Dancing in the Classroom

Dr.Yvonne Bobb-Smith, Ph.D.

Independent Educator/Writer

Trinidad and Tobago

On reading “In the Public Eye” I felt there is a story of the life of Joanne Kilgour Dowdy within it waiting to be told.  The book is unique in presenting the published narratives of her life supported by excellently appropriate pictures, yet I felt something is obscured, or is the reader to read between the lines? Whatever is missing or untold this autobiography makes an excellent contribution, briefly, to the history of a particular time in two countries, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America.  It was a time in which young people reckoned they had to find who they were in their way. That is, they had to break those bonds of colonialism entrapped in  race and class. Joanne was one of those, who did it her way, who dared to reject the conventional route which one expected her to take.

Feminism believes that a woman’s story is shared history intending to divulge ways of understanding the world in addition to understanding women’s experience. When Joanne repeats, “I auditioned and got cast…” or “I went off to Juilliard like a “good little girl…” it is vital for us to interpret this as to how women may gain entry points into the wider, often forbidden, contexts.  Implicit in her story is that she helps us to see the dynamics in women’s interaction with the social structure. Indeed, it is the use of agency, as she did—dance, acting, theatre—that enables women to self-identify.

The last pages of the book describe the outcome of her goal achievement: she becomes an academic, and teaches with a difference in the USA. This part of the work, gives us her insight into why she has created exceptional activities around drama for teaching teachers; she briefly critiques racism; and, she tells why she rejects some social norms. Added to that, we become acquainted with her success of staging her personal narrative herself in a production entitled “Between me and my Lord”.
As women we keep telling our stories to each other, hoping they are heard or we are listened to; if we grow unsure that neither seems to be occurring we resort to documenting, if possible.  This is why the book is invaluable; enhanced with pictures, it is excellent for making those links with other recorded and accessible identities.

“In the Public Eye” is a wonderful contribution to add to the description of women’s liberation narratives. This is an inspirational piece, eye-catching and easy to read. It is a profound text that captures the dynamics of gender to encourage younger people to self-analyse their roles for a significant future as Joanne has done for herself.


