Strange Fruit

Taylor Berg performs her piece Strange Fruit at the 2016 Student Research Symposium.

Taylor Berg ’16
: Dance, Biology

Research Abstract

Strange Fruit is a solo dance inspired by the poem originally titled “Bitter Fruit” by Abel Meeropol, in protest of the lynchings of African Americans in the 1930s. The poem was set to music and famously recorded as “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holliday, among other singers.

In choreographing the piece, Berg draws from her research on anti-racism policies and practices, using movement as a tool to evoke the tension between aggression and reconciliation. In creating and performing the piece—aware that her identity as a young white woman may be unsettling in the context—she aims to portray through movement a current theme and to open conversation about the pernicious and socially pervasive qualities of racism and the political, economic, and/or social changes that are required to eliminate it.

Dance and Biology

While Berg focused on dance for her senior project, she appreciates that her two majors—which seem quite different on the surface—actually complement one another. “The classes I took and the things I learned as a biology major greatly influenced my choreography and dancing and vice versa,” she says. “The dance program at Luther focuses on anatomy and somatics-based movement, so the dance and biology curriculums pair very well together. For this reason, there are quite a few Luther students who major or minor in dance along with biology or chemistry.”

Why Strange Fruit?

Berg explains, “I choreographed Strange Fruit in an effort to bring awareness to racial inequality and injustices that have become ingrained in American society. I knew that the most authentic way that I could bring these issues to the attention of a wide audience was through dance, a form in which I feel I can most accurately expresses myself.”

Teach Yourself Something

A year after she finished the piece, Berg was selected to perform Strange Fruit at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), which allowed her to revisit the choreography with the help of assistant professor of dance Andrea Vazquez-Aguirre. “It was a great experience to take a piece that I thought was ‘finished’ and make it better based on what I learned over the course of a year,” she says.

“This, I believe, is one of the ultimate benefits of research projects,” she continues. “If you undertake research or any large project with the intention of teaching other people something, in my experience, you don’t usually get the connection that you may have hoped for. Instead, I suggest researching a topic with the intention of teaching yourself something. Take on a big project not because you have to but because you can’t stop reading about it. Acknowledging curiosity, passion, and growth in yourself is one of the best ways to incite those things in others.”