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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dance as an academic major


Garyecht

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I was thinking about dance as an academic major (not for me or anyone I know, but as a general thought). Specifically, what distinguishes BAs, BFAs, MAs, MFAs, and PhDs in dance? In very general terms what skills, knowledge and abilities should BAs or BFAs with concentrations in dance have that distinguishes them from young 20 year olds who dance professionally or who might be called “wanna be” professionals, or who are talented amateurs.

 

Similarly, what distinguishes those with advanced degrees from those with undergraduate degrees?

 

Not that there is a correct answer to the above. I’m just curious as to what those with some experience in dance as an academic activity would say as well as those who just have an opinion (but no real experience).

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In addition to the studio dance classes and performance requirements for my daughter's Performance-Based BFA, she must also have the following courses related to dance:

 

DANC 170 Cond. & Injury Prev.

DANC 210 Rhyth. & Structure of Music

DANC 310 Music for Dance

DANC 330 Apprch. to World Dance

DANC 340 Intro. to Laban Mvmt.

DANC 370 Musculoskeletal Concpts

DANC 375 Ideokinesis

DANC 430 Dance for Children

DANC 460 Dance History: Research

 

Courses such as this would set a BFA student apart from a working dance professional without this training by giving them some formal instruction in the way the body works and how it is applied to dancers. They have some formal training in music and music theory, some formal experience and guidance in researching and learning about dance history and an introduction to working with children.

 

This formal training, coupled with a pro career, certainly should give a person some advantage in that they have both the academic knowledge and the insight that comes from personal experience. If an employer had a choice, I would think they would opt for the person who had both of these credentials. If they had to choose one or the other, I would say that in the dance world they would choose the pro career. In the rest of the world, they would likely choose the degree.

 

You mentioned a comparison of young people at the age of 20. However, I don't think that you will find many who have both a degree and a career under their belts at this point, nor will you find many who have completed a degree either. At that age, it is hard to find too many who even have achieved a fully-paid corp position (but that is the topic for another thread. :( )

 

There is another thread that discusses the non-dance, academic courses that are required for BA and BFA dance students. These vary widely from school to school, with usually some requirements in all of the core areas (English, math, science, humanities). For the purposes of this thread, I would say that a college degree simply gives one a wider exposure to a range of subjects that can broaden a person's perspective, knowledge and understanding of the world and world events. It also gives one a very important credential in the working world, where many, many jobs are restricted to those with a college degree. Generally speaking, a college degree signals to a prospective employer that the candidate has the maturity, organization, self-discipline, intelligence, drive, etc. to successfully complete a long-term (3+ years) course of academic study at the university level.

 

The MFA credential seems to be most useful if pursuing a career in academia, where an advanced degree is often required and certainly is a pre-requisite if one aspires to administration (Dean, Dept. Chair, Director) at a major college/university in their Dance Dept. or a tenure track. However, most schools also expect applicants for such positions to have had distinguished pro careers.

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In general, you'll find a dance BA has fewer dance/performance class requirements and more academic class requirements. It is sometimes suggested that a double major pursue the BA in dance with the second major, rather than the BFA with a second major, because the performance requirements of the BFA can be extremely time consuming.

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As for the graduate degrees, the MFA and PhD are considered terminal degrees in that you do not need any further schooling in order to obtain a tenure track (and eventually tenure) position. Generally speaking an MA is not considered terminal and one can only teach at the university level as an adjunct or in a non-tenure track position. In order to get tenure, a person with an MA needs to get a PhD.

 

The program I am in differentiates the MFA from the MA by requiring more performance and choreography credits from the MFA and also requires them to present a complete concert for their thesis, composed either of their own choreography, their performance of another's choreography or a mixture of both which is the norm. There are two seperate MAs. One is an academic dance history degree focusing on American dance. Only one movement class is required, so it is mostly academic classroom classes. The thesis for this degree is researched based and approximately 100 pages long. The other MA is in studio studies and its program depends widely on the students interests. They are required to take as much technique as the MFAs, but there is no concert. They instead do a project at the end that represents their own interests. For example, some students have reconstructed costumes, another is doing an anatomical study, and others have focused on pedigogy or technology.

