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Global Citizen Spotlight: Caleb Dowden

July 01, 2022

Spencer Scalamoni

Caleb Dowden Caleb Dowden, captured by Isabella Pagano on the Dow-Dance Company website.


SDG 4: Quality Education

The first thing anyone should know about dancer and choreographer Caleb Dowden is that she is simply extraordinary. My fellow Global Scholars and I had the privilege of hearing her speak earlier this semester about her experiences while abroad in Benin, West Africa, and I was endlessly fascinated and impressed by how much she has been able to achieve at such a young age. Born in New Orleans, she attended the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and worked with the New Orleans Ballet Association as a pre-professional artist. After going to Purchase College and graduating with a BFA in Dance, she received a Fulbright Award in the Creative and Performing Arts that allowed her to commence an open study in Benin and conduct research there, as well as continue her work on Dow-Dance– a company she founded and serves as the Artistic Director for.

Ms. Dowden was an incredible presence, eager to share information and stories about everything from what her life in Benin is like to how dance can be used as a symbol in different cultures. The way Ms. Dowden talked about how she approached dance and the numerous ways she has used it in her own work fascinated me. She discussed how she specializes in both modern and traditional Africanist dance styles, with the older generations of West Africans being not as keen to fuse the two styles together as some of the other young people she encounters. However, despite this current generation gap, Ms. Dowden aims to create works of dance that are able to utilize movement to display and reclaim periods of African generational history that have since been lost to slavery. The project she worked on with her Fulbright illustrates this goal perfectly, as it is in fact called Zomachi: Reclaiming Through Movement a History Lost To Slavery. The piece is named for a memorial in Benin depicting “the brutal history of slavery” while also holding “a promise of a return by the diaspora”, meaning that the people of Benin and similar nations who have been scattered across the world will one day return to their ancestral homelands. This is something that Ms. Dowden aimed to do by traveling to Benin in the first place, and homecoming is one of the main reasons she cited for choosing to carry out her work there.

During the class discussion, she talked at great lengths about Benin’s view on slavery and the African culture as a whole, expanding on how it tied into the type of art she is making. She cited a place called the Tree of Oblivion: a location that West Africans would go to before being put on slave ships and walk around to “forget their history, so they would not revolt, thus beginning the erasure of [Dowden’s] history”. The erasure of African culture and spirituality within the western world is something Ms. Dowden is incredibly passionate about remedying. With Zomachi and other projects like it, she hopes to shine a light on the many aspects of a forgotten cultural history rich with life. After her time in Benin has come to an end, she hopes to bring Zomachi to her hometown of New Orleans and perform it with her company, Dow-Dance. In terms of educating the next generation, Ms. Dowden says, “I plan to acquire residencies in the high schools of low-income, predominately African American communities, in order to provide the youth with training in a new dance style that is inclusive of their history.”

Ms. Dowden’s effort and passion into making culturally significant art and bringing it to places where she believes it is needed most was incredibly inspiring to me as a fellow young artist, especially given the incredible amount of work in such a short amount of time following graduation. I am and always have been someone who champions bringing pieces of theater to audiences that do not always get to experience them, especially when it directly ties to a culture many of them are not aware they are a part of. I hope that, when I eventually take my leave from Purchase College, I am able to find a way to embrace my love for my art and use it in a way that is fulfilling to a group or cause that stems far beyond just myself.

I wish Ms. Dowden all the luck in the world with continuing her projects and guarantee she will keep making incredible contributions to the arts as time goes on.

Spencer Scalamoni

2020 Cohort

Dowden, Caleb. “Dow-Dance.” Dow-Dance,

Dowden Fulbright Application for 2021-2022

Quality Education