Rebekah Kowal

Department Executive Officer
Graduate Advisor

Rebekah J. Kowal teaches dance history and theory and serves as Department Executive Officer of the Department of Dance. Her research investigates how moving bodies are compelling agents of social, cultural, and political change and forge interdisciplinary connections between dance theory and practice. Increasingly, she is examining the histories, significance, and impact of dance practices that occur in unusual places.

After completing a BA in English at Barnard College/Columbia University, she danced in New York City with Heidi Henderson, Molly Rabinowitz, Bryan Hayes, and Pat Cremmins. She holds a CMA from the Laban/Bartenieff Institute and a PhD in American Studies from NYU. Before joining the faculty at Iowa, she was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Performance Studies at Haverford College.

Kowal’s research program is deeply archive-based and interdisciplinary, and frames transnational issues as extending from U.S.-based contexts. Drawing from fields in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, her research contributes to advancing knowledge in the areas of dance, American, and performance studies. At its core, her work investigates how individual and collective bodies engage in social and political power relations at multiple levels simultaneously (individual, community, state, and global).

Kowal has published widely in the fields of dance and performance studies including two monographs, How To Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America (Wesleyan U.P. 2010), recipient of the Outstanding Publication Award given by the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), and  Dancing the World Smaller: Staging Globalism in Mid-Century America (Oxford U.P. 2020), Finalist for the 2021 Outstanding Book Award given by the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE), and Shortlisted for the 2023 Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research given by the Dance Studies Association (DSA). She is co-editor with Gerald Siegmund and Randy Martin of The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics (Oxford University Press, 2017), recognized as an Honorable Mention for the Biennial Sally Banes Publication Prize given by the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR). Her article, “Dance Travels: ‘Walking with Pearl’,” published in Performance Research 12 (2) (June 2007): 85-94, received the Gertrude Lippincott Award given by the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS). Kowal has received a Summer Stipend Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. At The University of Iowa, she was recognized as a Dean’s Scholar and Collegiate Scholar. 

Kowal’s most recent monograph, Dancing the World Smaller: Staging Globalism in Mid-Century America, examines international dance performances in New York City in the 1940s as sites in which dance artists and audiences contested what it meant to practice globalism in mid-century America. Produced in non-traditional dance venues, such as the American Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Hall, The Ethnologic Dance Center, and the 1948 New York Golden Jubilee Celebration, these performances elevated dance as an intercultural bridge across human differences and dance artists as transcultural interlocutors. The book illuminates how debates within diverse dance contexts proxied larger cultural struggles over how to reconcile America’s new role in the world following World War II and how to become a heterogeneous and inclusive nation. She is currently working on a new monograph entitled War Theatre: Dancing American Imperialism during World War II.  

In the professional field, she is currently serving as Executive Co-Editor of Dance Research Journal and Vice Chair of the DRJ Editorial Board. She serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Schools of Dance. (NASD). She has served as Vice President of the Society of Dance History Scholars (SDHS) and as Acting Vice President of Awards and Prizes of the Dance Studies Association (DSA).


Recent publications

Kowal, Rebekah J.
Dancing the World Smaller: Staging Globalism in Mid-Century America
Oxford University Press, 2020

Kowal, Rebekah J., Gerald Siegmund, and Randy Martin eds.
The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Politics
Oxford University Press, 2017

Kowal, Rebekah J.
“Choreographing Interculturalism: International Dance Performance at the American Museum of Natural History, 1943-1952”
The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016) eds. Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young

Kowal, Rebekah J.
“Indian Ballerinas Toe-Up: Maria Tallchief and Making Ballet ‘American’ in the Tribal Termination Era”
Dance Research Journal, Vol. 46, No. 2 (Summer 2014), pp. 73-96

Kowal, Rebekah J.
How to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America
Wesleyan University Press (2010)

Kowal, Rebekah J.
“Dance Travels: Walking with Pearl”
Performance Research, 12(2), June 2007, pp. 85-94

Kowal, Rebekah J.
"Alwin Nikolais' Queer Objectivity”
The Returns of Alwin Nikolais: Bodies, Boundaries and the Dance Canon, eds. Claudia Gitelman and Randy Martin, Wesleyan University Press (2007)

Kowal, Rebekah J.
"Staging the Greensboro Sit-Ins”
TDR: The Drama Review - Volume 48, Number 4 (T 184), Winter 2004, pp.135-154

Research areas
  • Dance studies
Portrait of Rebekah Kowal
CMA, Laban/Bartenieff Institute
PhD, American Studies, New York University
Contact Information

University of Iowa
E114C Halsey Hall (HH)
Iowa City, IA 52245
United States