 

A graduate degree will help if you are not interested in teaching at the university level, by giving you more performing experience with some great choregraphers and it will also allow a student to develop choreography. For the more academically based masters, it mostly leads to academic jobs or behind the scenes positions with a dance company, working in the office.

 

I hope that helps clarify!

 

Beth

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I think I must have written my question poorly, so let me take another try at it.

 

The general idea came to me while letting my mind wander while on a long walk. I know pretty much what dance majors do while in school, the general nature of most curricula, and how experiences differ among colleges and universities. My question isn’t directed toward the courses they take or the experiences they have had while in school. Rather it is directed toward what an individual with a specific degree (undergraduate, graduate) can do right now that a person without that degree wouldn’t normally be expected do. By doing, I mean specific tasks and not something like get a job in a performing company or in a related arts organization. Those are not tasks but rather are jobs, which is a totally different question.

 

What made this most interesting to me was that in my own undergraduate major (which wasn’t dance) I could come up with general statements quickly and easily. Further, even though my graduate degrees are not in the same area as my undergraduate degree, I could do the same for advanced degrees in my undergraduate major. But when I tried to do the same for dance, I struggled mightily. I came up with a few things, but wasn’t really satisfied with my thinking. So I thought I’d ask others for their thinking.

 

Why is this worth thinking about at all? Well, I think that in designing any educational program it’s best to begin at the end and work backwards. If one does that, it seems to me one is better equipped to judge those higher education programs out there, which I thought others might find of interest, hence my question.

 

Perhaps I’ve just confused everyone. If so, sorry about that.

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Courses such as this would set a BFA student apart from a working dance professional without this training by giving them some formal instruction in the way the body works and how it is applied to dancers. They have some formal training in music and music theory, some formal experience and guidance in researching and learning about dance history and an introduction to working with children.

 

This formal training, coupled with a pro career, certainly should give a person some advantage in that they have both the academic knowledge and the insight that comes from personal experience. If an employer had a choice, I would think they would opt for the person who had both of these credentials. If they had to choose one or the other, I would say that in the dance world they would choose the pro career. In the rest of the world, they would likely choose the degree.

 

The MFA credential seems to be most useful if pursuing a career in academia, where an advanced degree is often required and certainly is a pre-requisite if one aspires to administration (Dean, Dept. Chair, Director) at a major college/university in their Dance Dept. or a tenure track. However, most schools also expect applicants for such positions to have had distinguished pro careers.

 

 

As for the graduate degrees, the MFA and PhD are considered terminal degrees in that you do not need any further schooling in order to obtain a tenure track (and eventually tenure) position. Generally speaking an MA is not considered terminal and one can only teach at the university level as an adjunct or in a non-tenure track position. In order to get tenure, a person with an MA needs to get a PhD.

 

A graduate degree will help if you are not interested in teaching at the university level, by giving you more performing experience with some great choregraphers and it will also allow a student to develop choreography. For the more academically based masters, it mostly leads to academic jobs or behind the scenes positions with a dance company, working in the office.

 

Garyecht, while some of the answers thus far have been about the coursework required at the university level, at least two of the responses have talked about what one might do with a degree in dance. Both have mentioned that these degrees can lead to teaching at the university level. I talked about how a prospective employer (regardless of the job they were hiring for) might view candidates that did and did not possess a college diploma. :( In addition, a degree in Dance Pedagogy would be a natural entre into teaching dance, although a degree is rarely required by schools below the university level.

