Alumni Profile

Melanie A. Van Allen


Melanie Anastacia Van Allen (Ph.D. M.A. M.F.A.) is a New York City-based choreographer, dancer, teaching artist, and emerging scholar of dance. In 2019, she completed her doctoral program in dance studies at Texas Woman’s University. Melanie’s dissertation, “D-Cyphering the Jit: Dancing Detroit History and Culture” maps the development of a largely unknown Detroit cultural product, the street dance Jit, which emerged at the same time Detroit was losing its champion auto industry in the early 1970s. This dissertation demonstrates how Detroit, its manufacturing methods, and cultural production are inextricably intertwined, producing the city’s distinctive identity. This dissertation comes out of ethnographic research at a particular practice cypher in Detroit, focusing on people who are continuing the Jit culture in the city and beyond. Within dance scholarship, the cultural and historical contexts surrounding the emergence of the Jit has largely been ignored. This research fills a gap in the dance studies literature on street dance and contributes to a growing body of literature on Detroit’s cultural productions. Melanie was accepted into the 2019 Dance Studies Association/Mellon Seminar for Emergent Scholars, where she presented her dissertation research. Melanie also holds a Master of Arts in Performance Studies from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and a Master of Fine Arts in Dance Choreography/Performance from the University of Michigan. Melanie’s theoretical and artistic direction investigates the intersections between the practical and theoretical, with an interest in performance studies, dance ethnography, Detroit’s electronic music and dance culture, and interdisciplinary methodologies of research and performance.

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