In a year that couldn't possibly get any more bonkers (we wouldn't be surprised, though), the world needs smart, resourceful, and creative people more than ever before. And who does that description remind us of? That's right...dancers. It may seem like jobs for dancers are scarce these days, but in reality, there are plenty of opportunities out there for dancers willing to think outside of the box. A college degree in dance can help you do just that—expand your career possibilities and develop your potential—even in the midst of a global pandemic.
Dance Spirit spoke to four alumni of Marymount Manhattan College, a liberal arts school in NYC with one of the most prestigious dance programs in the country, to explore all the ways their MMC dance degrees have helped them navigate the dance world, both before and during the pandemic.
Austin Sora<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0Njk4NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjMzNjU1MH0.6dHHIikMw4MQ9kX5AJPyd1UFraXOjfBz5Pnb5Zw8OMo/img.jpg?width=980" id="efc33" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="788d799b2899c8aa3da3cdf2503dc21a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Austin Sora (Photo by Nicole Rose, courtesy Sora)<p>Originally from Toronto, Canada, but now based in NYC, Austin Sora is the dancer-textbook definition of "versatile," largely thanks to her time spent at <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/dance/" target="_blank">Marymount Manhattan</a>. As a BFA dance major with an <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/art/minors-concentrations.php" target="_blank">arts management minor,</a> Sora spent her college years exploring the dance world both onstage and off. "I've always been academically inclined, and I knew that I wanted to keep learning before I was ready to start auditioning," she explains. </p><p>At Marymount, <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/academics/your-cityedge/" target="_blank">the city itself </a>became Sora's classroom."We would see shows and take trips to museums, and then talk about them in class the next day," she says. "Part of my college experience was hopping on the subway to my internship between classes, or performing at a theater in Brooklyn." Sora's unique college experiences helped her secure not one but two jobs post-grad: apprenticing with Buglisi Dance Theatre, and working at Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP), an NYC-based nonprofit where she had interned as part of her minor. "I completed my minor to prepare me for life after my dance career was over, never thinking I'd be able to have two simultaneous careers," she says. "Especially now, it's come in handy."</p><p>Fast-forward to this past March, when Sora had just completed a national tour of <em>Phantom of the Opera. </em>Although the onset of the pandemic put plans for her next dance job on pause, she's still been able to thrive artistically, thanks to her work with ASTEP, and has even used this time to develop her own passion project: "My own venture is an online resource for dancers called Studio A. I figured it was a good opportunity to share any knowledge that I've gathered with dancers who are just starting out or currently working," she says. </p><p>Overall, Sora credits her BFA in dance and minor in arts management for giving her the tools and resources necessary to flourish. "My career has taken so many turns, but I've never been unprepared thanks to Marymount."</p>
Gabrielle Sprauve<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0Njk4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTc1MDIxNn0.hAoLpjSBlKHN2p81M58BhHpdBsEp0ran5_vqPiTBqFY/img.jpg?width=980" id="18090" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="68705e749337fe5bd35bccf0d32ddc1b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Gabrielle Sprauve (Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy Sprauve)<p>Ballet Hispánico dancer Gabrielle Sprauve decided to go the college route in the hopes of forging connections that could help launch her career. "I liked the idea of being in smaller classes and having more individual attention from those teachers, which led to me choosing Marymount," she says.</p><p>Ultimately, the relationships she built with her Marymount professors became one of the most impactful parts of her college experience. "My professors taught me, more than dance, how to handle life and how to go through the dance world and advocate for yourself," she says. Before Marymount, Sprauve had always considered herself a ballerina. But throughout her time as a <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/dance/bfa-degree.php" target="_blank">BFA dance major</a> she discovered her love for modern, contemporary, and even commercial dance. After receiving her BFA with concentrations in both ballet and modern, Sprauve joined Ballet Hispánico and has been with the company ever since. And when her fourth season was abruptly paused in March due to COVID-19, Sprauve barely missed a beat. Between remote Zoom rehearsals with Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez, teaching for New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and signing with a modeling agency, she's kept plenty busy through her strong career network . </p><p>"As dancers, we're so adaptable, which I think is one of our best qualities," she says. "Depending on whatever situation we're in, we figure it out, and we know how to survive."</p>
