Dance_Scholar_London

Articles: Dance at the Ivies

28 posts in this topic

This is extremely interesting, Dance Scholar. Thanks for the link.

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I can see why dance (and I do mean dance, not history of dance, etc.) might struggle to find its place alongside other liberal arts majors such as history, economics or literature.

 

It does seem strange though if a college or university accepts music performance as an acceptable academic discipline, but not dance.

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... and no tenure-track positions!

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If the 'ivies' despise dance as much as it appears from the article, why do they have it? Either treat dance as the art form it is, equal to music, visual art, and theatre, or don't bother with it. Half-hearted programs that treat dance as either a mindless athletic pursuit or a theoretical concept useless outside the classroom are self-fulfilling prophecies. The 'gym class dancers' won't succeed in the professional dance world because they don't have good training, and the dance theorists who lack practical skills won't find jobs outside universities.

 

What these schools need to do, it seems to me, is decide what sort of artists they want to produce--professional dancers, choreographers, teachers, arts administrators, dance writers/critics--and build a program to do it. This is no different from producing an actor, musician, or visual artist, and universities don't seem to have any problems doing that. And yes, their students should study dance theory, regardless of what former performing artists think. It is an important but neglected subject, and it can only enrich the dance world. An excellent start would be to have dance departments work with established theatre and music departments to get a sense of what they need to improve. The contributions an ivy-league dance department, taken seriously, could make would be invaluable to the art form.

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I also think they need to hold the calibre of dancing to that represented by well respected pre-pro schools.

 

Obviously if the thought is that anyone can major in dance, with their first dance step as a college freshman, they are off on the wrong track.

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Yes, majors such as dance performance, choreography, and pedagogy would have to be audition-only, just as they are in other professional-quality university arts programs.

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Okay, I'll bite: why is it so important for the Ivies to have dance majors? Why is it depressing that they don't?

 

Different institutions have different outlooks, atmospheres, missions, and programs of study. There are plenty of colleges and universities that do have good dance majors, just as there are many (besides the Ivies) that do not. There is a huge range of possible majors out there that an Ivy would be terrible for.

 

The Ivies are cerebral places; they celebrate, first and foremost, the life of the mind. I could be wrong, but I believe that few, if any, performance majors are offered at any of the Ivies (and I do mean the actual Ivies: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Cornell, Penn, Dartmouth, and Columbia). I would think that ballet would be especially problematic for these institutions because, as bright as many dancers are, thinking per se is not entirely valued in ballet. Dancers are told what to do and how to do it by choreographers, repetiteurs, coaches, and artistic directors. For institutions whose mission is to produce independent thinkers, an art form that encourages complete silence and discourages questioning of any kind does not fit the mold.

 

Why do many of them have music departments and not dance departments? One conjecture is that music leaves a long written trail for scholars to pursue. Dance, not so much.

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I would think that ballet would be especially problematic for these institutions because, as bright as many dancers are, thinking per se is not entirely valued in ballet. Dancers are told what to do and how to do it by choreographers, repetiteurs, coaches, and artistic directors. For institutions whose mission is to produce independent thinkers, an art form that encourages complete silence and discourages questioning of any kind does not fit the mold.

Depending on the company, principal dancers and perhaps soloists may have quite a bit of freedom when it comes to interpretation of a role, but it is definitely not always the case. That is exactly where a university program can be helpful. A better-educated choreographer, ballet master, or artistic director working with better-educated, well-trained dancers could produce something with a lot of artistic value and could reverse the declining artistic standards we've seen lately. To my knowledge, there are not very many vocational ballet schools that do anything other than train their dancers' bodies, although some of them do include classes in acting, music, and ballet history. Universities are often better funded than private ballet schools, and their students have more time to spend on dance-related academic studies. A dancer privately trained from elementary through high school to an advanced level, then continuing that training at a professional-quality level at a university complete with performing experience and dance theory, history, etc., would be a formidable artist.

 

Ballet companies do seem to still be distrustful of dancers from university programs, and I understand why, but I continue to (perhaps naively) hold out hope that as university programs improve, companies will see the value in having dancers who are not just good performers/technicians but also well educated.

 

Edit to add:

What I'd really love to see (and I know I'm dreaming here) is high-quality ballet instruction 5 days/week with an accompanying lecture component that might include such things as how to spell ballet terms, what they mean, etc., as well as delving into more of the hows and whys of technique, since it is hard to explain things in as much depth as one might like during a 90-minute ballet class. Perhaps the dance department would work with the theatre department to learn about stage production, acting technique, dramaturgy, etc., and the music department to gain an understanding of music theory. They could even work with visual artists and learn about set and costume design, choreography and performance majors could produce the ballet sections of operas performed by the music dept....there are just so many ways it could be beneficial.

