A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Surya Swilley is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Johnson C. Smith University where she received a BA in Dance and a BA in Communication Arts. She is an alum of the Garth Fagan Summer Movement Institute, The North Carolina Performing Arts Academy and the American Dance Festival. Through a multilingual approach to movement, Swilley interrogates choreographic protest, and attempts to bring liberation and empowerment to her audiences. She has been honored to work and study under great artists including Candace Jennings, PJ Pennewell, Shani Collins, and LaTanya Johnson. Swilley is a Level 1 Embodiology practitioner, a movement methodology created by Dr. S. Ama Wray. She has performed with Lela Aisha Jones|FlyGround, Martha Connerton/Kinetic Works and Kariamu and Company. In addition to being a videographer, Swilley holds an MFA in dance from Temple University where she was admitted as a Future Faculty Fellow in the fall of 2017. She is the founder of The Swilley Brand, @swilley_ on Instagram, and is currently an adjunct professor of dance at Temple University.


I believe and stand for all things pertaining to blackness and black liberation. The celebration of black femininity and the black femme body, giving honor to the body parts that would be seen as taboo. I find exhilarating pleasure in touching, rubbing, showing, offering contact in these areas. For you, it may be confrontational, for me it is comforting.


Through a multi-dimensional means of expression, I am committed to unpacking protests and their impact on the black body. In 2020, particularly as a black femme, I am processing a great deal of trauma. The voices of ancestral spirit, the hauntings of those black bodies snatched from their development at the hands of white hate, torment my psyche and it’s…a lot. I remember however, that that is not the sole basis of black life. In navigating these realities, my work is indicative of the sweetness that is to be black in this world, and also the despair. Everything is both, and…


My work is sweet yet bitter. Air and earth, it is a push into the atmosphere with deep intention, focus, precision, and yet so much that remains to be seen. I live between the obvious, the literal, and the dissonant. The middle layer between the clear and vague, and this is indicative of all that resides within my internal matter. The things that I know and the things that I do not yet know. The stratosphere that is a direct contrast. I offer up my blackness not in servitude but in supplication, my queerness, and sensuality. The downbeat is where I reside. Each step, more informed by the last, triggering another wiggle, gyrate—thrust. I believe in sharpness as a texture, providing a crispy attack to emphasize my relationship to the music, and my…joy. In the same breath, the undercurve which sweeps me into a fluid way of moving displays my water-like texture. I am sharpness, and I am flow. Direct contrast. My work will not be done without experiencing its labor: breath, sweat. I challenge the idea of “pretty” inside of such feminine expression. I invite us to question gender norms and allow what is visceral to coincide with my queerness. You will hear my breath, my voice, see my body and experience my truth(s), and that of my ancestors.


Surya Swilley in collaboration with Amanda L. Edwards

Video, Poem + Performance