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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To Share With Students
Photo by Stephanie English, courtesy of Copeland

Paying for college, no matter what degree you graduate with, is a challenge for many students and their families. But majoring in dance has its own set of complications, because many are reluctant to go into serious debt without the security of knowing they'll be able to pay that debt off quickly post-college. That doesn't mean a dance degree is out of the question, of course—as the three dancers featured here demonstrate.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Students in Pulinkala's Cocoon. Photo by Robert Pack, courtesy of Kennesaw State

When Ivan Pulinkala was preparing for his interview at Kennesaw State University to create the school's first dance program, he figured the whole thing would be a lark, at best. After all, the New Delhi–born choreographer had just gotten his green card, which meant he could teach anywhere, and Kennesaw, Georgia (a half-hour outside of Atlanta), wasn't his first choice as a location. But after doing a scan of collegiate dance in Georgia, he began to change his mind. "I thought, 'Wow, if someone starts a big dance program at a public institution, the market's wide open,'" says Pulinkala. "There were some good programs, like Emory University, but they were niche—private and expensive."

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Dance Teachers Trending
FSU maintains a cutting-edge conditioning studio. Photo by Meagan Helman, courtesy of FSU

When Florida State University professor Tom Welsh arrived in Tallahassee in 1991, dance science was uncharted territory. "Mostly, it was technique teachers who were looking for ways to keep their dancers dancing," he says. "It was just a field people imagined could happen." He immediately set to work building the university's dance science program from the ground up. Over the course of his 26 years at FSU, Welsh has created a successful dance science model, based on four elements: collaboration with physical therapists, a state-of-the-art conditioning studio, injury prevention and management initiatives and devoting time to research.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Jasperse observes a rehearsal at Baryshnikov Arts Center. Photo by Janelle Jones, courtesy of Sarah Lawrence College

John Jasperse has been a prominent player in many corners of the dance world for nearly 30 years. As a performer, he danced with Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Rosas. As a choreographer, he has presented his work at major venues across the globe with his company John Jasperse Projects. As an innovator, he co-founded Center for Performance Research, a rehearsal and performance space in Brooklyn. This fall, he adds one more role to his resumé: director of the dance program at his alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, New York.

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Dance News

The 2015 dance majors gather onstage for a curtain call after their senior concert.

On Monday, October 19, the Mills College Dance Department in Oakland, CA received the unexpected news that administration plans to phase out the undergraduate dance major. As part of a plan for numerous revisions to existing programs, the dance major and a few other programs would be eliminated, while a handful of new degree programs would be introduced. The undergraduate minor and graduate dance program will be retained.

The news comes as a shock to the dance community. As the oldest continuously running dance program in the United States, Mills has graduated some legendary, award-winning choreographers, including Trisha Brown ('58) and Molissa Fenley ('75). (Editor's note: the writer is an alum, MFA '14.)

Despite all dance classes being full, the data is largely based on the number of declared majors, says dance department head Sheldon Smith. (There are currently nine dance majors.) “It’s all data-driven. It’s based on a consultant’s report that the dance department and a few other departments don’t contribute as much financially to the college as everyone else,” he says.

But to look solely at numbers misrepresents the value of the program. “These proposed cuts have absolutely nothing to do with the quality of what we do," Smith says. "We’re doing better work than we’ve ever done before. Our students are extraordinary, and we’re going even deeper into shaping ourselves to reflect what a world-class 21st-century dance and theater department can look like. We’re thinking deeply about what prospective students really want.”

Undergraduate dance students perform in the 2015 senior concert.

There is also a concern that without the undergrad major, enrollment in the graduate program would suffer. Heather Stockton, an alumna who earned her BA from Mills in 2013 and stayed to earn her master's in 2015, shared her experience. “I chose to stay because I felt like I wasn’t finished yet," she says. "There were so many resources available to me, and it was a safe space for women to express themselves. The faculty pushed the undergrads to be at the same level as the grad students, so I was working just as hard as an undergrad as I did as a grad student. I felt respected and challenged. At Mills, every voice was valuable.”

By December, a final decision will be made. Smith is concerned the proposed action would not only hurt dance at Mills but affect the school's overall reputation as a liberal arts college. He and the other faculty are currently in conversation with the provost to develop creative alternatives. And last week, students created a petition titled “Save Mills Dance Major” on change.org. As of today, there are more than 3,100 signatures.

To sign the petition, click here.

Photos by Shinichi Iova-Koga; video by Shinichi Iova-Koga and Heather Stockton

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