Higher Ed

First Steps

How community college dance programs serve students aiming for four-year degrees

Montgomery County Community College student Katie Pflueger in Chasing After the Wind, a self-choreographed solo

Willie Brown, Jr., didn’t know much about dance until a dance coordinator at his school, Greenfield Community College (GCC) in Greenfield, Massachusetts, encouraged him to see an African dance performance being presented on campus. Intrigued by what he saw, Brown signed up for a dance class and discovered his passion. He knew he wanted a professional career. His credits transferred seamlessly to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and, since completing a BFA in 2002, Brown has traveled the country dancing with luminaries like Katherine Dunham, Garth Fagan and Augusto Soledade. “The GCC faculty was so supportive and believed in me so much,” Brown says.

Community colleges offer numerous benefits for dancers who want to use a two-year program as a stepping-stone toward a BA or BFA. The open admissions policy at all community colleges allows students with lower GPAs or less -developed dance skills to catch up academically and artistically before transferring. And students and their families can save thousands of dollars in tuition fees by choosing a community college for the first two years of undergraduate study.

But in considering a community college, it’s important for dance students to know in advance that the school supports the ultimate goal of obtaining a four-year degree. To help students make a smooth transition, dance faculty at many community colleges form close relationships with nearby four-year schools. And many community college dance programs provide personal guidance for students who set their sights on a four-year degree.


Vital Connections

This fall, Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, launched a new associate of arts program in dance. But even before the AA program was approved in May 2010, students at MCCC had transferred successfully into the dance programs at Temple University, Eastern University and Muhlenberg College. “We aim to give students a solid foundation in the courses they would be expected to take in the first two years of a BA dance program,” says Melinda Copel, coordinator of dance at MCCC. In addition to a broad core curriculum, dance majors at MCCC take ballet, modern, dance improvisation and composition. Theory, dance history and anatomy are woven into technique classes, and students study nutrition, conditioning and the fundamentals of music.

The curriculum at GCC, which offers an associate’s degree in liberal arts with a dance option, is designed to transfer to all Massachusetts state schools. GCC makes the process easy with “articulation agreements,” formal agreements between institutions that allow credits from one to be applied toward a specific degree at another.

All of the dance faculty at GCC have taught at or been affiliated with the nearby four-year college dance departments, so they stay abreast of developments that would affect their students. The school also participates in the New England Regional College Dance Conference, where GCC faculty and students meet and interact with faculty and students from four-year programs across New England.


Moving On

When the time comes to move to the university level, students at community colleges often receive personalized attention. “I try to counsel them as they flesh out what their goals are: go professional, go into teaching, run a studio, work with children,” says Tess Boone, associate professor of dance at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC), which offers a dance program within the performing arts department.

 

“That helps me steer them toward a particular program.” If a student is interested in a professional career, Boone knows that the University of Utah is probably a good fit and the student should take advantage of SLCC’s technique classes. If teaching is the ultimate goal, Boone might advise the student to check out Weber State University, which offers a dance major, along with a minor in dance teaching.

Like GCC, Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) in Arnold, Maryland, has articulation agreements with all of the state schools. Staff at AACC’s Career and Transfer Resource Center help dance students determine where they’d like to continue their education and design an academic plan that gets them there. 


Small Bumps, Big Rewards

Of course, there are challenges to beginning a dance degree at a community college. Students usually live off-campus, often at home, and many work full- or part-time. Because of the time crunch, community college students may find it difficult to squeeze in a daily technique class, which means they have to take the initiative to ensure they are prepared to enter a four-year program. And dancers may experience a “big fish/small pond” syndrome upon transferring. “Some of the larger schools like Temple can be overwhelming,” MCCC’s Copel says.

However, many students achieve success after initiating their dance degrees at the community college level. Kurt Gorrell, a graduate of AACC, transferred to Butler University and has performed in the national tours of Movin’ Out and Contact. And Danell Hathaway flourished in the dance program at SLCC and earned a BFA in dance from the University of Utah, where she is now working toward her master’s degree.

“My students just thrive,” says Lynda Fitzgerald, AACC’s dance director. “The faculty is here to let students know that there’s a big world out there and they have a lot of options.” DT


Fiona Kirk is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

Check out the 2010–11 Dance Magazine College Guide for more information about community college dance programs.

