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“Waters Wisdoms: Honoring and Reclaiming Indigenous and Ancestral Knowledge in the Face of Climate Disaster”

Dr. Ann Mazzocca Bellecci, one of CNU’s very own dance professors had the opportunity to direct the short film, “Waters Wisdoms: Honoring and Reclaiming Indigenous and Ancestral Knowledge in the Face of Climate Disaster.” This film was created to shine a light on the global climate crisis focusing on sea level rise. The film centers on Indigenous American and African knowledge, reclaiming ancestral heritage, and connecting to the earth through recognition of harmony within nature and ourselves as one. I had the great pleasure of getting in touch with Dr. Bellecci whom I had the privilege of taking Modern Dance this semester! Below is a statement from Dr. Bellecci on this project in response to some questions I asked her. 

How long did the process of putting together this film take? 

Answer: “The piece took years to fully come together but much of that was planning. Ultimately, we began filming in June 2023 and basically finished in July. The editing process began and went through the fall along with finding musical artists to create the sound scores. The video premiered at the end of January.”

What inspired you to direct this piece?

Answer: “I was first approached by my colleague Denise Gillman, the creator and artistic director of CNU's Art(S)cience Festival. She wanted me to make a piece about sea level rise. I had been working in the medium of video a lot more than usual during the period of the pandemic and so I was interested in producing a video project/screen dance for this commission.” 

Her background in dance also helped cultivate inspiration for directing the piece: 

Answer: “My dance practices, creative and intellectual work for the past thirty years has been centered in African diaspora dance, specifically Haitian and Cuban folkloric dance and cultural practices -- and primarily those coming from sacred contexts. These dance forms hold deep spiritual, historical, and multigenerational knowledge that attends directly to humans' relationship with nature as one of reciprocal balance. I know that Africanist sacred dance practices and knowledge, which have been persecuted and oppressed in (neo/post)colonial contexts offer a counter-narrative to the destruction of climate change perpetrated primarily by imperialist/colonialist industrialization and ideologies.” 

What was your favorite part about directing the film?

Answer: “My favorite part about directing this piece was working with my former students, Kayla Oosaseun Jewette '15 and Krystal Hurr '19 along with my dear friend Jen and her girls, Nima and Pia. The joy is also found in the locations -- going to the water at sunrise, sunset, and during a storm. Henry Engelmeyer ('24) was the director of photography and editor and it was wonderful to have a member of the team with that technical knowledge who was also dedicated to the craft of finding the right shot, in the right light, etc. and also working towards an understanding of the project despite coming to it with no prior knowledge of the cultural traditions in the center. It was also amazing to have a budget wherein I could not only financially compensate the artists you see on screen, but commission an original score by Lakota composer/musician Jeru Brinkley and the Yoruba batá recordings by Chief Sekou Alaje.” 

What is the meaning behind the piece and how did you select the dancers in the film? 

Answer: “The full title of the piece is, “Waters Wisdoms: Honoring and Reclaiming Indigenous and Ancestral Practices in the Face of Climate Disaster,” which as mentioned above, centers Indigenous American and African embodied epistemologies as a response to the global climate crisis, in particular sea level rise. This wisdom practiced and passed on through communal worship, ancestral and intergenerational knowledge, traditions, and love, which honor, respect, and engage in relation with and care for the earth, its inhabitants, and oneself, are placed within and concerning the colonially significant location of the Chesapeake Bay and James/Powhatan River. These knowledge systems and practices contain and enact power and resistance to oppressive forces in addition to offering deep healing – for self, community, and the earth. While the damaging effects of a global colonialist legacy and its resulting social and ecological precarities take the lives of and displace so many, the film intends to honor global Indigenous embodied knowledges, the process of reclaiming ancestral heritages, and recognition of/reconnection to the harmony of the earth and our place not just within but as nature – toward viable futurity together.” 

Answer: “Kayla was my first student -- we began working together my first semester at CNU, Fall 2011 and continued to work together after she graduated. She is a Certified Dance Movement Therapist in New York City and has also traveled to Nigeria multiple times to be initiated into Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, traditional Yoruba religion, which she was first introduced to in my Afro-Caribbean class at CNU (DANC 360) and our further work together. I knew she would be a perfect subject to dance and speak to the process of reclaiming her ancestral practices and knowledges. Krystal worked with me in a TheatreCNU collaborative production A Virginia Company, directed by Grace Godwin, in which we were engaging with two 17th-century Virginia-based plays, one of which included the inclusion of Native American characters. Krystal comes through an Odawa (Ottawa) lineage and researched local Native practices for A Virginia Company and her senior thesis. Krystal and I kept in touch and I knew that she too would enrich this project through her knowledge, perspectives, and performance experience.” 

If you had the opportunity, would you direct a piece like this again? 

Answer: I would love to do a project like this again in which the whole process is truly collaborative -- where everyone is involved in the conception, performance, directing, and editing.” 

How fortunate we are to have a professor as experienced as Dr. Bellecci here at CNU! If you get the opportunity, ask about her background and experiences. Additionally, consider taking a dance class with her! I learned so much in a short time and will always treasure the knowledge gained from her expertise in dance and connecting with your body. You can watch the full film on YouTube or read more on her website both linked down below.

Written by: Harper Minarik

Responses by: Ann Bellecci

Photos by: AEMB & Henry Engelmeyer

tBTR Link with Video:

Dr. Bellecci’s Website:  


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