my TDM courses are a space where I can create and facilitate a learning environment where students are engaging the art form in a nuanced way...and still have lots of fun.

Dark-skinned African American woman with long wavy locs wearing a white top and leopard-printed leggings is in crouched position on the floor supporting herself with one-arm on the ground with the other throwing a peace sign in the air.What do you do as an artist?

I call myself the Dancing Diplomat and I create, facilitate, and design for radical change as an artist educator who treats the stage and the classroom as versions of each other.  I research in the studio, I choreograph syllabi...all of the inquiry and experience I have as a dancer and educator in brick-and-mortar buildings and in clubs and community fuels my creative and scholastic work.  I've been concerned about education, Black liberation, and decolonized bodies for a while and am feeling like I'm just now scratching the surface of weaving those discourses into a consistent thread in my work on stage and in academia.

What are some underlying themes in your artistic work? What’s an upcoming project you have that you’re excited about?

For the past decade, my choreographic works and creative processes have all been circling around my questions around the impact of schooling on how people experience their bodies and identities.  And subsequently, I am concerned about and committed to creating stories that point us toward liberation -- so solo and ensemble projects involve these themes around liberated bodies.  I just performed at Dance Now Boston and am setting work on Harvard Dance Project and at University of Wisconsin Steven Point that take up these themes in some way. I am building towards a one-woman concert that incorporates autobiographical work, comedy, and this radical notion of schooling reimagined. Stay tuned....


Aysha Upchurch, the Dancing Diplomat, is an award-winning artist, passionate educator, and sought-after consultant who creates, facilitates, and designs for radical change. She holds an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University and an Ed.M from Harvard University and has been a US State Department Cultural Envoy. She has shared her experience and expertise about artfully designing equitable and culturally relevant classrooms, the importance of dance and movement in education, and embracing Hip Hop as a powerful literacy and lens in schooling at national conferences and most recently at TedxUConn. Currently she is a Lecturer and Artist-in-Residence at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she teaches courses on Hip Hop pedagogy and embodied learning, and directs HipHopEX - an intergenerational lab-classroom that designs programming to experience, explore, and experiment with Hop Hop arts in education.  As an artist, Aysha considers herself a storyteller who leans on African diasporic movement to create stories of joy, connection, and liberation on the stage that stir up that which is stagnant in order to bring performers and audiences into closer dialogue with each other and themselves.  As a teacher and consultant, she considers herself a DJ whose mission is to responsively and responsibly design the learning community as a cypher where everyone can build knowledge with each other.  Whether on the stage or in a classroom, Aysha is committed to always be D.Ø.P.E. - dismantling oppression and pushing education.

Learn more about Aysha’s work here:

Headshot Photo Credit: Shocphoto