News: Growing Artists


After more than six hours of master classes and workshops, hundreds of college students file into the theater for an evening concert. Though clearly tired, when intermission rolls around, one student grabs a boom box and leads the crowd to the lobby for an impromptu dance party. This is typical for an American College Dance Festival conference, this passion held by college dancers. Inspired by this enthusiasm, the organization has supported and encouraged college and university dance programs for nearly 40 years.


American College Dance Festival Association Executive Director Diane DeFries, who first experienced the festival in the mid-’90s with her SUNY Potsdam students, has noticed real growth over the years, especially in the adjudication process. “There has been a great effort and success at gearing the feedback toward constructive criticism,” she says, “and there’s been very thoughtful choosing of adjudicators who are able to give feedback that’s educational.”


Peter DiMuro, director of Dance/MetroDC, adjudicated at the University of Arizona conference this past March. He agrees with DeFries. “In the earlier years, I remember the stories of adjudicators getting very passionate and critical with the students. I think that’s toned down as we’ve learned how to critique work,” he says. “There’s a real artistry to giving response. It allows the choreographer to understand that this is how an audience is going to see the work.’”


The ACDFA holds 10 regional conferences and a biennial national festival May 27–29 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Regional events began in early February at Boston University, and the final one, at Northwestern State University in Louisiana, takes place this month.


On each day of the four-day conference, student groups perform and adjudicators give feedback. They select about 10 dances for a gala concert on the conference’s final day. After the show, a panel of three adjudicators chooses two or three schools to move on to the national event.


During their 12 minutes onstage, students have few limits: They can use live or recorded music, student or teacher choreography, multimedia effects or sparse lighting. While most schools choose contemporary modern choreography, styles range from ballet to hip hop to world dance. “Performances at the festival really reflect what’s going on at universities,” says DeFries. And more and more schools are signing up to be represented. When the ACDFA was established in 1973, there were 13 member institutions. It now has over 300 colleges and universities.


While regional conferences are all about the learning and adjudication process, the national festival focuses on performance. About 30 schools present their work at three performance galas. There are only two prizes given out; ACDFA/Dance Magazine Awards go to one student for Outstanding Student Choreography and one for Outstanding Student Performer.


“As an organization, we really stress coming together and sharing,” DeFries says. “Many college programs are isolated, but coming here really broadens perspectives. It’s an incredible artistic exchange.” DT


Photo of Washington University in St. Louis students performing Cecil Slaughter's Grid, by David Marchanet, courtesy of Washington University in St. Louis.


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, 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.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.