Caribbean dance expert joins School of Music, Dance and Theatre faculty

By

Lacy Chaffee

Dance educator Shola K. Roberts will be joining the dance faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University.

Roberts is an international award-winning professional dancer, educator, choreographer and fitness instructor from Brooklyn, New York. A proud Grenadian American, she will bring her expertise in Caribbean dance and culture to ASU. 

“I feel this is an area that may not have been tapped into, so I’m thinking about how to bring this content to a population that may not be familiar with it,” Roberts said.

Social media and videos have helped people begin to understand Caribbean culture, Roberts said, but there’s so much more. 

“I’m a firm believer that you have to live and breathe it,” she said. “I eat it. I sleep it. It's my life.”

Roberts has a strong background in education. She was selected as one of only eight candidates to pursue a doctoral degree in dance education at Columbia University in 2019. Her research interests include developing pedagogy and curriculum rooted in African diasporic dances — specifically dances indigenous to Grenada — as a means of physical, mental and emotional development. She is also interested in creating culture and community while empowering learners through the arts.

“We are thrilled to have attracted Shola Roberts to ASU,” said Heather Landes, director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Our students will benefit from Roberts’ experience as a pre-K–12 educator, dancer and choreographer, and her expertise in Caribbean dance and culture further diversifies our offerings and aligns with our goal of creating one of the most inclusive dance programs in the country.”

Roberts earned a master’s degree in dance education from Hunter College and a bachelor's degree in dance and Caribbean studies from Howard University. In 2017, she was named a Lincoln Center Scholar. In 2020, she was honored with the Cultural Award by the Grenadian Consulate and the Grenadian Independence Committee in New York.

She has worked with renowned dance companies, including performances with Kowteff West African Dance Company under the artistic direction of Sewaa Codrington and Oyu Oro under the artistic direction of Danys “La Mora” Pérez. She has also worked with choreographers Fritzlyn Hector, Francine Elizabeth Ott and Otis D. Herring, for whom she served as an assistant choreographer.

Roberts said she looks forward to sharing her experiences with ASU dancers. 

“All I can do is to come and share my life with you, using dance as the entry point to showcase another area, another region, another part of the diaspora and the work that's being done there,” she said.

She said her greatest accomplishment is bridging her two passions: her ongoing work with the art of dance and her love of Caribbean and Grenadian culture.

“I feel if I am able to share with the world what Grenada has to offer — our voice and our culture and our history — that would be my greatest accomplishment,” Roberts said. “I am continuously trying to do that every day.”

Roberts said one thing that drew her to ASU was the supportive nature of the faculty and administration.

“In visiting ASU and having conversations with the faculty members, that seems to be one of their driving forces — the idea of community and the idea of supporting individuals in their endeavors,” she said.

What does Roberts hope ASU students know about her?

“I just want them to know that I am extremely passionate about this work, and I’m here to support, encourage and help them find their passion,” she said.

“My appearance is purposed and profound; it sends a message of boldness. My intention is to take up space through my art and my colorful sense of fashion. I want to help others find that sense of boldness. Our actions are a reflection of our passions. So what I do is just a reflection of what I love and care about.”

In 2019, Roberts founded Dance Grenada, a dance festival for Grenadian and international dancers to share knowledge through workshops, performances and panel discussions. The festival will be held in person in Grenada for the first time this fall. Roberts says she hopes ASU students and faculty will join her there. 

“I am extremely excited and proud of the work that I have started in Brooklyn and in Grenada, and I am ecstatic to continue that work at ASU,” Roberts said. “This is an extension of that legacy, the next part of my journey.”