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I'm currently going through the college application process, and I am in fact looking at several Ivy League schools; and actually, they DO have performance majors. You can major in drama at Harvard, Columbia, and of course Yale (these are the three I know the most about) and I believe they all have strong music programs. Columbia even has an opportunity for a joint degree with Juilliard—but only in music, not in dance or drama. You can major in dance at Columbia as well, BUT they share their dance department with Barnard.

 

Dance does seem to be the thing that's left in the dust a bit at the most prestigious universities; even at Northwestern, with their fabulous arts program, it gets a bit of a short shrift. The whole makes me blue because I don't want to sacrifice my academic education in service of my artistic pursuits; I also have a feeling that although I do enjoy theater and dance and music more than writing papers, someday I'll be grateful for the depth and breadth of knowledge afforded me by top-notch academics.

 

I think one of the big problems is that to create a top-of-the-line dance major at one of these universities, it would have to be audition-only, and the Ivies are obligated to keep the most important part of the admissions process a student's academics (hence no athletic scholarships etc).

 

My head is swirling with this stuff right now; this article, sadly, echoes the concerns I've been having about these schools.

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This year Harvard has started a joint Theater/Dance minor which includes, at lease this semester, a choreography workshop and a Broadway dance class. And I believe that Columbia/Barnard and Princeton both offer some good Dance courses as part of their curriculum.

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I do see your point, Hans ... and I suspect it leads to one of those chicken-and-egg scenarios. No point producing these majors if companies won't hire them, and no likelihood of developing a "thinking dancer's company" if no universities aren't producing them. But I agree, the artistic possibilities are lovely to contemplate.

 

Liz, thanks for correcting my misunderstanding about performance majors, especially drama. I did a quick canvass of some of the music programs; Harvard's, at least, looks more geared toward theory and history than performance.

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Okay, I'll bite: why is it so important for the Ivies to have dance majors? Why is it depressing that they don't?

 

Teefrog, I find this article depressing from my perspective as a researcher and higher education lecturer. Getting a tenure-track position is the ultimate goal in academe; however, although lecturer positions exists at the Ivies, tenure-track appears to be non-existent.

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Found the article interesting. I think it's ironic that they had a quote from a professor at UCLA's World Arts and Cultures department. For about 10 years(?), UCLA has not had a true dance department (similar to a conservatory department). They combined their well-known dance dept (which hired notable dancers/teachers such as Rebecca Wright) with ethnic studies to form the World Arts and Cultures dept. Students were offered 3 concentration options - dance, cultural and integrated (which basically dictated how many units of dance classes or theoretical courses you took).

 

Many dancers who entered the program at the same time I did were disappointed once they got there to find out that the program was not a conservatory program. Curriculum seemed focused more on cultural aspects of dance/movement and even with dance, ballet was largely ignored. Sure, there was ballet classes (twice a week for 1.3 hrs each), but most of the students in the class were non-majors. Discussions about dance were generally focused on dance from various cultures (such as Native American culture, Afro-Cuban dance, etc).

 

Not that there is any wrong with studying that, but many incoming freshmen expected something different. And it was possible for a non-dancer to major in WAC with a dance concentration (you only had to take a specific number of units) - though no one really expected to be hired as a professional dancer out of the WAC program.

 

Thankfully, I read that UCLA is working to split the dance portion of WAC out into their own department and perhaps will climb back up to where it once was. Though not quite the level of say Julliard or Indiana Univ, I think it would be great.

 

(Went off on a bit of a vent there!)

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Counseling kids on getting into colleges, and working on applications for my own kids, I have found two things.

 

First off, the Ivies, like any good private college or university, continue to increase in their awareness of the value of dance training. The schools really believe (if the information is packaged well), that students who have trained in dance for years are dedicated, disciplined, self-starters, confident, etc. I think that the tone of "the Ivies don't respect dance" is actually incorrect. We have not found that to be so.

 

I have also found that the Ivies, like many good private schools, also permit a student to design or modify a current major or minor in a way that suits them - again, if this is packaged well and supported by a teacher. I think that in order to actually GET a good dance education at many institutions, definitely including the Ivies, you would need to supplement their dance offerings with outside classes, but that's true even at some schools that currently do offer dance majors. The Ivies are not conservatories for ANY subject - an econ major is not actually ready to be a professional economist upon graduation, a math major is not ready to teach mathematics upon graduation. Many subjects offered by these schools require years of post-grad study before the student becomes a professonal. IF a student is at a particularly high level in some area upon admittance, there may not be actual classes available at his/her level, and she may have to find them elsewhere to supplement the Ivy instruction. Thus, the schools are not geared to pop out professionals in all subjects, and dance is definitely included in the "not ready" part. I think we're seeing an improvement in the dance offerings but that this will take more time.

 

It may also be a recognition that in order to get to an Ivy level of academic achievement, it's pretty hard to be a very, very good dancer as well. Also, the Ivies are very, very expensive. Perhaps the schools recognize the extremely small group they are addressing: Brilliant dancers who are also brilliant academically and have parents willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars to have them become . . . ballerinas. Just a thought . . . .

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