February 2017 | College Close-Ups | Sweet Briar College

College Close-Ups: What students need to know about college and university dance programs

Sweet Briar College

The 3,250-acre campus of Sweet Briar College in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is home to more than 300 undergraduate women and 10 students in two coed graduate programs.

Sweet Briar College dance students begin choreographing after one semester.
All photos by Andrew Wilds

In Sweet Briar’s dance program, students explore creative expression while gaining practical experience. For more than 40 years, the program has drawn on traditional and modern dance techniques and newer styles such as aerial, with an emphasis on and intensive training in choreography. After one semester, students begin to produce their own dances. Seniors complete a capstone project in which they choreograph, produce, and perform a full-length concert for the community. The program also features challenging classes in dance history, aesthetics, anatomy, and teaching.

Sweet Briar has a longstanding pre-K–12 certification program that prepares students to teach in public schools. As part of the certification program, Sweet Briar students teach children ages 4 to 18 in the local community. In addition to teaching dance and choreography, Sweet Briar students guide the children in choreographing a final recital. The department is also an active member of Dance and the Child International (daCi) and frequently travels overseas to participate in daCi conferences and workshops.

Four out of five graduates of the Sweet Briar dance program study dance in graduate school or dance professionally.

The low student-to-faculty ratio of the dance department allows students to explore their dance passion with industry professionals in a tight-knit community. Through Sweet Briar’s association with the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, students work with professional dance artists such as Sarah Skaggs, a Sweet Briar alum and director of Sarah Skaggs Dance; choreographer and dance filmmaker Victoria Marks; and composer Joelle Wallach, who shared some of her music in dance composition classes. As part of the visiting artist program, Charles Weidman, Meredith Monk, Bill T. Jones, and Bebe Miller have performed and taught master classes at Sweet Briar. Clay Taliaferro, former principal dancer with Limón Dance Company, is a frequent guest teacher.

For more information, visit sbc.edu/dance/.

—Kara Harpham

Year founded: 1974

Department philosophy: The Sweet Briar dance department creates an atmosphere of freedom in creativity and expression while remaining firmly rooted in technical training and choreography. This foundation, coupled with a strong liberal arts education, prepares students for the challenges they may face in the dance world and in life.

Entrance audition: Not required

Degrees available: BA, BA with pre-K–12 teaching certification, BFA, minor in dance performance, minor in teaching dance

Students have opportunities to perform in BFA and seasonal concerts and in local schools.

Number of students in department, 2016–17: 7 majors and minors; 62 students campus-wide participate in dance department classes

Ratio of students to faculty: 2:1

Technique classes: Modern, ballet, jazz

Additional classes: Dance history, dance composition, methods of teaching, anatomy and kinesiology, aesthetics, technical theater, rudiments of music, yoga

Faculty: Mark Magruder, Ella Magruder, Mari Mori

Performance opportunities: BFA concerts, Fall Dance Concert, Spring Dance Concert, and performances in local schools

Additional opportunities: Internships, study abroad, and honors

Notable alumni: Mimi Garrard (choreographer/director, Mimi Garrard Dance Theatre), Anne Green Gilbert (developer, BrainDance; founder, Kaleidoscope Dance Company), Mary Susan Sinclair-Kuenning (founding member, Loren, Royse & Co.), Sarah Herndon Sydnor (former company member, Artichoke Dance Company)