Deanna Flanagan<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NTg2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTE3NzE5M30.vqDXqK4802NsD8RA5OwpMjTf-YXDoQS05-ObTy5WwcQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="980c9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="22bda816fc3f1766c6cb9141fc693ea2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Deanna Flanagan (Courtesy Flanagan)<p>"When deciding on college and my major, I wanted to have a well-rounded education so I could find new ways of using my artistry and dance education, in addition to performing," says professional dancer and dance teacher Deanna Flanagan. From the moment she auditioned, she knew Marymount was the place to explore these possibilities. "I was never just a number. They wanted to hear all about me and what I wanted from the program," she remembers. </p><p>Flanagan was surprised by all the different aspects of dance she discovered in college. "I thought majoring in dance would be very similar to dancing at my local studio," she says. "But dance education at the college level is much more comprehensive, from intensive technique, music theory, composition, dance history, and diving into different aspects of the dance world I didn't know about. <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/dance/" target="_blank">MMC's program</a> opened my eyes to more career options than I thought possible," she explains.<br></p><p>Flanagan started getting hands-on experience immediately once she started college as a <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/dance/teaching-dance-arts.php" target="_blank">BA dance major concentrating in teaching,</a> with an <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/departments/art/minors-concentrations.php" target="_blank">arts management minor.</a> "In my teaching classes, you had to apply the skills you learned right away," she says. That meant internships, like teaching at the Ailey School and working at local arts companies in NJ. Towards the end of her senior year, Flanagan's professor recommended her for a job teaching dance at a local high school, leading to her first full-time job postgraduation. <br></p><p>By the time the pandemic hit in March, Flanagan had completed her masters in dance education, joined the Jets Flight Crew, and was teaching dance full-time at an elementary school. The changes brought about by COVID-19 required Flanagan to put everything she'd learned to the test. "MMC taught me that there's always opportunity on the horizon, and if there's not, you can create it. That's been so important to remember during this pandemic," she says. "For me, that means creating my own way of training and making sure I can continue taking classes, and figuring out how to adapt my curricula to this new age of learning." Thanks to her college experiences, Flanagan has managed to thrive doing just that. "Even though I'm young and just starting out in the grand scheme of things, I already have so many tools in my back pocket that I can use," she says.</p>
Andrew Mikhaiel<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ1Mjg3MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyOTg1MTg4MH0.N6iavfHkud-DwSGDy41KMoxSQqgwE6sjBSO-NSrH4NQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="61a71" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bf7b19cafb5aaa9198c7a48077bede11" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Andrew Mikhaiel performing with BJM in SOUL choreographed by Andonis Fonidadakis (Photo by Sasha Onyshchenko)<p>Andrew Mikhaiel grew up dancing both at competitions and at his performing arts high school in Canada. Encouraged to pursue college dance by his teachers, he enrolled at Marymount as a BFA dance major with a ballet concentration. "I do my best work when I'm able to have a dialogue between my teachers and other students, and that translates into my dance training as well," he says. "I wanted that one-on-one attention from my professors, as opposed to being one of 500 people in a lecture hall." </p><p>Mikhaiel utilized his time at Marymount to perform in several pieces each semester, take as many technique classes as possible, and most importantly, network. "I found a lot of opportunities both at Marymount and outside of college aided by the Marymount faculty, and also just from the personal connections I was able to make living in NYC," Mikhaiel says. As part of <a href="https://www.mmm.edu/academics/a-liberal-arts-foundation.php" target="_blank">Marymount's liberal arts curriculum,</a> Mikhaiel was also able to take courses like American Sign Language and Arts for Social Change. "Those classes broadened my perspective, gave my dancing more purpose, and helped me acknowledge how our bodies are capable of expressing important ideas, if we choose," he says. Ultimately, Mikhaiel graduated with exactly what he came to college for: a job. "In January of my senior year, I auditioned for Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (BJM), my favorite company. Six weeks later, I had signed a contract, which was a dream come true." </p><p>In March, Mikhaiel had just embarked on a European tour with BJM when the company was sent back to Canada under stay-at-home orders. While he waited to return to the studio, he relied on the habits he had built in college. "Marymount does a good job of ingraining a sense of discipline and accountability. When we were at home for three months, it was second-nature for me to go on Zoom and take class consistently to keep up my training," he says. And his work paid off: After quarantining, the entire company has just resumed rehearsals in an "artistic bubble" in Quebec.</p>
Britt Stewart already had a full dance career before "Dancing with the Stars" came calling. Growing up, the Colorado native had trained in just about every style except for ballroom, landing a spot in Disney's High School Musical at 15 after she met one of the movie's choreographers, Bonnie Story, at New York City Dance Alliance.
