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Caleb Dowden ’21 Earns Fulbright Award

The dance major also received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

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Caleb Dowden ’21 discusses her artistic practice as she works remotely from Benin with dancers in New York.

(Caleb Dowden, DLNY Lab Cycle Choreographer, Spring 2022. This Nexus Lab connected DLNY’s company of professional dancers in New York with Dowden, who joined from Benin, West Africa, via Zoom. Filmed and Edited by Eric Mann / Original music created in the lab by Mensah Folly Romain.)

Caleb Dowden ’21 Headed for Benin

Congratulations to dance major Caleb Dowden ’21 for receiving a Fulbright Study Research Award in the Creative/Performing Arts for study in Benin. 

“Caleb is an exceptional dancer with a broad range of virtuosic skills,” says Conservatory of Dance Director Nelly van Bommel. Her roles at Purchase included a re-staging of José Limón’s modern dance masterpiece, Psalms, and the contemporary dance premiere of Rena Butler’s II. Second.

“She has an appetite for movement and exploration that makes her a great collaborator in the studio. She is a very eager student who absorbs guidance and feedback with attention and positivity,” says van Bommel.

The Power of Study Abroad

The New Orleans native participated in a study abroad program in the West African country of Benin during her sophomore year, which she describes as “life-changing.” She then spent an entire semester in Taiwan studying at the Taipei National University of the Arts. The experiences abroad inspired her to create a program called “Dancers Against Violence,” which uses youth to advocate for non-violence in Black communities.

Fulbright Proposal

Taking her experiences abroad a step further, she applied for the Fulbright award. Her proposed research project is a return to Benin to study West African dance forms in order to observe how they are manifested in traditional Vodun spiritual practices, with a particular focus on gender.

Her ultimate goal is to form a new choreographic aesthetic that connects her American roots to her African roots, which will become the foundation of her dance company’s repertory. By reclaiming through movement a history lost to slavery, her research will provide the foundation for creating choreography that educates youth in New Orleans about their history through dance, making the work accessible to inner-city youth within low-income African American communities, as well as to mainstream audiences.

Dowden’s research in Benin will be supervised by Leonard Wantchekon, President and Founder of the African School of Economics (ASE) in Abomey-Calavi. Dr. Wantchekon is also Professor of Politics and International Affairs and Associated Faculty in Economics at Princeton University.

According to Professor Wantchekon, Dowden “poses important and seldom explored research questions about how movement can reclaim history while linking the African Diaspora with the African Continent.” ASE houses a vibrant undergraduate and graduate student body including a community of dancers, and is committed to building ties between Africans and Black communities outside of the continent.

As a complement to her research, Dowden will assist Centre Wâlo dance studio Director and Founder Rachelle Agbossou by teaching dance courses at the Centre, as well as working with Agbossou’s Wâlo dance troupe, which is devoted to youth education through dance.

SUNY’s Highest Honor and More

Dowden also earned the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon a student by the University, which acknowledges students who have best demonstrated their integration of academic excellence with other aspects of their lives, including leadership, campus involvement, community service, arts (creative or performing), athletics, and/or career achievement.

Dowden is also the recipient of SUNY’s Thayer Fellowship, an award that serves as a bridge between study at The State University of New York and first-time entry into a professional career in the creative or performing arts. Selection is based on talent, achievement, and potential as a professional artist. She shares the award with peers Michael Gilroy ’21 and Debora Martinez ’21.

The New Orleans Ballet Association has nominated her as a “Distinguished Young Woman of Louisiana” through the Distinguished Young Women program. 

Dowden currently serves as Purchase College’s inaugural chair for the student advisory board for global education. She’s interned with the world-renowned Brooklyn based dance company, Urban Bush Women, for their Summer Leadership Institute and her GPA places her in the top 5% of dance majors enrolled in the BFA program. She’s also been part of the Adopt-a-Dancer scholarship program.

Dowden will also serve as the ceremonial brick holder during the 2021 Virtual Commencement ceremony.

Recipients of Fulbright awards are selected in an open, merit-based competition that considers leadership potential, academic and/or professional achievement, and record of service. As Fulbright alumni, their careers are enriched by joining a network of thousands of esteemed alumni, many of whom are leaders in their fields. Fulbright alumni include 60 Nobel Prize laureates, 88 Pulitzer Prize recipients, and 37 who have served as a head of state or government.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program is administered at Purchase College by Anne Kern, Dean for Global Strategy and International Programs, through the Office for Global Education. For further information on eligibility, the application process, and upcoming information sessions, please visit the Office for Global Education page on post-graduation opportunities including the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.

(Updated: October 11, 2022)