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 Post subject: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 11:34 am 
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Location: San Diego, California, USA
I think that this really deserves a thread of its own - forgive me if I am wrong......<P>My own experience has been that the colleges with which I have been affiliated, are not set up to deal with teaching an art form - almost any art form, as a possible career. That is not to say that I don't think that art in all its forms should not be taught - I do, indeed.<P>But was art, ballet, piano, etc., made to be taught in a system that inherently uses a grading method? <P> That expects to teach to the older student what has always been taught to a younger person - like starting dance at a relatively late age with true hopes for a professional career?<P>From what I have seen, the classes are much too large for what is being taught. A math class can be quite large - but a ballet class of 40 beginners is almost criminal.<P>With teachers that often have a degree in dance, but no real in-the-world experience?<P>A computer enrolling system that takes no account of the slow response of the body to fulfill the demands of the ballet or any other type of dance? It generally doesn't happen in one semester that the body can accommodate. <P>When the student emerges with a degree in dance what are the realities that the student will face in trying to implement that degree? <P>


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:12 pm 
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Location: neworleans, louisiana
The dance department at the university I attended was very clear about the meaning of its grading system, stating that "A" meant excellent chance of achieving a performing career upon graduation. Each lower grade represented a lesser chance. One of the biggest problems I saw with this method is how it sets the student's gradepoint alongside other university students in non-physical majors. The dance major's gradepoint therefore has little to do with her academic achievement. <P>Another problem with this method is the subjectiveness of judging what someone's chances are of achieving professional success. What if that student doesn't even audition for a ballet company but fares just fine in summer stock, commercial cruise lines, or less "pure" forms of the art? <P>After all these years, it's getting more interesting to me to see who's still plugging away at and enjoying dance, while others (possibly with more natural gifts) dropped out. <P><BR>Nothing to do with this thread, but in light of breaking news about the fire situation in San Diego, hope you are far from the worst of it, Basheva. <BR><p>[This message has been edited by Christina (edited January 04, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:23 pm 
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Location: Montreal, QC, Canada
Basheva, you raised a lot of good points and questions.<P>In my own experience, no matter what you intend to study at University (or College as you may say in the U.S.) you have to come in with clear goals of what you hope to accomplish. Clearly, entering a university dance program of 4 years is not enough training to produce a profesional dancer so you better have an idea of what it is that you are personally get out of the program whether it's designed as a "performance" degree or not.<P>When I was 18 I didn't even consider attending a university dance program, the programs in Canada focus on contemporary dance and at the time I was only interested in ballet, which wasn't being taught at a professional level within the academic institutions here. <P>When I decided to try out contemporary dance (I was 24 and thought dance and I were over by then), I did attend a university, but I was lucky; the faculty was primarily professionals, former Graham dancers and dancers who had performed with major Canadian companies, etc. I was sorry that as a result of the way universities are structured, those who had spent more time in the professional environment, rather than achieving academic creditials, received less money than their counterparts with the bits of paper on the wall.<P>Also, because I was older, I was more interested in learning about choreographic techniques and critical theory in the arts in general. When I was 18 I wasn't very interested in that kind of thing at all, I just wanted to dance dance dance. University would have been exactly the *wrong* place for me to be. <P>So for me, I came in knowing what I wanted to learn, which was not "how to become a professional dancer" but more specifics about contemporary technique and the choreographic process within a structured environment. It gave me the time to really focus, for which I am eternally grateful. Sometimes I think the free studio time was the best part of being at a university (!) since choreographic labs are few and far between.<P>In university I danced with people who were beginners and people who were not. The program I was in accepted about 35 students in the first year (if the faculty does not have enough students then they lose money from administration and clases with under 15 students can be cancelled since the costs outweigh the tuition). First year ballet class was a bizarre experience to say the least. I did not envy my teacher at all! In the first couple of years I often wondered what beginners were hoping to accomplish, and noted that at the end of 2 years many switched majors, ending up with a minor in dance. Many 3rd/4th year classes were combined because by then there was usually about 20 dancers left which combined could make up one class. <P>Grading was also a strange thing. It's can be very disheartening when you just do not progress during the 3 month semester in a given class or have an injury that waylays your progress. This can be extremely stressful for those who intend to pursue graduate work (which I knew I wasn't interested in) especially if they're planning on going into something dance-related but not an MA in a performance oriented program, like dance therapy where the programs demand high marks to get in.<P>A very small amount of people that I know of have transitioned from a degree in dance to a performance career, but those are the kind of people that would have succeeded without university. For those intend to leave dance after a time, it's much easier to attend a graduate program later than to go back to school at the beginning in your 30s. I know that even at 24 it was difficult for me to go back to school (even for dance). In my case if I hadn't tried a university program I probably would have stopped dancing altogether. <P>I think that university dance programs are useful because they develop a different understanding of the art form, even for those who go on to other things. And they are definitely hard work, there were lots of times I thought I had completely had it with balancing class, rehearsals, reading and papers, it was like being in high school again except much more difficult in the academic requirements and other faculties of which you were obliged to take a percentage of classes (this may be different in the U.S., in Canada there were no sweetheart deals for artists getting a degree)<BR>were not at all sympathetic to the fact that you rehearsed on stage until 11 and had to be in technique class at 8:30 am, yes, that was another joy of the university system, scheduling often meant technique at 8:30 am).<P>One of the best things a university dance program offers is the exposure of other students to dance. This is significant because these are generally young people who are broadening their perceptions of the world and who may be less hesitant to go to professional dance shows when they leave school and head off into the world at large.<BR> <P><BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:31 pm 
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Marie, could you clarify a bit about it being easier to go into a grad program than to start from the beginning in your 30s? I'm not sure I understood what you were saying here. Thanks.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:35 pm 
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I just meant that going back to school to do a BA with first year students can be challenging (if not excruciating, unless you want to hear about how they puked after all of the tequila they drank on the weekend, etc. Image), and also if it's your first exposure to university, it can be somewhat daunting. If you've already gone through a BA it's a little less intimidating to jump through the hoops of a master's degree.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:36 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
Here in the UK, you can go to a performance dance school, such as the Laban Centre or London Contemporary Dance School and get a degree. In addition, both schools have post-graduate 1-year pre-professional performance dance courses, 'Transitions' and '4-D', respectively, which provide a half-way house. Dancers from these courses have gone on to Rambert, Richard Alston D.C., Darshan Singh Bhuller Company etc. and have quickly made their mark.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:39 pm 
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Do you mean a BA in dance or another major? I'm asking because the chair at UW-WI told me that the BA (no matter what your experience) was a prerequisite to the master's degree. Also, it had to be a particular kind of dance BA -- i.e., if you wanted to pursue a master's in performance, you needed a BA in performance. Understand that I'm not trying to be obtuse here, but am interested in that a close friend told me she had to go through many hoops in finishing her BA despite her extensive professional experience.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:49 pm 
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I both taught and took classes for many years at a college here in San Diego, though I have no degree myself. They hired me for my experience.<P>I found that there were many inconsistencies. How do you grade a student who studies hard, gives every ounce of her being, both mentally and physically, and yet her body just doesn't have the turnout, for instance, of the student next to her who gives it just enough effort to get through the dance. The lazy one ends up looking better through no real effort.<P>If there were a company the hard worker would not get hired - but this is a classroom, so does one reward hard work or the natural gift of turnout?<P>I found the teachers at the college very knowledgeable and we had many wonderful conversations and enjoyed one another, but, as for practical teaching experience, they had little. They taught only a certain age range, whereas I in the public sector, had to be able to teach from the smallest child to the oldest grandmother who showed up at the studio. <P>The college had a program to train dance teachers per se, but at the end of that program the experience of teaching so many disparate age groups, was not accommplished. Could not be accomplished, very young children don't show up in college classrooms.<P>A teacher in the private sector also has to teach students with different goals. From the student who really wants this as a profession to the evening class of adults who come in, want to dance, really want to learn, but have no intention of a career in dance.<P>And though there are economic reasons for those large class sizes, it is still almost criminal to do that especially to beginners, in my opinion.<P>Is what we have now, with all its faults and inconsistencies, better than not having anything at all?


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 1:53 pm 
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Christina, I mean any kind of BA. (I have a BFA which means I can't do a Masters in Computer Science unless I fulfill the mathematic and science requirements) Yes, specific masters programs require specific criteria, but I still think if you don't have to get through standard university prereq's like first year english or stats or whatever, and only have to meet the specific requirements of the program, and you already understand how to research and write an academic paper, it makes your life easier. Is that clear? :}<P><p>[This message has been edited by Marie (edited January 04, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 9:14 pm 
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Basheva, I admire you and anyone who teaches at the college level, I would pull out my hair if I had to try to instruct people with so many different levels and kinds of training in an institutional setting with all of its rules and regulations.<P>And you're right, these insititutions aren't always set up to broach dance in the most practical way (although sometimes they are pretty successful, like in the case of the Laban Centre, etc., as Stuart noted) but I think the pros still outway the cons. Maybe it's not fair to present students with the possibility of "becoming a dance artist" through a university but there are no guarantees in any of the other disciplines either--not everyone who passes the bar practices law. In my mind, if universities are going to offer classes in print-making or electro-acoustic compostion then they should offer dance as well. Dance needs a presence, even if it's not in the most ideal setting.<BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Thu Jan 04, 2001 9:24 pm 
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Location: London, England; Tallinn, Estonia
I wonder if the UK is unusual in this respect. Apart from dance, there are a number of training institutions like the two I mentioned above that are now offerring degree courses under the regulation of a nearby university. So for instance, in the case of the Laban Centre, the degree awarding body is City University.<P>This enables a more practically based, career orientated curriculum to be combined with degree level education.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Fri Jan 05, 2001 2:43 pm 
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Mentioning rules and regulations -<P>In this respect also, teaching in a college brings up many unusual situations since college campuses (whatever the plural of that word is lol) generally enforce a great many socio/political rules. Rules on touching for instance. An innocent remark gets misinterpreted and complaint is lodged against a teacher, fellow student, even the pianist. I personally know of an instance in which this happened to the pianist.<P>There was a complaint lodged against a VERY excellent teacher (I knew him well) because he brought one young woman to the front of the room and insisted that she work through a combination with which she was having difficulty. She complained that he harrassed her - and hurt her self-esteem.<P>Colleges have to conform to the "People with Disabilities Act", which means affording people the opportunity to dance, who in the private sector would not be allowed to dance - and to my mind, for health and safety sake, shouldn't dance. Not in a general dance class, anyway. I am thinking here of a severe asmatic who needed special ventilation that put the rest of the class at risk.<P>And, while I agree that the arts are better taught in college than not taught, it does raise many unresolved issues.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2001 1:29 pm 
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taking a break from my -- college dance life! -- to give some idea of how the UW program works:<P>First off, the UW offers a BA, not a BFA. they say (although i get the distinct impression that not a whole lot of people act like this) that it isn't a professional performance training degree -- which it isn't; it can't be -- but a program in dance studies in general and therefore the BA is more appropriate. The degree consists of a whole slew of dance technique as well as required classes in history, choreography, aesthetics, world dance, teaching techniques and a senior project in which you basically go out and research what you want to do with your degree. Students go on to be physical therapists, open studios; there are a few who perform and go on to professional careers. <P>In addition to the tech classes, there's a dance 101 and 102 series that aims for complete beginners, alternating ballet and modern tech with basic dance lecture. After 102, the theory goes, you should have enough basic knowledge to continue into the ballet or modern tech classes; I think they limit the 101 series to about 25 students. They're taught by the grad students (the UW MFA program is worth its own post; I think it's considered to be pretty revolutionary in terms of dance MFAs) and I have never *taken* them but I know people who have who showed up in the tech I have taken who started in 101 and just fell in love with dance.<P>I think it works pretty well. Tech grades are well over 50% active participation -- showing up dressed to dance, dancing, and being present as opposed to a body in the room. As I've moved up levels, what might be loosely termed technical proficiency starts coming up, although I assume (based on how I do vs. how I rate myself within the classes) this has as much to do with applying corrections and working at what you are doing as it does with the ability to put your foot in your ear. One of my favorite teachers *insists* on committing to the movement entirely, even if it means fudging a little -- not that he lets any fudging *by*, merely that the focus isn't on exact technical perfection if it means that dancers get churned out with Fear Of Failure written all over their face every time they take a tendu.