The Life

Joanne Kilgour Dowdy

Reviewed By: Yuko Kurahashi

Joanne Kilgour Dowdy’s In the Public Eye (Commess University Press, 2009) capsulates her professional life in a series of photos from productions, TV series, rehearsals, and posed shots. Her book conjures up the spirits of many artists and mentors—some of them “no longer on this earth”—who inspired Kilgour Dowdy as an actor, dancer, woman, and educator. The photo captions are both ones created by Kilgour Dowdy for this book and past performance reviews and newspaper articles that include the New York Times, Trinidad Guardian, Weekend Magazine (Trinidad), and college newspapers. With these two different types of narrative, In the Public Eye provides the reader with valuable insights into Kilgour Dowdy’s journey as an artist in relation to other artists, her community, and her art. By flipping the pages of the book, the reader is invited to take a journey with Kilgour Dowdy from her childhood to the present. The first picture the reader encounters, was taken when Kilgour Dowdy was perhaps nine or ten, reciting a poem by A A Milne, Have You Been a Good Girl, as one of the choral reading events at Newtown Girls’ RC School in Port-of-Spain. A little pig-tailed girl in a white dress in the photograph is whispering to us, “It’s funny how often they say to me, ‘Jane? Have you been a good girl?’” This photo sets the tone for the rest of the book, allowing the reader to ask: Was she a good girl? What happened to this little girl? Did she remain a “good girl?” What did it mean to be a good girl in Trinidad in the 1960s? The reader will soon learn that Kilgour Dowdy took the path of a creative, courageous and perhaps “not so good girl” and later woman. Yet, perhaps one could say, yes, she continued to be a “good girl” but only defined by herself, not a British author or any traditional standard. The next photo is her appearance in the dance version of Alice Through the Looking Glass at the Caribbean School of Dancing. Kilgour Dowdy’s caption for this picture describes the spiritual beauty that she found in dance when she was seven. “Dance is (a) magical world to me. I become movement…When I dressed up in this costume as a violet, I became a flower and felt that the world was a garden in which I was one of the blossoms” (18). Kilgour Dowdy has nurtured this spirit of dance and the reader learns that it is something she shares in her classroom: “It is no wonder that the headline for the Kent Stater article in March, 2004, read ‘Dancing in the Classroom’” (18). Moving on to her adolescence, photographs show Kilgour Dowdy as a young actress in a television series produced by Banyan Television Productions in T&T. Through the captions of the photos of this section Kilgour Dowdy graciously acknowledges and shares her appreciation for the words and lessons she gained from her involvement with the people she met during this period, including actors Ronald Reid, Lorraine Granderson, Albert LaVeau and many otherwise anonymous people. Referring to a cameraman at the studio, who said to her, “It was the best work that I had ever done up to that point,” Kilgour Dowdy writes: “I don’t know where that man is now, but his was the voice that I carried in my head all the way to the Juilliard School in New York.” Thanking Tony Hall, a television director, Kilgour Dowdy describes his impact on her career as an actor. “Thanks to his input, I got the right motivation to sit down and craft my one-woman autobiographical play in 2000,” she said. The main part of the narrative—newspaper and other articles about Kilgour Dowdy—also serves to take us to different moments of her life. Some narratives eloquently describe Kilgour Dowdy’s change of the focus in her career from acting to education after her graduation from Juilliard in 1987, but with the same level of passion toward her new responsibilities as a teacher. Then this book brings the reader to one of the most important artistic works Kilgour Dowdy created after her career change—a one-woman play entitled Between Me and The Lord. The play, written and acted by Kilgour Dowdy (directed by Rhoma Spencer), is dedicated to the memory of the late John Isaacs, Kilgour Dowdy’s close friend and coactor and “consists of four chapters, each with scenes of the highlights from each decade of Dowdy’s life.” In the series of collages or poetry, music, dance, and photography, Kilgour Dowdy portrays her life as a little girl who resisted the cultural norms laid out by Holy Name Convent Secondary School, to a young television/stage actress, to a sojourner in New York City, to a passionate (and compassionate) teacher. Though the book is not able to project her performance piece in a way a DVD could, the combination of the narrative that accompanies the production photos does it justice. Toward the end, the reader will notice how her view of herself becomes more and more communitybased. As a matured “elder,” she is in “granny mode,” seeing herself as a “community mother.” In the Public Eye gives a new look at not only an “émigré” woman in the United States; it teaches us the importance of the reader becoming the “custodian of (the) memories.” The photographs and narrative have the power to ask the reader to reflect on his/her own journey and realise the importance of documenting it in a way that allows both the author and her readers to metaphorically meet, talk, and understand each other.


Yuko Kurahashi is a Ph D Associate Prof, School of Theatre and Dance, Kent State University.


Dr. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy’s latest book, In The Public Eye,  (Commess University, 155 pgs., 2009), is a glossy, expertly- done, impressive-looking, photograph-filled autobiography of a  Trinidadian-born, professional actress, dancer and educator.  It is also a fine, nicely-crafted, clear example of a bold, colorful, roller-coaster life that proved that hard work always pays off. Dowdy, a Kent State University (Ohio) professor, is a former Wilmington, North Carolina resident, a New Hanover High School “Teacher of Year,” a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has produced a cute, concise, chronological photo chronicle of a focused, extremely-talented , highly-ambitious Caribbean woman who refused to be anything other than what her dreams told her to be, and, according to the author, it is a document whose aim is to leave a legacy for future generations, especially those who are not native Americans, to help them aspire to realize their dreams too.
The book begins with a striking photograph of a sassy, 10-year-old Joanne, dressed in a clean crisp white dress, socks and shoes, in a [national arts festival competition] in Trinidad called “Have You Been a Good Little Good Girl,” (1968) and ends with a review of her last book: Ph.D. Stories: Conversations with My Sisters (2008). The very last page, however, is a picture of her three first school teachers at The Newtown Girls’ Roman Catholic School in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, and is a thank you note to the educators who pushed her into the public eye.  She cites one of them, Mrs. Teresa Walker, as being one of the first persons to encourage her to be a performer. After her time at Newtown, she went on to study at The Caribbean School of Dancing, Holy Convent Secondary School, and to perform as an actress with Banyan Television Workshop.  She would later be featured on Trinidadian TV shows and commercials, and would become a frequent, well-known character on the stage and television in Trinidad.  Afterwards, she migrated to the United States of America to study at The Boston Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theater and eventually graduated from the famed Julliard School in New York City.  It was quite an accomplishment for a little island girl who displayed true grit and determination and who was supported, financially, as well, spiritually, by those who had the utmost confidence in her talent and ability to reach the top.
Dowdy calls this book a “family album” and is quick to acknowledge the people who helped her along the way.  This autobiography (which, by the way, is her second one) is her way of giving back to all who made her who she is today:  a very confident, firmly-rooted, highly-intelligent African-centered woman.  It’s a testament to how a cultural warrior survived the rigors, setbacks and triumphs of living, striving and being a true, dedicated artist in a world that constantly and consistently regards black folks and black arts as inferior and insignificant.  Joanne continues to prove the nay sayers wrong and this book is not only an excellent way to do that, but, it is a wonderful, pleasing-to-eye guide for children who want to be in the public eye. 
It shows that the way to realize your dreams is to not be afraid to fail and not to be hindered by personal tragedies.  Her mother died when she was very young, and her father, older sister and beloved brother have all passed.  Her marriage to Attorney Bill Dowdy ended in divorce.  She has every right to sing the blues, and she did, for just a short minute.  But, once the tears dried up, she rolled up her sleeves and worked overtime to overcome the grief and sorrow.  Joanne used her blues to create some good news. She has edited and written five books, become a popular and recognized college professor and has published In The Public Eye, to show all who have eyes to see that her journey can and should be yours and to make sure that all the little bright-eyed, bubbly, young ones who lay awake at night wanting to be more than they are, can one day, reach their goals.  We can hardly wait for the next chapter in her life to unfold.  What’s next?  The sky is the limit! 


Larry Renee Thomas

writer/radio announcer based in Chapel Hill, NC


Reviewed by
Debra C. Smith, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Africana Studies Department
University of North Carolina at Charlotte

