Janet O'Shea

Janet O'Shea

Department Chair, Professor


Janet O’Shea joined the UCLA Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance faculty in 2008. An author, scholar, and martial artist, O’Shea’s research and teaching focuses on critical dance studies, performance, and martial arts studies grounded in social and political contexts. The recipient of a UCLA Transdisciplinary Seed Grant to study the cognitive benefits of Filipino Martial Arts training, O’Shea gave a TEDx Talk on competitive play, and is currently working on a project on physical risk, social justice, and futurity. She has published internationally and is a frequent symposium and keynote speaker.


Critical dance studies, performance studies, martial arts studies, phenomenology, postcolonial and decolonial studies, ethnography, memoir and life writing, environmental humanities, critical animal studies.

Creative Practice & Research

  • Recent courses include: Modern and Postmodern Dance History; Food Politics: Cultural Solutions to Political Problems; Ph.D. Prospectus Writing; Theories of Corporeality; Fiat Lux courses on martial arts film; Empowerment Self-Defense; Border Humanitarian Aid; Martial Arts, Phenomenology, and Personal Empowerment; Risk, Failure, Play, and Work in Creative Practice. and The Fluid Self: Phenomenology and Neuroplasticity.
  • Recent books and journal articles include: Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training (2018), “He’s an Animal:” Naturalizing the Hyperreal in Modern Combat Sport (2018), Making Play Work: Competition, Spectacle and Intersubjectivity in Hybrid Martial Arts (2018), Decolonizing the Curriculum? Unsettling possibilities for performance training (2018), and It Matters How You Move: An Ethnographic Memoir of a Collaboration between Dance and the “Hard” Sciences (2017).
  • Current research includes an investigation of political theory, martial arts, and dance studies via agonistics; an inquiry into the relationship between the humanities and the social sciences in a “post-truth” moment; and a participatory ethnography focused on physical risk and social justice in three direct action initiatives: urban cycling, border humanitarian aid, and farmed animal rescue.