Soon, Stewart was appearing on television shows and touring the world for artists like Katy Perry and nationally with Demi Lovato. "I like to say that 'Dancing with the Stars' is the cherry on top of my dance career," Stewart says. "It came at a time when I had just gotten off of tour with Katy Perry. I was with her for three years, and I loved it, but I was really craving something new."
Kelsey McNeal, Courtesy ABC
In the face of today's racial crisis, many Americans are now reckoning with their own complicity in the oppression of marginalized groups, and asking, "What can I do?" For college dance programs, which help mold the minds of the next generation of dance artists, this is an especially important question. For decades, most departments have centered on white, Western styles—ballet, modern, contemporary—rather than dedicating resources to the world's myriad other dance forms.
Fortunately, some college dance programs have pledged to diversify their course offerings, and to dismantle the layers of white supremacy that still pervade our art on a larger scale. And while many colleges are now beginning this work, a few have made
it a central part of their mission for years. Here are four schools with longstanding commitments to a more equitable dance education.
Alabama State University student Lauren Erwin (Devin Rickett, courtesy Alabama State University)
Alabama State University<p>ASU BFA majors are exposed to two non-Western tracks twice a year, offered in four levels: African dance and hip hop, or jazz and tap. Both tracks have deep roots in Black American culture and the African diaspora, and have been a part of the program since its inception. As one of the nation's remaining historically Black colleges and universities, ASU has long prioritized a dance curriculum that reflects its student body.</p><p>The result has been beneficial not just for the students but also for the school. "By offering these courses," BFA program director James Atkinson says, "we have been able to increase the interest of students from other departments, students who may not have previously considered dance as a major or minor." In addition to the dance program's set curriculum, ASU offers students master classes in a range of non-Western forms, to further broaden their understanding of dance and dance history. </p><p>Jazmun McCoy, a sophomore BFA dance major at the school, says learning non-Western styles has instilled a sense of confidence in her college training. "There is never a moment when I have to question if I am learning about myself," she says, "because my personal history is rooted in the non-Western dance training available to me at ASU." </p>
Efeya M. Ifadayo Sampson (front) leading class at Sarah Lawrence (Ian Douglas, courtesy Sarah Lawrence College)
Sarah Lawrence College<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Sarah Lawrence's dance department puts a </span><span style="background-color: initial;">special focus on exposing the layers of implicit bias in dance history. John Jasperse, the director of Sarah Lawrence's dance program and a noted NYC-based choreographer, believes that dancers must "reckon with our history to reveal connections that have often been obscured in the </span><span style="background-color: initial;">past in order to begin to heal ourselves as a society. In the past, the United States has euphemistically been referred to as a cultural 'melting pot,' but to do so is to erase the differential</span> power structures that were historically at play in creating our hybridity." This coming semester, the dance history course will be called Hip Hop: Dancing Diaspora from the Local to the Global, examining other forms of street dance, including voguing and house. The school will also offer a course about using dance as a lens for cultural critique.</p><p>But explorations of implicit bias go beyond dance history courses, too. "The analytic seminars all support a historical and theoretical understanding that is in dialogue with what we do in practice-based studio classes," Jasperse says. Those classes range from West African dance to hula to hip hop to Butoh.</p>