We have come to expect credible, pedagogic, empirical work from Professor Joanne
Kilgour Dowdy. In her previous works, Kilgour Dowdy has explored race, gender,
language, literacy, social equality and educational reform. She has accumulated six books
and numerous articles, chapters and reviews on her way to becoming a full professor at
Kent State University. But, it is in Kilgour Dowdy’s most recent book, “In the Public
Eye,” that she turns the mirror on herself to reveal that the issues that she champions and
fertilizes as a scholar are indeed reflective of her performance journey, beginning as a
young seedling in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
In 153 pages Kilgour Dowdy takes us through 35 years of life “in the public eye,” from
beginning formal dance training at the age of 6 at the Caribbean School of Dancing to
performing “Between Me and the Lord,” an autobiographical play illustrating her life for
40 years which captured the attention of actress Jane Fonda.
“In the Public Eye,” begins with a 1968 photograph of a pig-tailed Kilgour Dowdy when
she was a young girl, opposite an excerpt from “The Good Little Girl,” by A. A Milne.
Kilgour Dowdy in a ruffled white dress, white socks and white shoes, stands in the
forefront of a stage set that features an artistic rendering of a door and a cascading
chandelier. Kilgour Dowdy, a bashful smile on her face, looks like she’s sharing a secret
with the audience. The set is fitting. The door represents the wide open landscape that
awaits the young performer while the chandelier is the figurative spotlight on a career
that is about to ignite. If one believes I’m reviewing in clichés, you need only to continue
turning the pages of the book to appreciate what the opening picture foreshadows.
Kilgour Dowdy once told a critic that “She feels compelled to document everything.” For
that, readers are privileged. “In the Public Eye,” documents Kilgour Dowdy’s journey as
a performer replete with photographs and special memories. The book provides insight
into Kilgour Dowdy’s acting career in the Banyan Television Workshop beginning at age
16 and is dedicated to the memory of actors she grew up working with, recalling their
relationships through prose and picture.
The pages of “In the Public Eye” are flooded with the author’s recollections of auditions;
rehearsals; Broadway musical numbers with Trinidadian themes; Trinidadian
productions; starring as the lead actor in The Rig, the first television script by Nobel Prize
Winner Derek Walcott; and leaving her beloved Trinidad to attend the Boston
Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theater before winning a scholarship to the Julliard
Theater School in New York City. Kilgour Dowdy’s own words and corresponding
snapshots provide a historical timeline of her continued development in the performance
arena. She admits that it’s unlikely that she would even remember some of her past
productions if not for the photos that bring them back to life for her. That translates to
good fortune for the reader who can observe Kilgour Dowdy in performance and in
various emotional continuums - laughing with friends, introspective, serious, embracing
the moment – captured in photo. In one picture, she’s an “explosion of life, beauty,
movement, and drama all rolled into one frame” (Dowdy’s own description) when she
appeared in King Jab Jab by Felix Edinborough wearing a flouncy red dress and
coordinating hair adornment. In another, she’s photographed alongside Elaine Brown, a
former leader of the Black Panther party.
As for the book’s format, after the acknowledgement pages, a table of contents describes
the photos and gives photographer credits. Midway through the book, the author shares
letters, posters, book launch promotional materials, book covers, and book signing
notices. One could illustrate the sections of the book as a whole, by indicating that it
encompasses childhood performance, college performance, adult performance, scholar
performance, and female performance. Yet, the word “performance” is problematic.
What Kilgour Dowdy gives to the reader is not recital, it’s real life.
“In the Public Eye,” is a genuine recollection of the life of a young talented girl leaving a
black republic for the United States where she learned to adapt to the alienation of being
only one of three black “flys in the buttermilk” at “the Jailyard,” an expression which she
used to describe Juilliard. Teaching public school in Harlem, earning a Ph.D., and
becoming an authority on literacy are just some of the supplementary stories assembled
in the memories of Kilgour Dowdy’s path to adapting, dealing coping, surviving,
choosing and living. Kilgour Dowdy’s voice provides colorful, truthful and sincere
context for the photos and memorabilia in the book, thereby rendering them significant
and relatable for the reader. What appears to be a mere rehearsal is in fact a “grueling
rehearsal.” A picture of two actors is actually “two foreigners” one from California and
one from Trinidad who have bonded in a new city.
Near the end of the book the pig-tailed little girl we met at the beginning of “In the Public
Eye,” with the demure smile is adorned in a bold autumn orange and red ensemble, and
hoop silver earrings, her naturally curly twists graying at the temple. In this picture, her
smile is confident, her story told.
“In the Public Eye,” appropriately ends with a picture of three women. The caption reads
“thanks to my first school teachers in Trinidad.” Readers will want to express gratitude
to them as well for cultivating the artist, performer, scholar and woman who has
produced such a prized autobiographical performance.
“In the Public Eye” will be of tremendous value and interest to those teaching Africana
Studies, Caribbean Studies, Cultural Studies, Liberal Studies, History, Performance
Studies, Women’s Studies as well as teacher educators and auto-ethnographers.



Black Female Authors – Women of the African Diaspora:

Kent State University’s Dr. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy was recently recognized for her book, “Ph.D. Stories: Conversations with My Sisters.” She is the recipient of the 2009 American Educational Research Association Narrative and Research Special Interest Group’s Outstanding Book Award.



Mount Union College:
Women’s History Month Speaker Discusses Evolving Identity
Published On: 03/05/2010
Author: Stephanie Dominick

Dr. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy, professor of adolescent and adult literacy at Kent State University presented the Women’s History Month keynote address at Mount Union on March 4.


Dr. Joanne Dowdy co-edits book on Spiritual Healing by Swami Tathagatananda


Dr. Joanne Kilgour Dowdy on the editorial board of the New Horizons in Adult Education - Volume 19, Number 3, Summer 2005


Excelsior - Leadership in Teaching and Learning - Volume 3, Number 2 Spring / Summer 2009


On Wednesday 31st, 2010, Heritage Library in Port of Spain continued its follow-up to the book launch of  "In The Public Eye" by hosting a workshop on how to create a photo autobiography with author Joanne Kilgour Dowdy. The participants included teachers, young library staff, library students like myself and members of the public interested in becoming a first time author


A Collection of Writings in response to the book Readers of the Quilt: Essays on Being Black, Female, and Literate by Joanne Kilgour Dowdy, and other essays by Jacqueline Royster, Elaine Richardson, and Star Parker.



The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom












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