Students at Pomona College learn how ethnic groups use dances, like the Hawaiian hula, to construct identities. (via Thinkstock)

What It Means to Major in Dance at a Liberal Arts College

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.

International Relations

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.

Cognitive Development

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."

Community Outreach

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.

Latest Posts

Trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey in his work Boys in Trouble (Keegan Marling, courtesy Sean Dorsey Dance)

8 Phenomenal Trans and GNC Dancers to Follow

Whether through color-specific costumes, classes separated by sex, or the "traditional" view of the roles boys and girls should play in ballet, most dance students are taught that their gender determines their role in the studio beginning in elementary school. And, especially for those struggling with their own gender identity, that can cause harm and confusion. "From a very young age, I did not see myself reflected anywhere in the modern dance field," says trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey. "There was a really intense message I received, which was that my body and identity don't have a place here."

Despite significant societal progress in regards to gender representation, the dance world has trailed behind, and many transgender and gender nonconforming teenagers still feel lost within the world of dance. Prominent trans and GNC professional dancers are few and far between. "Being a Black trans woman means I have to work extra, extra, extra hard, because I have to set the tone for the people who come after me," says Brielle "Tatianna" Rheames, a distinguished voguer.

But the rise of social platforms has given Rheames, Dorsey, and other trans and GNC dancers a path to visibility—and that visibility helps create community and change lives. "Social media plays an extremely big part," Rheames says. "You can't just hide us anymore." Here are eight incredible trans and GNC dancers to add to your own Instagram feed.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search