A Model for State-Funded Arts Education

In South Carolina, the Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities thrives.

South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities dance students in concert

One might not expect to find a residential arts high school in South Carolina that’s backed 100 percent by the state government. While many states have been eliminating their governor’s school programs due to budget cuts, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities is celebrating its 13th anniversary as a year-round program.

Since the school opened its doors in Greenville in 1999, the dance department has become known for exceptional classical training. Former students include New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns and American Ballet Theatre corps members Joseph Phillips and Gray Davis. Other former students have gone on to join Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet and Miami City Ballet.

The school stands out not only because of the quality of the training, but also because the state of South Carolina makes this training available to students of all backgrounds. “Because we’re state-funded, we can take talented people who could not afford serious dance training otherwise,” says dance department chair and artistic director Stanislav Issaev. “Everyone here is on full scholarship. If people really want to dance, we can train them.”

Building a School

The umbrella term “governor’s school” refers to any residential program for gifted high-schoolers funded by the state. As of 2012, governors’ schools for the arts exist in New York, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, California, West Virginia, Delaware, Missouri, North Dakota, Vermont and South Carolina; many other states offer similar programs for academic enrichment, though the focus, intensity and duration vary. But with the economic downturn, many are losing funding—arts and academic alike. Currently, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities is the only residential year-round governor’s school specializing in the arts.

Established in 1980, SCGSAH was originally a summer intensive housed at Furman University. In the mid-’90s, then-director Dr. Virginia Uldrick, a musician, teacher and arts activist, felt that her state could offer more to its student artists. She approached state lawmakers to discuss the expansion of the program into a residential high school.

“The state’s eventual answer was, ‘We’ll give you funding if you can raise half of the initial investment on your own,’” says Julie Allen, interim dean of SCGSAH. “So, the school was originally built as a public/private collaboration.” After Greenville was chosen to house the school, the county and city jointly donated 8.5 acres for the new campus. And in 1999, after years of research, meetings and unprecedented fundraising efforts on Uldrick’s part, a school was born.

Today, the dance program at SCGSAH is open to 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders, while students in the other disciplines—drama, creative writing, visual arts and music—can attend in 11th or 12th grades. The school’s maximum enrollment is 242 students, approximately 35 of whom are dancers, and all students live on campus. Although the school continues to raise money from private entities to provide scholarship support for food fees and summer programs, the yearly operating budget comes entirely from the South Carolina state legislature.

Crafting a Conservatory

Uldrick’s vision was to hire teachers who were masters in their fields. To lead the dance program, she selected Issaev, a Russian native who started his performing career with the Moscow State Ballet Theatre and moved to the United States to join Atlanta Ballet as a principal dancer in 1990. Issaev was on faculty at the University of South Carolina when Uldrick approached him about heading up the new program—an opportunity he jumped at.

To help build the program, Issaev turned to Robert Barnett, former director of Atlanta Ballet, for advice and mentorship. The program was modeled on Robert Lindgren’s University of North Carolina School of the Arts dance department. The ballet curriculum is Vaganova-based, though Issaev says that it’s “updated Vaganova—very modern, and faster than a traditional Russian ballet class.” Students are also exposed to George Balanchine’s style and works through guest teachers and choreographers like Barnett, who performed with New York City Ballet.

Students have academic classes in the morning and arts classes after lunch. During the week, it’s all about ballet: technique, pointe, pas de deux, men’s class, character class and rehearsals. Saturdays are devoted to modern—Horton technique and Cunningham—with classes and repertory 10:30–5. Dancers are divided into intermediate and advanced levels by ability, not grade.

Encouraging Excellence

SCGSAH’s residential high school is open to any high school student (through a rigorous audition and application process) who is a resident of South Carolina. Some students are invited to attend the high school after attending a five-week summer dance intensive, which is open to dancers from 7th to 12th grades and features the same curriculum, taught by the same faculty, as the year-round school, with the addition of guest artists.

“We’re looking for natural ability and talent—coordination, musicality, flexibility,” Issaev says. “Prior training is important, but so is effort and desire. If someone really wants to come to our school, you can see it.”

By nurturing dance talent while promoting academic study, SCGSAH aims to create well-rounded graduates who have an array of opportunities awaiting them. Says Allen, “We want them to be prepared for whatever the next step is: a dance company, a conservatory, a major university or a liberal arts college.”

Allen sees the school’s success as a credit not only to the faculty and administration, but also to the state. “South Carolina may not be known for the arts, or frankly for innovative education, but our legislators have chosen to give us the resources to do this,” she says. “Students who go on to be successful talk about their time here as being formative. That has to do with the arts, yes, but also about finding their place and voice in a community that allowed them to grow.” DT 

Kathryn Holmes is a writer and dancer based in Brooklyn, NY.

Photo: Students from the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities in performance, by Matthew Leckenbusch, courtesy of SCGSAH

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: Two years ago, one of my dancers fractured her ankle and was out for six months. Upon her return, I cautiously allowed her to take pointe class, but treated her as if she was a beginner, because she was rolling out into supination, and I was fearful she would reinjure her ankle. Her mother feels I have held her back and changed to another studio. Did I make the right choice?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox