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

Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine

When choosing music for tap, Jason Samuels Smith encourages teachers to start with classic jazz music. Improvisation, call and response, and syncopated rhythms embedded in the genre and its history, in general, help students to understand the structure of tap, which is different than other styles of dance. "Tap dancers have the responsibility to be more than just a visual artist," he says. "They're an instrument and a sound."

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo Courtesy of Ballet Next

In 2011, when former American Ballet Theatre principal Michele Wiles departed the company and formed BalletNext, she found an artistic freedom she'd been longing for. Along with new collaborations with choreographers and musicians, she began working with trumpeter Tom Harrell, who introduced her to the multilayered sounds of jazz. "The dancers are another instrument to a jazz musician," says Wiles. Pairing this music genre with her classical foundation has been pivotal in defining her style. "I have this classical facility, but my mind is more contemporary. Jazz is a good intersection for my work," she says.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Rachel Papo

Martin Harvey brought a little movie star charm into morning ballet class at our New York Dance Teacher Summit. (His acting credits include Gossip Girls, All My Children, Dirty Dancing, A Chorus Line, Carousel, plus Metropolitan Opera productions of Carmen and Manon Lescaut.) Educated at the Royal Ballet School in London, he danced many principal roles for The Royal Ballet during his 12-year career.

Mark Your Calendar

Join us in Long Beach, CA, July 26–28, or in NYC, August 1–3, for our 2019 Dance Teacher Summit.

Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What suggestions do you have for dancers to get their shoulder blades to lie flat on their backs?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo by Sarah Ash, courtesy of Larkin Dance

Ask Michele Larkin-Wagner and Molly Larkin-Symanietz what sets them and Maplewood, Minnesota–based Larkin Dance Studio apart, and they immediately give the credit to their mom. Shirley Larkin founded the school in 1950 and continued to oversee the growing business until she passed away in 2011. "She put Minnesota on the map for dance training and made other local studios step up to the plate to become as strong as we are," Michele says. "A lot of people's lives are better because of Shirley Larkin."

For Michele and Molly, following in their mom's footsteps was a no-brainer. "I knew I was going to be a choreographer and take over the studio," Michele says. To Molly, seven years Michele's junior and the baby out of six siblings, the studio was always a second home. The two sisters trained across genres but had distinct specialties: Michele found her niche in jazz, musical theater and lyrical, while Molly excelled in tap. In the summers, they'd travel for workshops in Chicago, New York City and Los Angeles. While Michele was in class with jazz legends like Gus Giordano, JoJo Smith, Luigi and Frank Hatchett, Molly was taking tap classes with the likes of Brenda Bufalino and Phil Black.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Gandarillas

In Macarena Gandarillas' jazz class at California State University, Fullerton, a sign in the studio reads, "Never underestimate the power of determination." This simple mantra embodies what has made this self-described "danceaholic" such an impactful teacher.

When Gandarillas came to Los Angeles at age 6 with her family from Santiago, Chile, the language barrier was beyond overwhelming—until her mom enrolled her in ballet classes. Gandarillas found an instant love. "There were no Spanish-speaking kids at my school," she says. "But with dance I could communicate with my body. I'd finally found my voice."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Q: Is teaching for an after-school program a good way to find a job in K–12?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Summit
Photo courtesy of Inspire School of Arts and Sciences

It was the morning of November 8, 2018, and Jarrah Myles' first-period choreography students were in last-minute rehearsals for their fall dance concert that evening. "All of a sudden my students' phones started ringing like crazy," says Myles, a teacher at Inspire School of Arts and Sciences, a Chico, California, high school whose dance and theater programs Myles helped establish in 2010. "And once they answered, I saw these tragic faces staring back at me."

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox