Three dance PhD graduates on why they went back to school and how it enhanced their careers

Valerie Alpert (left) completed her degree online while working full-time.

It wasn’t until she was in the middle of her PhD studies at University of California–Riverside that Michelle Heffner Hayes truly understood the amount of work she had taken on. “I was reading 300–400 pages per seminar each week while dancing,” she says. “I remember discovering rest rooms—literally small rooms on campus that had couches so students could nap without leaving.”

Pursuing a PhD in dance is not for the faint of heart. Candidates can take from 5 to 10 years to complete their work. Generally, the first two are dedicated to required courses, which focus on dance research and elective work in other departments. Students tend to use their third year for oral and written exams, and the final years for research and writing a dissertation. While some candidates are offered fellowships or stipends, most pay for school themselves.

Yet in light of the economy and competitive job market, more working professionals are heading back to school. They may be looking to delve into dance research, advance their resumé or re-experience the energy of academia. The hard work that goes into a doctorate can pay off in more ways than one.

Michelle Heffner Hayes

University of California–Riverside

PhD in dance history and theory, 1998

Dissertation: flamenco history, theory and pedagogy

After earning her BA from the University of Kansas, Michelle Heffner Hayes went straight to the University of California–Riverside’s PhD program (now Critical Dance Studies). She finished the degree in seven years due to a two-season detour to work as the artistic director of the Colorado Dance Festival. When she wasn’t offered a teaching job immediately upon graduation, Hayes became the executive director of cultural affairs at Miami Dade College, where she curated several performance series, led community engagement, fundraised and wrote grants. “When we had a performance series focusing on Latin America,” she says, “I brought my knowledge in Latin dance forms and used the research methods I learned in school to reach out to under-discovered companies.”

When Hayes was up for a university teaching position, the school was surprised by her ability to lead both dance technique and research courses, such as modern dance and dance history. Today, as chair of University of Kansas’ dance department, she values those same diverse skills in new hires. “As the quality of dance education increases, I see more programs training dancers as scholars,” she says. “Somewhere, that mind and body split has been bridged.”

Miriam Giguere

Temple University

PhD in dance, 2007

Dissertation: cognition during dance

“Dancers’ lives are full of transition,” says Miriam Giguere, who went back to school to make a career shift. “Mine was from dancer/teacher to teacher/researcher.” Giguere had been running Drexel University’s student dance company and developing curriculum for the school’s BS program. It was then she realized she wanted to truly dedicate herself to teaching at the university level.

Giguere was able to attend Temple while working full-time because it was just 15 minutes away from Drexel. She was granted permission to change her teaching schedule in hopes that she would remain on faculty at Drexel.

Today, Giguere is on a tenure track, continuing her own research while evaluating that of her colleagues. She has been published in the Arts Education Policy Review and the Journal of Dance Education. She is also a regular conference presenter for the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), specializing in cognitive dance engagement and dance advocacy in public schools. She says one of the greatest values of her PhD is the knowledge she gained not just from her professors, but also from the two peers in her graduating class. “The students were very qualified and had already accomplished some sort of dance or teaching career,” she says. “They were the people pushing me forward, and I still converse with them today.”

Valerie Alpert

Texas Woman’s University

PhD in dance, 2011

Dissertation: digital technologies in dance education

For Valerie Alpert, continuing her education was about re-energizing her outlook on dance. The issue was doing it without sacrificing her current jobs as a dance professor at College of Lake County in Illinois and artistic director of Valerie Alpert Dance Company. Cue Texas Woman’s University: a low-residency program, which she completed online. During the five years it took to finish the program, she only had to physically be in Texas for short periods­—the longest an eight-week residency during the first three summers. She says she spent, on average, 25 hours a week on her studies.

Alpert doesn’t recommend the off-campus track for everyone. “There were people who moved to school because they couldn’t organize themselves,” she says. “You have to evaluate your capabilities before you dive in.” Alpert still holds the position she had before her doctoral work. She says her dissertation helped her grasp how integrating technology can enhance her school’s dance curriculum.

For Alpert, furthering her studies wasn’t necessarily about job advancement; it was about continuing her love of academia and reconnecting to her passion for education. “Dance can be very isolating. Your perspective can narrow, and suddenly you forget why you’re teaching and what your principles are,” she says. “A degree can’t guarantee you a new job or position. In the end, you have to do this for yourself.” DT

 

Photo courtesy of Valerie Alpert

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
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
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

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

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

It's the middle of the semester and two dancers are sitting out of class, you're worried about one student's mental health and another has developed an eating disorder. Sound familiar? College can be a tumultuous time. To help address the additional demands of being a dance major, some schools have found strategies for enhancing wellness and integrating health services into their departments.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox