If Your Students Think College Is Too Easy, Here's How They Can Deal

It's fairly common to get to college and find that you aren't being challenged. Photo by Carlos Funn, courtesy University of Michigan

It's not uncommon for students to arrive at college and find that it isn't as hard as they thought it would be. Maybe they aren't placed in the correct level. Maybe it's an attitude problem. Maybe teachers are reviewing basics before diving into more advanced material. And maybe the program truly isn't challenging enough.

But how can dancers making the adjustment to college sort through all these possibilities? Open communication with faculty members can be key to figuring out what's really at work.

Why It Happens

Your Program Is Going Back to Basics

The first year of college is often about going through foundational material. Here, University of Michigan students. Photo by Peter Smith, courtesy U Michigan

One reason some students might not feel challenged when they arrive at college is because many programs use the first year as an opportunity to go through foundational material. "Students wonder why they're breaking steps down all over again, not realizing that teachers are rebuilding their technique and clearing their bad habits," says Jessica Fogel, chair of University of Michigan's dance program. "Dancers feel like they're losing momentum when really they're reestablishing themselves on firmer ground."

You're Learning a New Style

Starting from scratch with a new style may feel deceptively easy. Here, Meredith College students, Courtesy Meredith Marketing

The same can be true of learning a new style: "In modern class, when we're lying on the floor doing leg swings, it can feel easy, like we're not dancing," says Carol Finley, director of Meredith College's dance department. "But that's missing the deeper point of what's happening in the hip joint, or at the points of contact with the floor."

You Aren't Getting Corrections

Not getting corrections may make you think you've mastered the material. Here, Meredith College students, Courtesy Meredith Marketing

Finley says that sometimes professors don't give as many corrections at the beginning of the semester, which could lead students to believe that they're mastering the material, when really they just aren't getting any feedback yet.

Your Program Is Actually Not Hard Enough

Melanie Holt says your peers can be an important factor if you're considering transferring. Photo by John Campbell, courtesy Holt

It may be the case that you need to transfer to a harder program, but be sure to give your school a chance before you do. Wait until you have an opportunity to perform at your school, suggests Finley. She says students often find their place in a program after experiencing the challenge and fulfillment of their first performance. Recent University of Michigan graduate Melanie Holt says that your peers can be a key factor, too: "If the people around you aren't as driven as you, it's time to look elsewhere."

What You Can Do About It

Talk to A Professor

Talk to a professor about why you're not feeling challenged. Photo via Stocksnap

This should be your first step. Your teachers can give you ideas of what you should be working on or how to make your classes harder.

Take Initiative

Melanie Holt sought out opportunities beyond the classroom to push herself. Photo by Kirk Donaldson, courtesy Holt.

"I don't think it's the job of your dance classes to give you everything you need to be a successful dancer," says Holt. She sought out additional training in the musical theater department when she wasn't feeling pushed, and got involved in extracurricular projects like photo shoots.

Tune In to Your Body

Taking somatics can help make your technique classes more rewarding. Photo via Stocksnap

Finley suggests taking somatics so that no matter the level of the technique class, you can investigate what's happening in your body and work on your alignment.

Reach Outside Your Comfort Zone

Challenge yourself by trying new things. Photo by Peter Smith, courtesy U Michigan

"Do the things that you're least comfortable with," says Fogel. "Try to develop versatility and range."

Find a Mentor

U Michigan students can talk through their experiences with their assigned mentor. Photo by Kirk Donaldson, courtesy U Michigan

At University of Michigan, every incoming student is paired with a mentor in the class above them. Talking to an older student about your experience can bring helpful perspective.

Make Sure Your Program Will Challenge You In the First Place

Attend a technique class before choosing a school. Photo by Sarah Walker

Before committing to a school, sit in or participate in a technique class, attend a show, peruse the course catalogue and research faculty and alumni. Do your homework to make sure the program will be hard enough for you.

Music
Getty Images

Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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