Ruth Hellier-Tinoco

Event Date: 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Dr. Ruth Hellier-Tinoco is a creative artist-scholar whose research, teaching and creative practice over the last thirty years have engaged interweaving threads of art-making, community activism, embodiment and power relations, particularly in relation to interdisciplinary arts. Her work focuses on the politics and poetics of performance, dance, theater, and music (particularly in/related to Mexico); experimental performance making; and community arts.

In her performance practice, writing and teaching she explores issues of the performativity, expressions and oppressions of/on the body, in relation to intersecting axes of identity (including gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age), and micro to macro contexts of power (focusing on global flows, tourism, nationalism, and mediatization). In all circumstances, her over-arching aim is for inclusivity and community-engagement, working across and through boundaries and discrimination of all kinds, and actively seeking non-traditional collaborations.

Trained from an early age in piano and violin (winning a double scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music in London, UK, age 11), she held her first professional job as Choir Director and Pianist at just age 17. After gaining a degree in Music, Drama and Dance (Birmingham University, UK, 1983), she intertwined successful career paths as a professional actress/singer/dancer/musician; community arts facilitator; and also Head of Music and Performing Arts at two large inner city secondary (11-18) schools.  In 2001 she completed a doctoral dissertation, after years of research in Mexico, and taught contemporary performing arts and applied theater at the University of Winchester, UK. Moving to UCSB in September 2011, she has continued to develop her interdisciplinary and praxis-based paths. 


Research Projects: national icons, bodies, voices and gendering

Ruth is currently finishing a book on experimental physical theater company La Máquina de Teatro in Mexico City, examining issues of body, time, and memory in devised and multi-company performance work. 

In a previous book, Embodying Mexico: Tourism, Nationalism, and Performance (Oxford University Press), Ruth examined ninety years of two embodied icons of Mexicanness of Lake Pátzcuaro — La Danza de los Viejitos and Noche de Muertos — using data gathered through many years of ethnographic and archival research, and participatory violin-playing with a local P'urhépecha group both for tourists and local events. A companion website comprises a few brief fragments of the hundreds of hours of video footage filmed by Ruth (Music3; Book3234). Ruth is continuing with this project particularly looking at dance, competition and cultural heritage in relation to the Zacán Festival, Michoacán.

In another project, Ruth created a ground-breaking model by bringing together a collection of essays by leading scholars, each one focused on an individual woman singer known to the researcher/author, published as Women Singers in Global Contexts: Music, Biography, Identity (U of Illinois Press), with a companion website hosted at UCSB ( Ruth’s research collaborator for her chapter was extraordinary Grammy-nominated singer from Oxnard, Ixya Herrera (“Ixya Herrera: Gracefully Nurturing 'Mexico' with Song in the USA”). This book has just been re-released in paperback (

In three other ongoing projects, Ruth is researching contemporary ballet (“Contemporary ballet in Mexico City: Opus Ballet, Ricardo Domingo and La Técnica Domingo”); mediatization of music and sport (“Football, singing and allegiances of (virtual) community: examining strategies of belonging through the Mexican national team fan anthem, Cielito Lindo”); and Creative Arts Co-laboratorios between UCSB and Mexico, involving artists, children, scholars, and educators, exploring stories and issues of bodies of/and water.

If you’d like to be involved as a Research Assistant, please contact Dr. Hellier-Tinoco at


Undergraduate arts teaching

Based in the Music Department, with affiliations to Theater & Dance; Feminist Studies; and Latin American and Iberian Studies, Dr. Hellier-Tinoco aims to combine these areas in her teaching at UCSB.

Her unique course “Creating experimental performance: memory, history, process and practice (THTR 187/MUS 168)” is an experimental workshop-based course, encompassing theater, film, dance, music, and performance art, in which students explore two inter-connected questions: How are memory and history used to create performances?  ~ How do performances create memories and histories/herstories? If you are interested in creating new multidisciplinary live art, then this is a course for you.  

Theater and Performance in Mexico, focusing on Women, Power, and Politics” (THTR 185) is a discussion- and performance-based class in a theater studio exploring wonderfully rich and diverse arts practices, ranging through plays, cabaret, comedy, performance art, women playwrights, experimental theater, and community theater in Mexico, from the 16th century to the present.

In the Music Department, Dr. Hellier-Tinoco’s course “The Politics and Poetics of Musics and Dance in Mexico” (MUS 175) examines opera, rock, banda, P’urhépecha, and corridos/narco-corrido in relation to 20th and 21st century processes of nationalism, tourism and globalization. Practical instruction in son jarocho, with Jorge Mijangos, includes a public concert.


Dance, ethnomusicology and Mexican Studies

Dr. Hellier-Tinoco currently serves three major academic organizations:

Firstly, she is a Director of the international Congress in Research in Dance, CORD ( As a celebration of CORD@50, Ruth is collaborating with the UCSB Center for Spatial Studies to generate a digital global mapping process.

Secondly, she serves as Board Member of Editorial Board of Ethnomusicology, the leading journal in the field, published through the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM,, and as former member of the board of the British Forum for Ethnomusicology, BFE ( and is proud to be the inventor of the tradition of the BFE High Tea at the annual SEM Conferences.

Thirdly, in another area of international scholarship and dialoguing, Ruth is the Editor-in-Chief of the UC Press bilingual journal Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos  ( In Fall 2014, she established the Editorial Office of the journal at UCSB, after 30 years at UCI. She is currently working on a Special Issue on Return Migration to be published in the summer. Titled “Contemporary Return Migration from the United States to Mexico: Focus on Children, Families, and Schools – La migración de retorno contemporánea de Estados Unidos a México: familias, niños y escuelas” the Guest Editors are Dr. Rubén Hernández-León (UCLA, USA) and Dr. Víctor Zúñiga (Tecnológico de Monterrey, México).


A little end note:  real/art  ???

In an interesting switch of the art/real life dichotomy, in 1989 as a professional actor Ruth played the role of a University Professor (lecturer in British terminology) in the BBC TV series Nice Work, by David Lodge.  Lodge had been a Professor at Birmingham University and used this as his setting for the fictional Rummidge University. The real Birmingham University was used as the set to shoot many of the scenes. Ruth had studied for her BA in Music, Dance and Drama at Birmingham University (1980-83), so returning to film for the BBC series, and being on set with professor turned novelist and screen-writer David Lodge was an interesting convergence.


Performance of Pre - Now - Post, a solo devised performance by Ruth Hellier-Tinoco.

Women Singers in Global Contexts: Music, Biography, Identity (U of Illinois Press)

Companion website

Performance of Pre - Now - Post, a solo devised performance by Ruth Hellier-Tinoco.

Embodying Mexico: Tourism, Nationalism, and Performance (Oxford University Press)

Camp Hill girls.

Camp Hill girls.

Harmony Project musicians, with students, AVC Herrera Sobek, Dr. Hellier-Tinoco, Jorge Mijangos.

UCSB World Music Series, Son Jarocho.

Dr. Hellier-Tinoco as Snow White (solo).

Dr. Hellier-Tinoco conducting the choir at St Thomas Aquinas School.

TV Times listing for Nice Work by David Lodge.