Dance Teachers Trending

Since she was hired in 2006 to create a dance program at Washington & Lee University in Virginia, Jenefer Davies has operated as, essentially, a one-woman show. She's the only full-time faculty member (with regular adjunct support). Over the last 13 years, she has created a thriving program along with a performance company—at a school with fewer than 2,500 students—by drawing on her admittedly rare strength: aerial dance.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brennan Booker

While leading a rehearsal of Balanchine's Serenade, Stacey Calvert can't help but join in, marking at the front of the studio with a grin on her face. It's a Friday morning at the University of South Carolina—where Calvert taught and staged works for 17 years—and the dancers are preparing for the annual spring performance, Ballet Stars of New York, during which the students are joined by several New York City Ballet dancers who perform soloist and principal roles each year. Calvert had helped organize the event since 2005, bringing to Columbia, South Carolina, such dancers as Lauren Lovette, Jared Angle and Sara Mearns, who grew up in the area and trained at Calvert's mom's studio. As a George Balanchine Trust répétiteur, Calvert clearly is a master at the choreography, and as a former NYCB soloist herself—she retired in 2000 after a 17-year career—the steps are firmly embedded in her muscle memory.

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Dancer Health
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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.

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To Share With Students
Dušan Tynek Dance Theatre performs ANNA as artist in residence at John Jay College. Photo by Ian Douglas, courtesy of CDI

Space to rehearse and perform. Guest teaching gigs. Relationship building. Deepened college curriculum. Financial support. These are valuable gifts to artists and college departments alike. The CUNY Dance Initiative (CDI), now heading into its sixth year, successfully embraces and supports both artists and students, dance companies and theater/arts departments. They have become a model example of public/private partnerships.

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Dance Teachers Trending
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When I went back to school last fall to earn my MFA, I was surprised by how much dance in higher education had changed since my undergraduate experience 10 years before—and how much it hadn't. Diasporic dance forms, such as African and hip hop, for example, are now much more integral to curriculums, but ballet and modern still take precedence. Students are now more interested in somatic practices, yet teachers have moved away from cuing or correcting students by touch.

Traditional curriculum that emphasizes Western European dance and separates the path of teaching from that of performance may be deeply ingrained in academia, yet there are many signs of progress to note throughout the field. Here, faculty members of three colleges explain how they are evolving their offerings to better meet the needs of today's dancers.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Kendra Portier. Photo by Scott Shaw, courtesy of Gibney Dance

As an artist in residence at the University of Maryland in College Park, Kendra Portier is in a unique position. After almost a decade of performing with David Dorfman Dance and three years earning her MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she's using her two-year gig at UMD (through spring 2020) to "see how teaching in academia really feels," she says. It's also given her the rare opportunity to feel grounded. "I'm going to be here for two years," she says, which offers her the chance to figure out the answers to some hard questions. "What does it mean to not dance for somebody else?" she asks. "What does it mean to take my work more seriously? To realize I really like making work, and figuring out how that can happen in an academic place."

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

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To Share With Students

It's National Higher Education Day, and we are here to celebrate! From dance programs so famous that even your dog knows about them, to the hidden gems in the middle of the country that prepare students to go on to larger-than-life careers, we are grateful for schools that support the arts.

To celebrate the day, we created a list of dance programs you should know about, with their Instagram handles, so you can stay up-to-date on their day-to-day classes/performances. You're welcome!

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