What It Means to Major in Dance at a Liberal Arts College
Students at Pomona College learn how ethnic groups use dances, like the Hawaiian hula, to construct identities. (via Thinkstock)
If you're thinking about majoring in dance at a liberal arts school, you're probably already excited about the technique and repertory classes on offer. But what about the academic classes that you'll need to complete your major?
In college, you'll be dancing a ton. But you'll also devote time to academic work designed to help you think about the relationships between dance and other subjects—even things as unexpected as politics and cognitive development. “Liberal arts is about providing both academic and technical experience to help dancers grow," says Amanda Thom Woodson, chair of the dance department at Goucher College in Baltimore, MD. “A well-rounded artist needs these opportunities to figure out who they want to become."
To help get you thinking, Dance Spirit asked professors from top liberal arts schools to explain some of the ways dance and academics intersect.
Have you ever wondered why hula basically symbolizes Hawaiian culture? At Pomona College in Claremont, CA, students can take an international relations class that discusses the link between dance and nationalism. “We look at how nations and ethnic groups use dance to construct identities," says Anthony Shay, professor of dance and cultural studies.
Are you curious about why it's so hard to change your natural movement patterns? Pomona also offers a cognitive development class that examines “ways our innate coordination is linked to our cognitive development," says Meg Jolley, a lecturer in theater and dance. “It's helpful for body awareness and may even be useful in injury rehab."
Do you see yourself as an artistic director or dance educator? At Goucher College, students can take a special class that allows them to design a dance program for a nonprofit or educational organization. “It's meant to parallel the services often provided by dance companies," Woodson says, so you can practice something that might be asked of you during your career.
(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)
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Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.
Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."
Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?
Corbin Bleu in rehearsal for "Kiss Me, Kate" (Jenny Anderson, courtesy Roundabout Theatre Company)
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