Dr. RAS Mikey Courtney is a cultural conduit who uses edutainment to spread universal understanding to global communities. Dr. RAS is co-founder and CEO of Fore I’m a Versatile Entertainer (F.I.V.E.) LLC. He holds a B.F.A. in Dance from UARTS in Philadelphia, an MA in Ethnochoreology and a PhD in Arts Practice Research from the University of Limerick in Ireland, where he was a guest lecturer at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. His research and doctoral thesis, entitled Bridging Horizons: Embodied Cultural Understanding through the Development and Presentation of Ethio-Modern Dance, explore his movement practice as a main methodology and embodiment as the central theoretical underpinning. His most recent Ethio-Modern Dance productions are, Und Gosa/One Tribe (USA 2020) Common Threads (Ethiopia 2016) and YeBuna Alem/A Coffee World (Ireland 2015). Dr. RAS has facilitated a student/staff exchange between University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music and Dance and Addis Ababa University’s Yared School of Music, fostering future academic collaborations between these Institutions. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the Dance Research Forum of Ireland, and the African Irish Chamber of Commerce. Dr. RAS has collaborated with Pilobolus, Raven-Symoné, Major Lazer, the Marley family, Chronixx, AfroFlow, African Union, International Organization of Migration in Addis Ababa and others. Dr. RAS recently received an Emmy Award as a performer and director of choreography for the viral music video One Nation – Detroit. Dr. RAS is also an established songwriter/recording artist with two major releases, RASOUL (2018) and Love Year (2020). Lyrically, he addresses systemic divides, in our Eurocentric world, through the lens of his Africanist experience. Dr. RAS currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Dance at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he continues to explore ‘movement as cultural knowledge’.
- PhD in Arts Practice Research, University of Limerick, Ireland
- MA in Ethnochoreography, University of Limerick, Ireland
- BA in Fine Arts in Modern Dance Performance, University of the Arts, Philadelphia
Areas of Expertise
- Practice as Research
- Devised performance
- Student-led ensemble work
- Pedagogy of liberation
- Ethiopian culture
Movement is the language of dance and has been a means of communication and cross-cultural expression since the beginning of human existence, providing us with creative narratives about peoples’ origins, identity, experiences, and aspirations. I believe that ‘movement is life’ both metaphorically and literally. Movement is a fundamental aspect of life and there is a cerebral and corporal awareness that is developed when exercising the body and mind. I am a lifist, meaning that I find aesthetic value in all of life’s experiences, which is then manifested in my praxis as a movement practitioner. As an African American who is a product of urban American Hip hop culture, with an undergraduate degree in Modern dance from the U.S., over ten years of lived experience in Ethiopia, and two postgraduate degrees from Ireland, I have diverse practical and theoretical knowledge from a global perspective.
Education in the movement arts is integral to one’s overall development, and can provide a space to apply knowledge in an expressive manner. The historical structure and compositional studies of the movement arts have their foundation in the sciences, social studies, literature and other realms of academia. Having completed my doctorate in Arts Practice Research at the University of Limerick, Ireland, my dissertation, entitled Bridging Horizons: Embodied Cultural Knowledge Through the Development and Presentation of Ethio-Modern Dance, investigated my embodiment of Ethiopian and other world cultures through the lens of an urban contemporary performing artist. While in Ireland, I was the first dance focused Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Scholar allowing me to fully embrace my role as a cultural conduit between the United States, Ireland and Ethiopia while facilitating student and faculty exchanges between these countries. With my research I am committed to exploring the concept of philosophical and literal movement as cultural knowledge.
An arts practitioner and scholar, I am able to draw on the practical and theoretical cultural connections, which influence my work. My perspective of the times is reflected in my praxis and address social justice topics with an optimism and hope for embitterment of change within humanity. As evident in my recent performance and choreographic direction of the Emmy Award winning viral music video One Nation – Detroit (2020), as well as in lyrical content of my recorded music releases: RASOUL (2018); When We Wake (2019); and Love Year (2020).
Education has been the key that opened many doors of my life experiences. My goal as an educator is to use the arts as a platform to create an environment that will foster growth in the minds of all, including myself. There is no separation of fine arts education and other academic fields. For me, education is not a product of the traditional classroom model where teacher dictates and student regurgitates, especially with today’s new challenges of virtual learning. Although my primary practice is located within the discipline of dance, at Wayne State University, I am also a Co-Director of the Department’s Black Theatre and Dance Collective (BTDC), which celebrates and uplifts the value of the Africanist Aesthetic as a mode of inquiry in theatre and dance practice and theory. I have developed a strong sense of leadership and fostered a reputation as a key contributor in student-led critical thinking and creative praxis. I firmly believe in the responsibility of sharing, with each student, my embodied knowledge of diverse lived experiences. Within these experiences, students are exposed to ideas, topics, and thoughts, from outside of their cultural communities, in order to give them a broader sense of themselves in relation to the environment they exist in, while cultivating a worldly understanding of being. This emboldens students to become positive agents for social change in our global community.
With my diverse embodied cultural knowledge of lived experiences, my creative and educational platforms continue to broaden the global scope of cultural understanding through movement. I aim to be the living example of the change I want to see in the world so I am compelled to nurture my gifts of artistic expression while also encouraging others to cultivate their own.
- Courtney, M., in Akinleye, A. (ed) (2018) Our Ethiopian connection: embodied Ethiopian culture as a tool in urban- contemporary choreography, in Narratives in Black British Dance, (Palgrave), pp 187-200.
- Hines, B. C. and Courtney, M. (2019) The I Am…Experience: Social Justice Art from Process to Product, in Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed Journal (Vol 4, Summer 2019), [online] https://scholarworks.uni.edu/ptoj/vol4/iss1/3/