Higher-Ed Voice

October 2016 | Higher-Ed Voice | Embodied Scholarship

At Middlebury College, located in a small village in Vermont’s Champlain Valley, the dance department’s goal is “to present dance in its many facets,” says the department’s head, Christal Brown, “and decentralize the hierarchy in which ballet has been established as the dominant form.” That’s apparent in the kind of courses open to dance students—courses that resonate with the concerns and enthusiasms of contemporary college students, such as Body and Earth; Writing the Body; and Ethics, Aesthetics, and the Moving Body.

Middlebury is hours away from major cities, and it’s small, with approximately 2,500 students. Dance students choose Middlebury precisely because it is small, and despite the fact that ballet, jazz, and tap are not offered for credit. In 2015–16 the department served 175 students (25 majors and 150 non-majors); four to six majors graduate each year.

The department has undergone much change in recent years, including the retirement of Andrea Olsen and Penny Campbell as leaders. Brown credits the college’s new and first female president, poet and scholar Laurie Patton, with starting new initiatives on campus, maintaining a humanitarian focus. The dance faculty collaborates with other professors across the campus, and the department—which consists of four dance professionals along with two musician/composers and a lighting designer/technical director—partners with the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington; artists who perform there offer master classes at Middlebury, and students regularly board vans to see its shows.

Read More

August 2016 | Higher-Ed Voice | Life as an Adjunct

Thousands of dancers, choreographers, and dance intellectuals dream of teaching at the college level, and why not? A job in higher ed means working in their chosen field, often with inspiring young artists and creative colleagues. To sweeten the pot, a full-time position can translate into a month off during the school year, summers free, a workweek seemingly shaped by a handful of classes, grants for travel to conferences, additional funds for research and/or choreography, and a living wage with real benefits. At a time when most people are lucky to get two weeks of paid vacation, medical coverage, and a consistent salary, what could be rosier?

That depends. Like the pretty settings of British TV mysteries, where lilacs bloom and hedgerows are always tidy, the allures of college teaching can be deceiving. For example, teachers who lack career security (adjunct faculty) now represent the majority of higher-ed instructors, and they can earn as little as $20 an hour despite advanced degrees and a lifetime of dance training. These at-will dance instructors typically get no benefits of any kind, teach at an hourly rate regardless of how many courses they have, and can find their classes cancelled in a flash if enrollments don’t meet the increasingly high quotas set by college administrations. Some are excluded from the workings of their departments and rarely know what changes are coming until they arrive. As a result, adjuncts can be written out of the curriculum as easily as characters are killed off in Midsomer Murders.

Read More

May-June 2016 | Higher-Ed Voice | Making the Grade

As the director of Dance Theatre of Harlem School, Endalyn Taylor had plenty of experience with assessing students. During her 10 years at the school, which included serving as assistant director for education and outreach, the former Dance Theatre of Harlem (DTH) ballerina scrutinized dancers at all levels, from beginners to those in the pre-professional group that fed into the company.

But when she left the DTH School in 2014 to become an assistant professor of dance at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, Taylor confronted a dilemma new to her: how to assign academic grades to students’ classroom performance that would be honest from her perspective as a professional dancer yet fair to her students.

“When I started teaching at the university, I brought my history of teaching and training with me—and that was a very conservatory-dance mindset, where what I was mostly looking for was how well someone executed [technique],” Taylor says.

She adds that even though her department uses a syllabus and grading rubric that measures aspects other than technical competence (such as attitude and understanding concepts and principles), the focus on technique still left her with questions about her approach to grading. “I had wonderful students who were so very present in the class,” she says. “Maybe they didn’t come in with the best aesthetic or physical ability, but they were the most giving; they had a certain energy.”

She says she changed her approach this school year. “Now my mindset has shifted to how they’re progressing, how they’re working, the qualities of the movement, their approach to corrections, and not so much ‘This person’s leg doesn’t go up as high’ [as those of other students].”

Taylor isn’t alone. Message boards, social media threads, and conference speeches and workshops abound with discussions about the complexities of applying academic grades to the art of dance.

Read More

February 2016 | Higher-Ed Voice | Shifting Gears

Many of my dance major students at the University at Buffalo [NY] experience a plateau at some point during their four years in school. Usually students hit these plateaus in their junior year. When they do, excitement wanes, growth and improvement become less visible, and frustration sets in. Here’s what you can do to help.

Read More

December 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | Hip-Hop’s Campus Communities

Almost as ubiquitous as hip-hop clubs are breakdancing clubs that focus on b-girling and b-boying. As Geoffrey Kwan, this year’s logistics advisor for Synchronic Dance Team (loosely associated with New York University in Manhattan), explains, in breakdancing, “the individual dancer tries to make an image of his body in space, often in response to a piece of music.” In contrast, hip-hop clubs perform group choreography that emphasizes teamwork with room for individual expression. It’s sometimes described as “choreographed freestyle.”

Read More

October 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | Dance at the Ivies

Where do dancers go for training at the college level? In the past, they have typically chosen to attend conservatories like The Juilliard School, or colleges and universities known for their dance departments. Rarely would they choose Ivy League schools or universities like Stanford (called by some an “Ivy of the West”), which have not accorded dance much esteem. On these campuses, dance typically has been limited in terms of class offerings, performance opportunities, and funding.

All that is changing. Now students can choose to immerse themselves in dance—as well as philosophy, quantum mechanics, and comparative literature—at Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.

Read More

August 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | Artist Residencies

For college dance students, visits from professional artists can ignite a spark that propels them forward for years after graduation. College dance programs dedicate themselves to providing such opportunities to their students through artist residencies that enable working professionals to share their knowledge and experience in an academic setting. Successful residencies can nourish guest artists, students, and faculty alike, but to do so they require careful planning and open, ongoing dialogue.

