In Defense of the Dance Major

Florida State University students studying abroad as part of the dance department's partnership with the Académie Américaine de Danse de Paris.

If you chose to pursue a degree in dance, chances are you’ve heard some version of “But what will you do with a degree like that?” In fact, you’ve probably heard every version of that question, ranging from innocent inquisitiveness (“But why do you need a degree in dance?”) to the downright ridiculous and borderline offensive (“Seems like a waste of time and money to me”).

Two days ago, dancer and educator Shannon Dooling tackled this very topic on her blog—and the post is beginning to go viral among dancers. Dooling teaches dance in Maryland and the Washington, DC, area, and she also co-directs her own dance company, New Street Dance Group. After coming across two reports by NPR’s "Planet Money" team (“What’s Your Major” and “Why Women [Like Me] Choose Lower-Paying Jobs”), Dooling had a few thoughts about why people like dancers choose majors and ultimately professions despite possible financial insecurity.

Dooling also creates a list of reasons why you should major in dance. And she’s got some good ones! Work ethic, learning to deal with frustration and developing 21st-century skills all make the cut.

Each month, DT publishes the Higher Ed column, which dissects different college dance programs and aspects of dance degrees and why they might be good options for your dance students.

What’s on your list? Why do you think getting a dance degree is worthwhile?

Photo by Audrey Murray, courtesy of Florida State University

Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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