Emily Wilcox, associate professor of Chinese studies at William & Mary, has been selected to receive the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Dance Studies.

Wilcox was one of just 188 people across 52 disciplines to receive the prestigious fellowships this year from a pool of 3,000 applicants, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation announced last week.

According to a press release, the recipients were selected “on the basis of prior career achievement and exceptional promise.” In total, the fellowship recipients represent 84 academic institutions, 38 states, Washington D.C., and Canada.

Each fellow will receive a stipend to pursue independent work. Wilcox will use hers next academic year to work on a book, tentatively titled “Performing Solidarities: Dancing the World in Mao’s China, 1949-1976,” which will examine China’s relationships with other countries during the Cold War through the lens of dance exchange.

The research hits on two major areas of focus at William & Mary: the Year of the Arts and Vision 2026’s democracy initiative.

“Professor Wilcox is a valued member of the Arts & Sciences community, and we are immensely proud of her well-deserved recognition,” said Dean of Arts & Sciences Suzanne Raitt. “Her work exploring the complexities of cultural exchange through dance challenges perceptions, invites us to think differently and models our value of interdisciplinarity. We congratulate Professor Wilcox on this achievement and anticipate the insights her work will bring to the academic community.” 

Wilcox’s research builds on what she did for her previous book “Revolutionary Bodies” about the history of national dance forms in China.

“In the process of doing that research, I discovered some amazing archival material about international dance exchanges that were happening in China during the early Cold War,” she said. “This is a period that historically often has been thought of as a time of cultural isolation. And so one of the goals of my new project is to think in new ways about how China was actually engaging a lot with other countries during the fifties, sixties and seventies, and it was engaging especially with the Global South.”

The new book is expected to be divided into two parts: one focused on tours by international dance companies and artists to China and another on choreography embodying dance forms and stories from outside China by Chinese dance companies, according to the abstract.

“There were a lot of international dance companies coming to China performing, and this was one of the very few ways that people in China directly encountered people from other countries. They would see them performing on stage, but then they would also have a lot of opportunities, especially other artists, to have these personal connections.

“And so I’m really interested in how the arts played a role in diplomacy at that time, because China was also really seeking support from other countries, not only in the Global South, but also in the socialist world. I really want to rethink our understanding of dance history in the mid-20th century and then also think about China’s international engagements during the mid-20th century.”

The topic is of particular significance because it explores how different people of color around the world – including formerly colonized people – connect to each other, said Wilcox.

“The title of the project is called ‘Performing Solidarities,’ and I think that one of the themes is actually this idea of cross-racial, cross-national and cross-ethnic solidarity, really understood in this political sense of allyship, which is something that we still think a lot about today.

“How can you have some kind of shared experience with people who are very different from yourself and use that shared experience as a basis to develop a relationship? And especially there was a lot of thinking about anti-racism as a shared theme that was behind a lot of these exchanges, so I think it does have relevance today.”

Wilcox said that a first-year seminar she teaches on dance in Asia and Asian diasporas helped shape her thinking for this project, along with a capstone course she taught two years ago on China in the world.

“I’ll probably develop some new classes in the future, building off of this research as well,” she said, adding that the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures has been very supportive.

Wilcox is the ninth known William & Mary faculty member to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship. The previous recipients include: David Dominique (Music Composition, 2022); Ronald Schechter (Intellectual and Cultural History, 2019); Susan Verdi-Webster (Fine Arts Research, 2011); Sean Keilen (English, 2008); Nikos Chrisochoides (Computer Science, 2007); Barbara King (Anthropology, 2002); Talbot Taylor (English, 1994); and James Axtell (History, 1981).

Since its establishment in 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has granted over $400 million in fellowships to more than 19,000 individuals, including 125 Nobel laureates and numerous winners of such honors as the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

“It’s just such a huge honor,” she said. “It gives me a feeling of validation that my research matters, and it makes me feel even more excited to finish the project and share it with people. People from all different disciplines are serving on the evaluation committee for this fellowship, so it’s really exciting to hear that people in a wide range of fields are interested in learning about this research.”

, Senior Associate Director of University News