Body and Mind Aligned
Dance science programs allow students to merge two passions.
Andrea Alvarez entered her freshman year at Texas A&M University pursuing a science degree, but she wasn’t quite ready to forgo her years of ballet training. “I registered for one technique class as a stress reliever, and pretty soon I had declared a dance minor,” she says. That’s when Alvarez discovered she didn’t have to give up either of her interests: Thanks to a new program at her school, she was able to major in kinesiology on a dance science track.
Dancers have not only intelligent bodies but savvy minds. A handful of progressive programs recently started capitalizing on this and offering under- grads the chance to specialize in dance science. Carisa Armstrong, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M, says the university’s degree in the Department of Health and Kinesiology launched in 2010 after the faculty noticed the preva- lence of large-scale programs in Europe and elsewhere in the U.S. She says, “Dancers now can get the best of both worlds—a dance education and science courses catered to their interests.”
While there are a number of universities that offer dance science–specific masters programs, this mixed-subject major is fairly new to undergraduate departments. Karen Clippinger, a dance professor at California State University—Long Beach, has seen a surge of undergrads interested in dance science over the past five years. She believes this is due to the poor economy as dancers seek out more stable career paths. Clippinger used to oversee students who wrote their own degrees, double-majoring in both dance and science. Now that the school offers a structured dance science option, these students have a much easier time managing credits and scheduling courses.
While a dance science degree doesn’t qualify you to practice medicine, it can be a helpful stepping-stone to a variety of career paths. Performance-oriented students come away from these programs with deeper knowledge of their bodies, prepared for long, healthy careers. They also have an edge in jobs related to dance, such as somatics. “We want our dancers to be able to make money doing something related to their love,” says Clippinger. “With a dance science degree, they improve their own dancing and hone skills, and they can make a living without having to serve cocktails.” Plus, if these dancers want to return to school after a performance career, they’re set with basic prerequisites and knowledge to enter a science or physical therapy–oriented program.
For those who want to teach, the connection is obvious. “We need to educate future teachers about the body,” says Armstrong. “Through them, we’ll train others so that the dance population doesn’t go backwards.” Armstrong gets concerned when she sees freshmen who were trained in what she calls “old-world” style—forced turnout, joints pushed to hyperflexibility and crammed feet. “I’ll see an 18-year-old dancer enter college who knows how to dance, but she doesn’t understand the mechanics,” she says. “It has to go beyond imitation.” Alvarez, who has had many injuries, finds this aspect of Texas A&M’s program one of the most compelling.
And for students looking to practice medicine catered to dance or sports clients, a dance science concentration offers a more well-rounded experience than your typical pre-med program. “They’re able to relate to their coursework on a whole other level than someone learn- ing from a book can,” says Clippinger, who finds courses like dance technique, somatics and specialized anatomy essen- tial to dance science practice.
Most schools group the dance science concentration under a dance BA. Core credits are taken through the dance department and supplemented with specialized, majors-only courses such as biomechanics and injury prevention, as well as additional science classes in a science or kinesiology department. Because these programs are run through the dance department, they sometimes require applicants to audition, depending on the school’s policies for performance-oriented students.
Other universities offer a dance science track through a science department. Here, students earn a bachelor of science degree. The bulk of their courses are taken through the science department, with additional courses like technique and dance history in the department of dance. BS degrees do not usually require an audition. The students who enter these programs are often more interested in research than performance. “We’ve seen most of the arts programs on our campus shift toward theory-based practices—it’s become more research-oriented,” says Armstrong.
At Goucher College in Maryland, students can choose either option, with science or dance as their major and the other as a concentration. Assistant professor of dance Karissa Horowicz says that most dance majors are interested in a performance or teaching career, often with the intent of going back to school in the future, while dance science majors usually want to conduct research, or pursue physical therapy, medical school or related graduate studies after graduation.
As for Alvarez, she hopes to eventually work within a company or school to research alignment and help red-flag the causes of injury. “It’s about what’s going on inside the body—your structure, alignment and restrictions you might have,” she says. “There are fantastic dancers out there, but there’s more to being great than just what the eye sees.” DT
Photo: Texas A&M student Andrea Alvarez majors in kinesiology on a dance science track, by Savannah Smith, courtesy of Texas A&M