Franchesska Berry, 2008
The world is Franchesska Berry’s stage for cultural ambassadorship.
In January 2009, this 2008-09 Fulbright Scholar spent four months in Cairo, Egypt, teaching and performing the African and African-American dance she fashioned into a multicultural education program – international in its reach and value – for her Antioch Seattle M.A.Ed. culminating project.
She says her goal is to demonstrate the universal meaning and power of little known and unappreciated forms of artistry and heritage.
“It doesn’t matter if you have a dream unless you have those who support you in it,” says Berry, whose style integrates her background in Western (ballet, modern and jazz), West African, Brazilian, Caribbean and Cuban dance.
Members of the Fulbright Committee spotted Berry when she appeared in the Intiman Theatre production of Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” in Seattle. Berry created and played the role as the African Angel in the play. She was encouraged to apply to the program.
She likes to say her career as a performer, choreographer and cultural arts instructor “has been on an upward trajectory” since she arrived in Seattle from the San Francisco Bay area in 1996. She has been teaching dance ever since.
In 2006, she arrived at Antioch, where her artistic mentor was the late Jack Yantis, a longtime adjunct and associate faculty member in arts and education programs as well as a professional dancer and choreographer.
“I told him I wanted to bridge academics and the arts and he promised we would,” she recalls.
Yantis, known for his belief that the arts are at the core of experiential learning, offered Berry the support she needed. Yantis especially appreciated in her what he characterized as “her experience with diverse populations, her artistic excellence, her passion for teaching and educational transformation, and her commitment to dance as an appropriate language for creating cross-cultural dialogue and global citizenship.”
Berry was energized by what she found at Antioch. “The university believed in my project, my methodology and my spirit in dance,” she says.
When Yantis died in January 2008, Berry was uncertain about her future until Ed Mikel, core faculty in the School of Education, stepped forward.
“I wouldn’t be at Antioch today if it weren’t for Professor Mikel,” she credits. “He was so receptive to what I brought to the table. He believed in my dream.” To that end, Mikel has supported her primarily in developing a formal philosophy of education that is relational and multicultural in orientation. Drawing heavily on the discipline of philosophical anthropology, Berry’s ideas, according to Mikel, are shaped by analysis of patterns in personal and social meanings that exist in all cultures, foremost in their art forms.
Berry’s credits include diplomatic recognition in 2008 as a cultural ambassador to Senegal, where she was an arts and social sciences lecturer at a university in Dakar for three and a half months. She also studied, toured and performed with the National Ballet du Senegal, which considers her an honorary member.
For five years, she produced large-scale performance events that feature world-renowned master drummers and dancers. Her presentations at Seattle’s Folklife Festival have been lauded as best bets by local media. She also has been awarded numerous grants from King County, Boeing Co., and Tacoma’s Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, to name a few.
Berry says her goals came into focus when she was just four, playing hopscotch and daydreaming about her future. Even then, she says she knew she wanted to make people happy, inspire and share possibilities with them.
“I consider myself to be an example of what can happen and what you can become. My students look up to me as an inspiration and as a leader. My gifts are about bringing the sacred to every moment of our lives. That’s the essential contribution – as I see it – of dance to education.
“I think it is important for African-Americans to see that I’m graduating from Antioch. I love it here so. It’s small and family-oriented like Africa. I’m excited for people of color to see that and to reach out to them. Dreams that are due do come true,” she says.