Read More

May-June 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | Continental Drift

The first thing choreographers do in making a dance is to bring bodies together at a designated time and space. The space might be a ballroom, a studio, a park green, a subway platform—anywhere large enough and light enough to move in. Then the choreographer can turn to making dance. In the process, everyone breathes the same air, touches one another, and mingles sweat in face-to-face encounters—intimate, damp, and physical. Regardless of the kind of dance being made, the choreographer and her dancers share the experience in the same space and time.

Read More

February 2015 | Higher-Ed Voice | College Prep

We are all familiar with the dreaded “freshman 15”—those pounds many students pack on during their first year of college. As a teacher of freshman dance major technique courses at the University at Buffalo (UB), I believe college students do have much to gain during their first year—but I’m talking about knowledge and experience, not weight. However, in order to make the most of what can be an explosive year of serious growth as athletes, artists, and students, incoming dance majors need to know what to expect and be prepared to adapt to a new learning environment. Teachers of high school seniors and college freshmen all have opportunities to help incoming college dance majors prepare for success in a new environment.

Read More

October 2014 | Higher-Ed Voice |Top Tap Programs

You’re a high school senior, a tap dancer who’s looking at future options. The view isn’t as breathtaking as you’d hoped. College and university dance programs typically prepare contemporary and modern dancers to transition into professional companies; however, very few do so for tap dancers. There are not many professional tap ensembles that perform regularly, and few colleges include tap in their dance department offerings. You might be told that no options exist for studying tap in college, or be discouraged by the seemingly desolate landscape of professional-level tap on college campuses nationwide.

Read More

August 2014 | Higher-Ed Voice | Dance for the Camera

Recorded dance has been around since the earliest days of film. More than 100 years ago, in 1896, before sound on film was introduced, Loie Fuller’s famous Serpentine Dance was documented; it remains one of the earliest dances recorded on film.

Read More

May-June 2014 | Higher-Ed Voice | C Is for Choice

Choosing a post-secondary institution can be a complex and emotional process. Some people say a conservatory is the best path to a performance career; others insist that a college education offers broader exposure and a better chance of earning a stable living. Teenage dancers may question the value of earning a dance degree at all.

Read More

February 2014 | Higher-Ed Voice | The Adelphi–Taylor Connection

On a Friday evening in early autumn, 40 minutes east of New York City, Adelphi University’s dance studios are teeming with activity. Orion Duckstein, a former member of Paul Taylor Dance Company (1999–2010) and a full-time Adelphi faculty member, is choreographing a new work—a comedy—for the fall concert, “Dance Adelphi.”

Read More

October 2013 | Higher-Ed Voice | Mamboing at MIT

They are our future astrophysicists, neurobiologists, computational linguists, medical researchers, and nuclear engineers, these undergraduate and graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among them, 120 to 150 set aside their computations, research projects, lab coats, and study sessions for up to 15 hours a week to devote themselves to perfecting the art of ballroom dancing.

Read More

August 2013 | Higher-Ed Voice | Learning With the Heart

Dance students learn in many ways. Athletic trainers often refer to three categories of learning: knowledge, skills, and attitude. Professors of dance education like me often use Benjamin Bloom’s classification scheme, which identifies three domains of learning: cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.

Read More

May-June 2013 | Higher-Ed Voice | College Bound

Dance students and their teachers live with the knowledge that their time together will end. No matter how passionate the student, how dedicated the teacher, eventually the student will graduate from high school and move on to a new phase in life. Many, if not most, students plan on college as their next step. And studio teachers naturally want to give their students a boost. And that’s where Cheryl Sington, an educational consultant and a dance studio owner in Fort Myers, Florida, wants to help.

Read More

February 2013 | Higher-Ed Voice | Dance Steps, Next Steps

The quiet midafternoon hum of San Francisco’s ODC Dance Commons’ lobby slowly ratchets up to a low roar as a swarm of young dancers, many of them teens, gathers before dispersing into the classrooms. And like thousands of high-schoolers around the country, many of these dancers face the college admissions process, a challenge—to put it mildly—for any teen. At ODC, a program called Next Steps is there to help.

Read More

December 2012 | Higher-Ed Voice | Jazzed by Jump Rhythm

In a dance studio at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point (UWSP), enthusiastic voices call and respond in a rhythmic scat-singing pattern. Sounds like these are more often heard in a music class, but these voices emanate from a Jump Rhythm® Technique (JRT) class taught by associate professor Jeannie Hill. She is one of a handful of college-level teachers in the country instructing young movers in this unique method.

Read More

October 2012 | Higher-Ed Voice | “I Can Do That!”

Auditions can be harrowing, whether dancers are trying to get into professional companies, pre-professional training programs, shows, or colleges. But my years of experience teaching in the University at Buffalo Theater and Dance Department—and conducting auditions for prospective students—have shown me that teachers can help prepare students to put their best selves forward when auditioning.

Read More

February 2012 | Higher-Ed Voice | Dance Gets a Boost in Missouri

Many institutions of higher education are suffering painful cuts in their arts programs, but that’s not the case at the University of Central Missouri (UCM). The 11,000-student public university in Warrensburg, Missouri (about 50 miles from Kansas City), boasts a brand-new dance program and an $80,000 state-of-the-art dance studio.

Read More

October 2011 | Higher-Ed Voice | College Doesn’t Mean Goodbye

For most dance students, graduating from high school means leaving their studio behind. Studio teachers “raise” generations of dance students and, for the most part, say goodbye to them at 17 or 18 years of age. Some students go on to major or minor in dance in college, but for those who do not, dance may recede along with other beloved aspects of childhood. What about those dancers who don’t choose to major in dance but wish to continue taking class and performing while in college?

Read More