Marcus White

May 17, 1988 – May 14, 2020

Marcus White played an important role at ASU as a faculty member in the dance program, a cross-Herberger Institute collaborator, a dedicated mentor, and a deeply engaged and committed community artist-scholar-activist. He held an appointment as assistant professor in dance in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre (now the School of Music, Dance and Theatre), where he served as faculty lead for Urban Sol and Come AZ You Are, and he was a program advisor for Projecting All Voices. As an artist/scholar, he dedicated his career to working in the long legacy of the Black Radical Tradition and speaking truth to power. 

“As artists, we all make decisions about the narratives we want to craft. In dance, particularly with this legacy of abstraction, particularly in this post-modernist movement, there is this distillation of the body or this attempt to distill the body, to get it to its purist form and pure movement, looking at the body in space, devoid of narrative. But for me, as a Black same gender loving contemporary artist, my life experience colors my ability to do that. Because we are working with the body, we are always constructing narratives. We are always making meaning on bodies, regardless of the choreographer’s intent. I embrace that.”
­– Marcus White

A movement maker, educator, community engagement advocate and cultural worker, Marcus joined the dance faculty at ASU in 2016. As founder and creative director of the Detroit-based performance company White Werx, he created dance-driven work for stage and screen; his work was described as “bold” by Dance Panorama and “ingenious” and “vulnerable” by the Chicago Tribune.

“Marcus understood the university as a space of transformation. He was an extraordinary mentor to students, not just affirming but insisting on authenticity of vision and voice alongside discipline and craft. He modeled the practice of ASU’s charter, with his work in Urban Arts, especially Come AZ You Are, representing how he worked on so many levels to create impact for such a range of people.”

– Tiffany Ana Lopez, ASU provost fellow and in-coming vice provost for inclusion and community engagement

“Those of you who worked with Marcus know that he didn’t believe in conventions. He wanted to disrupt, and he did so beautifully, with intention and grace. He challenged us all by using creativity to push the boundaries of normative systems towards a more just world. His compassion for his students combined with his brilliant mind challenged us to have a more radical vision of the future.”

– David Olarte, lecture + Latin Sol faculty lead, School of Music, Dance and Theatre

“Every aspect of Marcus’ life was a method of making a bold futurity. Whether that was through his intellectual prowess, mentorship to students, or tender perceptiveness; he was a person of radical presence. He placed at the fore a commitment to a Black Queer Radical Tradition of creativity and resistance; a tradition that nurtured his own practice and spirit, and one that he uplifted in every creative choice he made. In every collaboration, he moved with the motto: ‘It’s about the work.’ This meant he wasn’t a people-pleaser, which gave him the ability to speak truth to power in every space he visited. The ‘work’ for Marcus meant an unflinching commitment to breaking barriers to liberation for Black, Latinx, Queer, Indigenous, Asian students and community members. For anyone lucky enough to call him a collaborator or friend, his absence is immeasurable.”

– Mary Stephens, Performance in the Borderlands producing director, School of Music, Dance and Theatre

“Marcus White was one of the single greatest artists I’ve ever met. He didn’t choreograph dances, he choreographed bridges. He bridged movement & music, movement & film, movement & spoken word. He bridged theory & practice, work & WERK. He bridged the Dance program to other departments and colleges. He bridged ASU to the Valley community, and the Valley community to other urban spaces across the United States. Marcus bridged body to mind, and body to soul. May we all continue to dance along the bridges he built.”

– Matthew Sandoval, Honors Faculty Fellow, Barrett, The Honors College

“Marcus’s teaching and creative practice centralized embodied performance as transformational. All of his work drew from his experiences and investigations of urban, social and postmodern contemporary movement forms through an Afroqueer lens. He cultivated community through his deep understanding of the need for everyone to feel a sense of belonging in community. His advocacy and calling as an artist and scholar included bringing marginalized peoples to the center through performance, festivals, and academic gatherings that promoted frank dialogue and real change.”

– Keith Thompson, assistant director of dance, School of Music, Dance and Theatre, and Liz Lerman, Institute Professor, Herberger Institute + School of Music, Dance and Theatre