Published: April 16, 2021

Dance Archive says Donna Mejia has helped to ‘centralize the vitality of embodied knowing within the classroom, on the stage, and across CU’s curricular imagining’

Donna Mejia, associate professor of dance at the University of Colorado Boulder, has been named a 2021 Legend of Dance by The Dance Archive at the University of Denver. 

Mejia is one of six people to win the honor this year, The Dance Archive announced recently. 

Donna Mejia by Steve Balderamma

At the top of the page: Donna Mejia by Peter Paradise Above: Donna Mejia by Steve Balderamma

“We are thrilled to be honoring this incredible group of dancers, dance educators, choreographers and philanthropists. This year especially, when performing arts has faced so many challenges, it’s more important than ever to honor those who keep finding ways to create, share and support dance,” said Kate Crowe, curator of The Dance Archive.

She has helped to centralize the vitality of embodied knowing within the classroom, on the stage, and across CU’s curricular imagining.” 

Mejia is a choreographer, scholar, instructor and performer specializing in contemporary dance, traditions of the African and Arab diaspora, and emerging fusion traditions in Transnational Electronica. She is the first professor of Transcultural Fusion globally and serves as the director of the graduate studies program at CU Boulder.


Donna Mejia (2), JBNW Portland August, 2016 by Phoebus Foto

Donna Mejia (2), JBNW Portland August, 2016 by Phoebus Foto

“Donna’s deep work in transcultural fusion and anti-racist pedagogy has help to augment and diversify perspectives of dance as a means of cultural communication,” said Erika Randall, chair of the Department of Theatre & Dance, adding: 

“She has helped to centralize the vitality of embodied knowing within the classroom, on the stage, and across CU’s curricular imagining.” 

Brittney Banaei, an MFA student in dance, concurred, saying the Mejia’s research and scholarship have helped pave the way for fusion and diasporic artists within the academy. 

“Not only has she done groundbreaking original research but she has also generously supported and mentored budding scholars within the field. Donna has contributed to critical anti-racist and anti-colonialist education within the Transcultural Fusion Dance community and has been instrumental in facilitating difficult conversations inside of the genre,” Banaei said, noting Mejia’s Gather at the Delta Initiative

Banaei underscored her gratitude to Mejia, saying, “It is my honor to call her my mentor and friend. She is so deserving of this award for all she has done and continues to do for the field of dance.”

Prior to CU Boulder, Mejia was a faculty member at Colorado College and director of the Colorado College International Summer Dance Festival. 

For 12 years, she served as managing director of the award-winning Harambee African Dance Ensemble of CU Boulder under the leadership of Instructor Emerita Letitia Williams. 

The Harambee ensemble was awarded a prestigious El Pomar Foundation grant, was featured in the March 1996 issue of Dance Magazine, performed for President Bill Clinton and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is part of the Denver International Airport time capsule, and was hailed as the “Best of Boulder” for three years.

Mejia said Williams “inspired me to love dance with every ounce of my being. I was so invested that I gladly rehearsed with Mama Tish's ensemble, Harambee, at 6 a.m. three days a week to avoid class and work conflicts.” 

Williams was the educator who “ignited my deepest aspirations in art, social justice and philanthropy. She remains my hero and reference for all that I do,” Mejia said.

In 2001, Mejia converted from a full-time professional dance career in West African diasporic dance forms to an emerging form that was an “edgy, grassroots mashup”: dances of North Africa and the Arab world in dialog with Hip hop and Electronic music subcultures. 

“Ballet took 400 years to become a global practice, but this fusion form was a global practice within seven years through new social media platforms on the Internet,” Mejia said. “My own international career exploded after a bootlegged copy of my dance performance was virally amplified on YouTube, which was only four months old at the time!”

CU Boulder was the first institution to dedicate a tenured faculty line to Transcultural Fusion Dance, after Mejia received the 2011 Fulbright Honor for International Scholarship in Dance. “The novelty of what I do in academia has been embraced and fully supported in this academic home,” she said

Mejia said she is gratified by the Legend of Dance Award, saying such recognition is, for her, “an acknowledgement of the shared global network of practitioners that have supported my work as the first college professor of the genre.” 

She added, “I've had both a backstage pass and a front row-seat to the birth of a truly beautiful global art movement. I view Transcultural Fusion Dance as an early barometer for where we may be collectively headed in our global citizenship.”

Mejia is a faculty fellow at the CU Boulder Center for Teaching and Learning and the Renée Crown Wellness Institute. Mejia earned an undergraduate degree in business at CU Boulder and received her MFA on full fellowship from Smith College.

Since 2004, the annual Legends of Dance has honored individuals or organizations who have made an outstanding contribution to dance in Colorado. To date, more than 80 legends have been honored. 

To preserve the history of dance in the state, a video interview is recorded of all honorees, and this and any other donated archival material are placed in The Dance Archive, where they are accessible to researchers.

Honorees will also be recognized at an awards presentation this fall. 

Details on the award presentation are still to be determined. The event will include award presentations and highlight reels of each of the nominees’ oral-history interviews.