Photo: Montgomery County Community College student Katie Pflueger in Chasing After the Wind, a self-choreographed solo (courtesy of Montgomery County Community College)

Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Community College

Former students of Kelley gather around a cardboard cutout made in his honor at the recent tribute. Photo courtesy of Merritt

Every dancer has a teacher who makes an impression. The kind of impression that makes you want to become a dancer or a teacher in the first place. For Mara Merritt, owner of Merritt Dance Center in Schenectady, NY, and countless others, that teacher was Charles Kelley.

Known as "Chuck" to most, Kelley was born December 4, 1936. He was a master teacher in tap, jazz and acrobatics, who wrote syllabuses for national dance conventions like Dance Masters of America. Growing up in upstate New York, Merritt's parents, both dance teachers, took her into Manhattan every Friday to study with Kelley. First at the old Ed Sullivan Theater and the New York Center of Dance in Times Square, then years later at Broadway Dance Center.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of DM archives

"It's hard not to get too hurt in this profession."

Ann Reinking got real earlier this month at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Bright Lights Shining Stars gala. She was being honored as a 2017 NYCDA Foundation Ambassador for the Arts, and her speech was so moving that we had to share the entire thing with you.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Grant Halverson, courtesy of ADF

As a soloist with William Forsythe's Ballet Frankfurt and later as his assistant, Elizabeth Corbett got to experience firsthand the groundbreaking choreographer's influence on contemporary ballet. "I find it fascinating and never-ending," she says of his work. "It was a repertory that was constantly changing over time and still is." Now on faculty with the American Dance Festival, Corbett brings Forsythe's repertory and processes to the dancers in class every summer.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
During seated stretches, I encourage my students to sit straight on their sits bones and then fold forward at the hips—even if they don't go forward very far. One student tells me that if she sits as I instruct, she can't reach forward at all. Why?
Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models

In 2011, New York City–based choreographer Pedro Ruiz returned to Cuba after 21 years of dancing with Ballet Hispanico and more than 30 years being away. The experience was so moving that he created The Windows Project as a continuous cultural collaboration between American artists and Cuban dancers.

"I was so overwhelmed seeing all the dancers do Afro-Cuban dance with live music. It was the moment my soul reconnected to Cuba and to my roots," says Ruiz of his first trip back. "I started weeping." He saw that, while Cuban companies and schools have amazing knowledge and passion for dance, they needed access to train with teachers in a variety of techniques, and choreographers outside of Cuba. "Cuba is still struggling economically, so the dancers also don't have good ballet shoes or costumes, and The Windows Project was my way to begin to help," he says.

Keep reading... Show less
How-To
Thinkstock

Midway through every semester at Indiana University Bloomington, contemporary professor Stephanie Nugent notices that her students aren't quite as awake as they were the first week of classes. They're tired from midterm exams and bring less energy to the studio. Nugent, too, feels the lull. "Teaching in academia is an arc with many peaks and valleys," she says, noting that the repetition of exercises can get monotonous. "On days when it feels like we've been doing the same thing over and over, I give students an improvisational prompt, and it reignites all of our interests. It's something to investigate, rather than something to repeat."

Most teachers experience a moment of stagnation at some point. Maybe students aren't progressing as fast as you feel they should, or you feel uninspired by the daily routine. Factors outside the studio, like administrative work, can also deplete your energy reserves. During these low and slow times, consider the following ideas to find inspiration and give yourself—and your students—a boost.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers & Role Models
Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, courtesy of BalletMet

Long before switching from ballet to Broadway became de rigueur, Edwaard Liang shocked everyone by leaving New York City Ballet to join the Broadway cast of the musical Fosse. Eleven years later, he defied expectations again by taking over as BalletMet's artistic director—without putting his robust freelance choreography career on hold. Liang, it seems, doesn't pay much heed to the conventional approach to a dance career.

In his four years with BalletMet, Liang has sought to challenge his dancers with diverse repertory that goes far beyond the typical confines of classical and contemporary ballet. This month, to celebrate BalletMet's 40th anniversary, the company teamed up with Ohio State University's dance department and the Wexner Center for the Arts to offer a smorgasbord of dance styles: from William Forsythe's singular brand of leggy-brainy dance to Ohad Naharin's exuberant Minus 16, performed alongside OSU dance students. Here, he talks to DT about the effect his choices have had on his career.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox

Win It!

Sponsored