 

Since the topic starter has narrowed the scope of this discussion, let's focus our replies on the kind of jobs that a degree in Dance would qualify one for. :thumbsup:

 

As has been discussed on other threads, while there are some college degrees that directly prepare one for a given profession, there are any number of others that are much more general in nature and do not specifically prepare a grad for any one career path. What they do is give the grad the necessary credentials to apply for jobs that do not require a specific degree, but do require a college grad. Many degrees, not just a BA, BS or BFA in Dance, fall into this category.

 

While some may question the value of a degree in Letters or Philosophy or Humanities, etc. there are any number of others who hold these degrees and have found them to be their entry ticket to careers near and far from the degree itself. I would argue that because a degree does not specifically 'qualify' one for a given job or naturally lead the grad down one career path, this fact does not make the degree worthless or sub-standard to other degrees.

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What distinguishes the dancer coming out with an advanced degree? What skills, knowledge and abilities separates them from other dancers? They will have a well rounded understanding of various subjects from math to english to language to African dance, a command of critical thinking, a new exposure to politics and the world, service learning, research, community, and academic excellence. After four to eight years with a dance degree they will have a deep knowledge of music theory, composers, and dance history. They may know how to make a tutu or costumes, have choreographed and run their own performances, mastered lighting, worked tech, stage design, and video and computer technology. They will know how to critique and write about dance. They may master pedagogy, labanotation, kinesiology, nutrition. They will meet a network of important people in the dance and academic field. They will come out rich with culture and life experience.

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And then they will find a job as a Girl Friday at a music publishing company working for minimum wage, followed by a job at a drugstore supply company as an accounts receivables clerk, working for minimum wage, and then decide to go back to university for a master's degree in an area that will prepare them for a real career (in my case, elementary education). Although my experience as a dance major was in 1965-1969, I don't think that too much has changed. Can anyone prove me wrong?

 

PK, I would challenge you on the use of the word "master" in describing the level of competence and accomplishment in areas such as lighting, pedagogy, labanotation, kinesiology, and nutrition for which you used the term. I especially challenge that "they will have a deep knowledge of music theory, composers, and dance history". Dance history, yes, composers and music theory -- no! I had a wonderful education in dance history (and got an A+ in it), an excellent introduction to music theory (I knew much more from over a decade of private piano lessons) and composers, but one would have to be a music major to gain a "deep knowledge" in music. Four, or even eight years, cannot give a dance major mastery in so many different areas. Each one is a comprehensive study. Learning how to make a tutu and other costumes is not a quickie course, either. One has to know how to sew pretty well going into it, and learning how to construct costumes is a complete field of study itself. It's a specialty most dance majors would not have time for, nor is it available at most colleges. (Is it even available at any college?) We had to choreograph a senior project in order to graduate, incorporating all aspects of the production, including lighting, costumes, music, stage design. What we didn't have was instruction in any of those aspects, just what I would call briefings, in the form of conversations. There was no time to undertake a thorough investigation of these elements, each a field of its own. We concentrated on the choregraphy, finding time for extra rehearsals, and continuing to attend all our academic classes as well as several technique classes a day. There were days we didn't leave the studios until the custodian threw us out, at 11 PM or so. And we were always so tired! Our academic classes outside of the dance department were extremely demanding in terms of homework and exams and most were requirements for dance majors (everything from anatomy and physiology to anthropolgy and evolution, from introduction to sociology, intro to psychology, intro to philosophy, etc. to French, English literature, chemistry and badminton -- or tennis or golf or whatever one chose to fulfill the phys. ed. requirement which dance majors still had back then and which was eliminated the year after I got my degree).

 

The college I attended was Adelphi University. My modern teachers included Paul Taylor, Dan Wagoner, Viola Farber, Don Redlich, Yuriko, Martha Myers, Clive Thompson and Pearl Lang. For ballet we had former dancers from the Sadler's Wells, the Metropolitan Opera, and Ballet Theatre. Guest choreographers who worked with us included Jack Moore, Jeff Duncan, and Linda Tarnay. I wouldn't have traded those precious four years for anything in the world! But, I have to say, they didn't prepare me for a job or career in the "outside" world. Not back then. I, too, would like to hear what dance majors have done with their B.A.s in dance these days.