<P>This, no doubt, is a direct result of the program's stated goal of being a liberal arts degree, NOT a BFA performance degree.<P>Interestingly, though, I don't think they've hired any just-liberal-arts faculty -- all the faculty have long and name-ful dance histories behind them. I've always been intrigued by the fact that English professors don't have to write literature, art historians don't have to make art, but it seems that many, many, many colleges require dance faculty to have experience performing, which would strike me as drastically limiting the population available to teach. Anyone have any insight? Is this true or just my skewed world?<P>All in all, I think it works really well. There seems to be some kind of peace found between the weird structure of academia and the other, somewhat opposed structure of dance training. Some people come out of the program with real liberal arts BAs -- there is a significant number of people who come out with as close to a BFA as they could get, in terms of what they actually did. There are a whole lot of double majors and a significant number of people who take super-minors -- the minor program with another 10 or 20 credits of technique on top.<P>The UW MFA program -- a program designed to bring ex-professional dancers into the academic world -- is probably worthy of its whole thread, and would definitely be pertinent to this discussion, but as I see there's already one started on Hannah Wiley (who started it) below, I'll read that before going off.<P>FWIW,<BR>--ari, who has to go watch videos for choreography now.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2001 2:31 pm 
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Very intersting insights, Ari. SDSU here in San Diego has a dance dept. and has had one for many, many years. It's main focus is in modern dance. There are some years when ballet is not even offered. When it has been offered there, it has mostly been taught by modern dancers or interns.<P>There have only been a couple of times to my knowledge that ballet has been taught by actual professional ballet dancer/teachers. In reality I know of only two of us- and neither of us taught there for long - only a few years. We gave up in frustration - not with the students - but with the institution.<P> There is a new dance room but it is really set up for modern dance - the floor is useable for ballet dancers. So, the ballet class was given absolutely ridiculous facilties - that were either downright dangerous (a room with a hole in the middle of the floor) or completely unsuitable - like the entire basketball gymnasium with other classes being taught in the seats. The ballet teacher is trying to teach - shouting into this huge void of a gym while math and English is being taught in the seats and balconies. Trying to teach beginners in a huge gym, with no walls as guidelines, no diagonal that is danceable. This sounds unbelieveable , but could anyone make this up? LOL<P>I also have a problem with interns - students in their senior years - teaching the beginning ballet students. Yes, I know they need experience, and I wouldn't mind if they were assisting a teacher, but to be in charge of a classful (30-40 students) of beginners just strikes me as sinful - ok - unethical. Beginners need the best they can get. <P>In another college in which I taught the facilities were better - but if classes fell under 35 people, they were cancelled.


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 Post subject: Re: Academe and the Dance
PostPosted: Sun Jan 07, 2001 9:50 pm 
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what a succesful topic this is...running away with itself so quickly...<P>i am going to say as little as possible, because the posts above have opened up so many different areas of consideration.<P>going back to your first post, basheva, and your questions there: in the local university dance program here, class sizes are extremely limited. first year intake is about 10 students only - in fact the problem this raises, is that by third year, sometimes there are only 4 or 5 left....bit sad....<P>that program is 3 years fulltime leading to a Diploma in Dance (1 'notch' below a Bachelors degree). to be able to audition, you have to be at elementary exam level (as in: RAD or Cecchetti or whatever syllabus organisation.) the auditions are highly competitive, across australia. of the student cohort of, say, 10 or 12, only 2 or 3 would be from this state we live in. (of course its easier for guys!)<P>if you want a bachelors degree, you must take a NON-performance stream, which still has an audition entry (quite selective also, and requiring higer academic grades). there are still a lot of technique classes, but more modern, less ballet. these classes are small too, but not AS small - maybe max 15 in a class.<P>to christina, & i believe, ari...someone asked about first degrees and higher degrees...in australia, with the more forward-thinking universities, it is possible to be granted the equivalent status as a bachelor's degree, by providing proof of the volume of your learning experiences, as well as your application and learning capacity. <P>in this way, i was granted the equivalent of a BA, based on my professional experience and all the courses i had done in the interim, as well as my published writings providing proof of my capacity to handle that sort of task. this enabled me to go straight into a graduate diploma, even though i never stayed at university long enough the first time around, to get a 1st degree....<P>so that is a real big help - and a pretty realistic one, in my experience - however, it is fairly rare to get it, as it entails a WHOLE lot of work, just to prove yourself suitable....but i'm very glad i did it.<P>different universities here have variously oriented dance programs - some ARE geared to outputting performers, some are not. more are modern dance than ballet-oriented. perhaps this variety is a good thing...

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