Ohio University Develops the Country’s First MA in Community Dance

An undergrad student at Ohio University's School of Dance. Photo by Riley Perone, courtesy of Ohio University

If you're spending some of your time pondering life post-quarantine, you may have entertained the possibility of returning to school. The landscape of graduate studies in dance is pretty diverse, from MFA to MA programs and concentrations like dance education, performance studies and arts administration. Now, there's another option: studying the budding field of community dance.

Ohio University's School of Dance is taking on the challenge and has developed an MA in community dance—the first of its kind in the United States. Dance Magazine spoke with associate professor Tresa Randall, between remote classes, to learn more about the program and the pathways it will prepare dancers for.

What Exactly Is "Community Dance"?

Community dance is a broad area of study. "We see it as any form of dance that engages professionals and non-professionals working together," says Randall. "It can have pedagogical contexts. It can also be art-making with community participants. It can mean outreach with artists working in community and with community."

In the UK, the formal study of community dance is more established, with Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance, for instance, offering a postgraduate diploma. OU looked to practitioners and scholars in the UK as it shaped its program.

Why Now

"Over the years we've seen so many of our undergrads go into community dance," says Randall, "and we wanted to give our students more background to prepare them for those career paths."

Additionally, the School of Dance wanted to fully tap into the resources and research opportunities focused specifically on community engagement that already exist at the university—like its Ohio Valley Center for Collaborative Arts, which facilitates partnerships between the school and local organizations. Elements of the community dance field also intersect naturally with an arts administration master's program that launches this fall at OU.

Curriculum and Career Paths

The community dance program will be grounded in choreographic practice, and will incorporate theory and research. Required courses include Community Dance Theory and Practice, Contemporary Issues and Methods in Dance Pedagogy, and Seminar in Dance Studies Research. Randall says, "We wanted to balance out practical studio coursework, that would prepare our graduates to work with participants of different ages and abilities, with theoretical and research components, so that grads can really articulate the value of this work and help to build support for it in academic circles."

Students can specialize in specific populations, such as seniors or children in schools. The program aims to prepare grads for a range of career options, such as teaching artist, outreach coordinator, accessibility coordinator for a dance company or school, or work in the health-care sector or with seniors through social service organizations. "Our approach to community dance is the idea that dance can be adaptable, inclusive and socially relevant," Randall says.

How to Apply

Applications for the inaugural class of the MA in community dance, starting this fall, are open through May 1. The program takes three semesters to complete, with the option, in particular cases, to do the first two semesters on-campus in Athens, Ohio, and the last semester remotely.

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