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Guest balletandsynchro

Well, I can certainly say that there were music (violin and trumpet) and drama majors at the law school I attended in the early 80's! And this is not a non-ABA accredited law school - it is a well known school in CA. I did not know these individuals well, but obviously, they did have what the school was looking for at that time.

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I didn't say the dance major would find a related job with the dance degree. My dd is in college doing pre med in thoughts of a career after college. But, yes the dance degree has certainly changed since 1965. We found schools preparing students for teaching, lighting design, dance and computer tech,arts administration,and sometimes the duel major. Marga mentions her experience with bits and pieces of choreography, stage design,etc. These things are changing as more schools encourage students to become employable. It depends where you go and what you do. College simply is not such a dim outlook for dancers. It's often a logical and smart choice for a living ahead.

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What's one dancer with a BA in dance doing? Dancing professionally in a large ballet company as a fully paid dancer. Yes, I might have been able to get into a company straight out of high school, but I would have had a much more difficult time once I got in. School gave me experience and skill in pas de deux, contemporary and character dancing. In my company now, we rehearse dozens of different operas and ballets each week. There is no time to break things down and explain how to do a mazurka step. You just have to know it and do it, because you are worried about where the choreography pattern is taking you! I wouldn't have been prepared for this without college. There is no time to explain the details of how to do a finger turn into a a ron de jambe into a promenode. You are too busy worrying about adjusting to your partner of the moment's movement and uniqueness....and, of course, remembering what comes next. There is no time to break down how you get down to the floor in a modern roll. You just have to know and then worry about what comes next! I would have had a very tough time in a company without my college training. Now, do some prepro residency programs do the same thing? Probably so. But that isn't the rounte I went, and I know it isn't the rounte that everyone goes. College really can open doors in ballet.

 

I should add that the reason I finished my BA, despite offers of apprenticeships/traineeships/company positions in small companies during my four years there, was that I hope one day to teach at a university. Hopefully my pro career plus a degree will help me to do that.

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Swanilda,

 

Would care to share the name of your college, how many years has it been since graduation, and what ballet company are you with currently?

 

For some, it is a tough decision to attend college vs auditioning for companies straight out of high school.

 

Thanks for your input.

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I went to Butler, graduated fairly recently, and work in the ballet of an opera house in Central/Eastern (depending on whom you ask!) Europe. I honestly think it depends on the dancer-- but the one thing I firmly stand by is that you don't want to jump into this profession unprepared. The more you know and the more you can do, whereever you learn it, the better. It's true, of course, that you continue learning in a company. But the more you know going in, the better you'll be, the more chances you have within the company...and, ergo, the more you will continue to learn!

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With all due respect, Swanilda, your situation is not the norm. If a dancer truly wants to dance with a professional company, the most direct route is to audition as soon as she/he is ready, dance-wise. Having a college degree is another matter which depends on what one wants to do after the dance career is winding down or in addition to it. Just like any professional performing career, (truly professional, meaning mostly full-time paid work for performing) most ballet companies could care less if the dancer even finished high school, if they have the goods. Teaching is another matter. It is important to ask oneself what is the priority? If one is unclear, it cannot hurt to take an extra year while both auditioning and applying to colleges to figure it out. But going to college has nothing whatsoever to do, in my opinion, with what qualifies one to be a professional ballet dancer.

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With all due respect, musicgal, I don't think anyone is saying that a college degree is what qualifies one to be a professional dancer. Swanilda is just saying that for her it worked out very well, and provided her with some things that she felt were very beneficial. But she is not saying that is the THE way, or the only way, to go.

 

The topic of the post is about what skills a degree would provide, and while it may not have been totally answered to the satisfaction of the original poster, I think many positive things have been stated in terms of skills from a degree. None of them, however, is something without which one could not obtain a professional performing contract. But that is not what the topic was about.

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