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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Dance Teacher Tips

Taking students to a college dance fair can help them make connections and decide where to apply.

Colorado Dance Expo participants sample a Colorado Mesa University jazz class.

The questions seem endless for dancers applying to college. On top of worries like class size, location and tuition, they must consider ideas an English major doesn’t have to. Should they choose a liberal arts or conservatory program? Can they continue to take pointe in a modern dance department? And is double-majoring allowed?

College dance fairs offer a one-stop shopping experience for high-schoolers, bringing together some of the country’s top dance departments, so students can talk to faculty members, take classes and sometimes even audition for admission or scholarships. Organizing a trip can be a great way to educate your students and help them make connections, while updating your own knowledge of dance in college.

For Adge Marziano of Crested Butte School of Dance, the Colorado Dance Expo was a chance to give her small-town students exposure to many programs at once and gain insight about their differences. She says it made the idea of applying to college less intimidating. “It showed students that you have so many options: You can do a two-year program or minor in dance,” she says. “I felt so good about taking them there.”

Planning a Trip

Victoria Fink, a teacher at the Henrico County Center for the Arts in Virginia, has been taking students to the Regional or National High School Dance Festival for five years. The conference for high schools includes a college fair and master classes with participating dance department faculty, giving students a chance to see what style of dance each school teaches. Fink will help students decide which to take depending on their expressed interests. She brings 16 to 20 juniors and seniors, based on talent and academic performance and their interest in pursuing dance in college.

The festival may be in Norfolk, VA, about a two-hour drive from Henrico, or Miami or Philadelphia, which require airfare and a hotel. Parents don’t usually attend Fink’s trip, but the director and an additional teacher from Center for the Arts help chaperone. She sends several letters home to parents over the course of the year, detailing logistics and expectations of the trip. Festival costs, lodging, transportation and breakfast are added together into one fee that parents can pay in one or two installments.

Ask the Right Questions

It’s important to encourage students to look into participating college programs before the trip, so that they will be informed enough to ask detailed questions about each school. (Dance Magazine’s yearly College Guide and DanceU101.com are great resources.) “Students should be curious and not afraid to ask any question they want,” says University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ dance chair Brenda Daniels, who represents the program at the College Dance Fair in Boca Raton, Florida. “College is such a big investment, so it is very important to find the right fit.” It is also a good time for teachers to get an update on what’s happening in college dance and bring home any pamphlets or information for students, parents and teachers who weren’t able to attend themselves.

On site, Fink divides students so some dance while the others travel around the tables. This way, she has the time to guide them during their one-on-one Q&A. Walking up to representatives can be nerve-racking, so Fink may jumpstart conversations by asking a few questions before letting the student lead.

Taking dancers to a fair doesn’t just help provide them with the information they need to apply. It’s a chance for students to make a lasting impression on the programs’ faculty members. Recruiters often make admissions recommendations to their departments about students they meet. “I do track promising students if I see them in a dance class at the fair,” says Daniels. “And I will follow up with them by e-mail to see if they are planning on applying.” DT

2013–14 College Fairs

There are many fairs around the country for students interested in visual and performance arts, but the following specialize in dance.

College Dance Fair

collegedancefair.com

August 30–September 1, 2013

Boca Ballet Theatre

Boca Raton, FL

Colorado Dance Expo

coloradodanceexpo.com

October 5, 2013

Denver School of the Arts

Denver, CO

Greater Cincinnati Dance Alliance Dance College Fair

greatercincinnatidancealliance.org

October 6, 2013

The School for Creative & Performing Arts, Erich Kunzel Center for Arts and Education

Cincinnati, OH

Dancewave’s Dancing Through College and Beyond

dancewave.org/kidscafe-college-and-beyond.php

October 20, 2013

Marymount Manhattan College

New York, NY

National High School Dance Festival

nhsdf.org

April 3–6, 2014

New World School of the Arts

Miami, FL

Lea Marshall is interim chair of the Department of Dance and Choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University, and co-founder of Ground Zero Dance.

Photo by Nathan Rigaud, courtesy of Colorado Dance Expo

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