Goucher College<p>At Goucher—located in Baltimore, MD, where 62 percent of the population is Black—offering non-Western dance training has been a way to tackle issues of social injustice. Rick Southerland, a dance professor at the college, says dance programs in higher education tend to whitewash what dance is and should be. "Dance exists everywhere and is experienced in a myriad of ways and for a variety of reasons within different cultures and societies," Southerland says. "The study of non-Western dance sheds light on other histories and philosophies."</p><p>The program offers a BA in dance that requires students to be technically proficient in West African diasporic dance, modern, and ballet. Students can also take theory courses that address body politics. Nicole Blades, a senior in the program, says she's loved being able to train in non-Western dance techniques: "My professors have been encouraging and informative in not only teaching non-Western styles, but also educating us in the history and origins of the movement we are learning."</p><p>The department is also committed to engaging the greater Baltimore area. "We employ expert drummers and dancers from the community," Southerland says. "Even students who have never taken a West African dance class are deeply engaged and excited about their dance-study experience."</p>
University of Colorado, Boulder, students studying African dance with professor Nii Armah (Daniel Beahm, courtesy University of Colorado, Boulder)
University of Colorado, Boulder<p><span style="background-color: initial;">CU Boulder started working to address racism in dance nearly 18 years ago. "We first began dismantling the ideas of level and 'technique,' offering instead a variety of styles that include hip hop, house, jazz, and transnational fusion," says Erika Randall, chair of </span><span style="background-color: initial;">the department of theatre and dance. "Classes that have, in the past or in other programs, been relegated to elective status are absolutely required here—not required because of their 'diversity,' but because they are essential to training. We want to support the education of dancers who are going to become the problem-solvers of our global experience."</span></p><p>Randall, who grew up dancing in a competition dance studio, understands the challenge of changing a dancer's long-held perceptions of which dance forms are important. "When a dancer comes in with three pirouettes and a high leg kick, and that doesn't hold the same currency of accomplishment in a house class, they can feel frustrated at first," she says. "But they learn a new virtuosity, a new relationship to speed and rhythm. What was once prioritized as 'petit allégro' in their bodies is now achieved through 'footwork.' They find gravity and groundedness and a new connection to the earth that they had perhaps spent their entire lifetime trying to defy."</p>
With a combination of hard-hitting fierceness and feminine sass, L.A.-based commercial dancer Olivia Wong makes even the most intricate choreography look like second nature. Originally from New Orleans, LA, Wong moved to the West Coast to pursue a career in dance, and has since performed with J Balvin at Lollapalooza Music Festival and Becky G at the Latin American Music Awards, in addition to being a featured dancer in Justin Bieber's "That's What Love Is" visual album video. This spring, she graduated with a BFA in commercial dance and a concentration in acting from Hussian College, formerly the Studio School Los Angeles.
Wong in Justin Bieber's "That's What Love Is" music video (Taylor Randall, courtesy Wong)
Please hold for applause: We're now roughly halfway through this season of "Dancing with the Stars," mid-pandemic, without a single case of COVID-19. Apparently we can have some good things this year!
And last night's episode of "DWTS" was particularly dance-tastic, complete with a special dance-pearance by judge Derek Hough. And while we were a little disappointed by certain aspects of his performance (please refer to this article's headline), it was all kinds of amazing to see Derek back dancing in the ballroom. But in case you missed it (or you were too busy voting early—go you!), here are all the highlights from last night's episode.