To Dance is to Find Community: Marissa Arterberry’s Journey as an Artist, Educator and Parent

Community Profile
Marisa Arterberry with her kids

“When I got the library media technician job, I was able to do a deep dive into the Library and Information Science (LIS) field and thought, ‘I love my job so much that I’m angry. I’m angry that I didn’t do this sooner.’ That’s when I decided to go for the MLIS at San José State.”

Marissa Arterberry (pronouns: she/her/hers)
SJSU MLIS, started in fall 2022

Marissa Arterberry comes from a long line of educators. 

“Both my parents were teachers. My mom taught elementary school, my dad taught high school, and my grandma was a paraprofessional who worked in special education. There were so many teachers throughout my family that going into education felt like going into the family business.”

However, after spending nine years in the field, Marissa heard a different calling open up as a Library Media Technician at Willard Middle School in Berkeley, CA. 

“I have always been interested in libraries. I was the kid that was always at the public library all summer long and after school. When I graduated college in 2007, I had thought about working in libraries but didn’t quite understand how to get started in it, especially since there weren’t a lot of entry-level library jobs around that time. After my second year of working at Willard, I started getting ready to apply to San José State University and scholarships.”

Balancing Work and Family Life

As a Library Media Technician, Marissa gets the opportunity to work alongside a teacher-librarian by creating book displays, location tags, and shelf labels in order to create greater visibility and a more welcoming space for Black students in the library. 

“I recently made a Black Joy display earlier this year, which got a lot of attention! A couple of Black students asked me how they could become librarians, which I was super proud to hear. Seeing someone who looks like them in this role lets them know that it’s possible.”

And that’s not all she’s doing. Marissa works a second job doing shelving at the library for Malcolm X Elementary School while also being a single mom of an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. 

“It’s a constant juggling act that I feel like I’m getting a little better at this semester. Last semester was really overwhelming and while it still does feel overwhelming this semester, I’m learning to be in flow with it better. There are definitely nights I have fallen asleep with my face on my laptop! On weekdays I go to my first library job, then on to my second library job to do shelving. After that, I pick up my kids from their after-school program, go home, give them snacks, start on my homework, help the kids with their homework, cook dinner, put the kids to bed, then go back to my homework. I won’t romanticize any of it, but I do feel proud of myself for hanging in there. My mom was telling me, ‘you’re setting a really good example for your kids about perseverance and hard work,’ which is interesting because I see them pick up on that.” 

Marissa’s family history stretches back over several generations, as far back as her great-great-great grandmother. 

“She came to San José as an enslaved person when the family she was with moved from Missouri to California. The story goes that after she got here, she was running errands and stuff in the town for the family, and as she got to talking to people, they said, ‘you know, slavery is illegal here; you’re free.’ And so, at that point, she left the family and started a life in San José. So that was our first ancestor to put down roots here, and then it just went on for subsequent generations. We’ve been in San José, Santa Cruz, and all around the Bay Area ever since. Her story is definitely fascinating and it’s one that I’m still researching myself. She was a wonderfully strong woman.”

Life as a Dancer

Even in the midst of balancing school, work, and family life, Marissa still manages to find time for her passions.

“I consider myself a lifelong student of dance. I study Afro-Brazilian dance, specifically Samba and traditional Orixá dance, which is the dance of the Candomblé religion in Brazil. It’s composed of traditional African songs and rhythms, and one of the things that have been amazing about studying this dance form is that we learn to sing as well. We’ve learned songs in Yoruba and Bantu. It feels incredible to be able to sing in languages that were taken away from my ancestors during slavery. Learning those songs and dances makes me feel connected to a part of my ancient history that’s been lost. I feel deeply connected to my ancestors when I dance and sing.” 

As a dancer for more than 20 years, Marissa is constantly searching for creative outlets and community building. 

“I took ballet when I was a kid, and it just did not resonate for me. I remember at some point, there was an African dance class in San José when I was 7 or 8, but that was very short-lived because the teacher ended up moving away. In high school, I went to Emma Prusch Farm Park, which had an Aztec Dance class that I went to a couple of times. Growing up, I was always searching for some ethnic dance that fit me.”   

Marissa even gets the opportunity to participate in dance festivals and showcases throughout the Bay Area.

Marissa with group

“This photo where I’m wearing the white dress was for a performance at Dance Mission in San Francisco. Our group did a number that was based on traditional Afro-Brazilian dance. During the pandemic, there were dance classes on Zoom which were great for making things accessible, but it was also very hard on the community because we missed out on the camaraderie of being in class together and having live drummers there.

Marissa green dress

“This green dress was for Carnaval San Francisco this past year, where I danced with a Samba troupe called Fogo Na Roupa, which translates to ‘clothes on fire.’ The theme for that year was Green Over Greed, so everybody had green costumes and we had a float with a big money tree. The section that I was dancing in is called the Baiana section, which is the section that does more Orixá and African-based dance. With Fogo, there’s always a community elder that will sew all the costumes for us, and we glue on little embellishments and stuff. That year, one of the dancer’s moms, who was in her 80’s or 90’s, sewed everybody’s costumes. It’s always really special to get those costumes because they’re handmade. There is so much love that goes into these dance communities and it’s really amazing to see all the work that gets put in behind the scenes through community support. It’s truly incredible.” 

Advice for Students

As she finishes up her second semester at the iSchool, Marissa has some advice for other students. 

“Keep up with your self-care, especially physical activity. I think it’s so important because we have so many assignments that we end up spending lots of time sitting in front of a screen. Find some physical activity that feels good to you, whether it’s yoga, taking a walk around the block, or going to the gym. Sometimes I’m not able to make it to dance class, so I’ll get up super early in the morning and dance to Beyoncé. I find that it makes a huge difference and sets the whole flow for the day.” 

Check this Out!

If there is one book that Marissa recommends to everyone, it’s Sassafras, Cyprus, and Indigo by Ntozake Shange.

“It’s a novel about 3 sisters. It takes place between the Bay Area and South Carolina, and it’s just like a wonderful kind of magical escape. I highly recommend it if you want to just be immersed in a magical world.”