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Northwestern School of Communication

Melissa Blanco Borelli

Associate Professor


Melissa Blanco Borelli

Dr Melissa Blanco Borelli is a critical dance studies scholar, choreographer, and cultural critic. She is an Associate Professor of Theatre and the Director of the Dance Program. She has been on faculty at MIT, University of Surrey (UK), Royal Holloway, University of London (UK) and the University of Maryland, College Park.

As an interdisciplinary scholar, her research interests are broad. They include Blackness in Latin America, critical dance studies, performative writing, popular dance on screen, Black performance theory, (Black) feminist (auto)ethnography, historiography, archives, and the digital humanities. She was the Principal Investigator in a UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and Colciencias funded grant project (2018-2021) that focused on embodied performance practices, memory, and archives. Blanco Borelli and her co-researchers at the Universidad de Antioquia worked with Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities affected by the Colombian armed conflict and created a web-based digital archive that highlights their worldmaking creative practices. The archive can be found at and her collaborative research on performance, embodiment and the digital continues via She is currently working on a book tentatively titled Choreographies of Displacement in Contemporary Colombia which looks at the function of corporeality in Colombian dance, protest movements, theatre, photography, music, and film.

She is the author of She is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body which won the Dance Studies Association’s De la Torre Bueno Prize® for best book in dance studies in 2016. She is also the editor of The Oxford Handbook of Dance and the Popular Screen (2014). Most recently, she received the UK’s Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) Best Edited Collection prize in 2022 for the special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review “Outing Archives/Archives Outing” she co-edited with Professor Royona Mitra (Brunel University) and Professor Bryce Lease (Royal Central School of Speech and Drama). She received honorable mention for Gertrude Lippincott Award (2009) for her essay “Y ahora qué vas a hacer, mulata?” Her scholarly work appears in journals such as Theatre History Studies, The Black ScholarContemporary Theatre ReviewWomen & Performance: a journal of feminist theoryThe International Journal of Screendance and in numerous anthologies including Black Performance TheoryThe Oxford Handbook of Dance and Competition, Zizek and Performance and The Oxford Handbook of Screendance. Forthcoming publications include chapters in The Oxford Handbook of Black Dance, The Oxford Handbooks of Dance Praxis, and the Routledge Companion to Bodies in Performance co-edited by Hershini Young, Victor Ramirez Ladron de Guevara and Roberta Mock. She was the President of the Dance Studies Association from 2019-2022. She has written op-eds which have appeared in The Feminist Wire and The Huffington Post. Her PhD mentoring was recognized with a Mentor of the Year Award 2021 from the University of Maryland, College Park.

She is affiliated faculty in Performance Studies. Blanco Borelli is also on the editorial board for Contemporary Theatre Review and the series co-editor (with Wendy Arons and Elizabeth Son) of Women's Innovations in Theatre, Dance, and Performance (Bloomsbury). 

Some fun facts: She is a polyglot (6 languages), plays the piano, and loves to run.


  • PhD Dance History and Theory (Critical Dance Studies), UC Riverside
  • MA Communications Management, University of Southern California
  • BA International Relations & Music, Brown University

Select Awards, Fellowships, and Grants

  • Alumnae Grant, Northwestern University 2022
  • Theatre and Performance Research Association (TaPRA) (UK) Best Edited Collection Prize 2022
  • Arts and Humanities Research Council (UK) Grant (2018-2021) £266,559 for “Embodied Performance Practices in Processes of Reconciliation, Construction of Memory and Peace in Chocó and El Pacífico Medio, Colombia”
  • De La Torre Bueno Prize®, Best Book in Dance Studies 2016, Dance Studies Association
  • Honorable Mention, Gertrude Lippincott Award 2009, Society of Dance History Scholars

Undergraduate Courses

  • Dance Histories
  • Dance Theories
  • Dance Composition
  • Freshman SoC Seminar: Bodies, Space and Sound
  • Afro-Cuban Dance

Graduate Courses

  • Bodies, Theories, Performance (Spring 2023)
  • The Politics of Love on Stage and Screen
  • Performance, Violence and Memory in the Americas