The Best of Both Worlds: Low-Residency MFAs
Nicole Wolcott in her UWM MFA thesis Paper Pieces. Photo by Whitney Brown, Courtesy University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee.
For many dancers, concerns about the next stage in their career frequently loom overhead. Enrolling in a master’s program serves as a crucial stepping-stone, especially if one wants to teach in a university or K–12 setting, choreograph or explore somatic practices. In the past, that usually meant uprooting and relocating—not always a good option for working professionals. Luckily, several universities have developed low-residency MFAs to accommodate just this type of student. “Once you’re no longer at the barre, so to speak, you don’t hear about that next gig, those new opportunities,” says Luc Vanier, graduate program director at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. “These programs benefit professionals who don’t want to lose their connection to the field.” With short, intense semesters held over summer months (when dancers, choreographers and teachers generally have freer schedules) and other courses that can be completed remotely in the fall and spring, low-residency programs give working artists more flexibility to pursue their academic and creative goals. —Amy Brandt
Located: Roanoke, VA
No. of students in program: 43
Degree offered: MFA in dance. Three-summer track: designed for emerging artists, teachers and dance professionals. Two-summer track: designed for mid-career dance professionals and teachers, with 12 credits granted for professional experience (minimum 10 years).
Audition required: Admission is based on applicant’s portfolio, which is reviewed by a panel of faculty.
Coursework includes: Mentored and individualized studio practice, dance history, theory and criticism, contemporary body practices, contemporary art practices, performance workshop, visiting artist series
How it works: Students meet for eight weeks during the summer: five weeks in residence at Hollins University, followed by three weeks in Frankfurt, Germany, studying at The Forsythe Company studio and the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts. Academic and creative coursework are completed off-site during the fall and spring terms.
ST. MARY'S COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA
Located: Moraga, CA
No. of students in program: 13
Degree offered: MFA in Dance: Creative Practice
Audition required: Yes, by invitation only, after application review.
Coursework includes: Choreography, technique, production practicum, dance history, critical dance pedagogy, design methodologies, lighting design, somatics, research methods
How it works: Students meet for four-week residencies over two years: three in June and two in January. In the fall and spring they take technique classes locally, as well as independent somatics-based courses and online/weekend classes (depending on their needs and proximity to campus). Students take choreography courses in the spring, receiving feedback via video, Skype or FaceTime.
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN—MILWAUKEE
Located: Milwaukee, WI
No. of students in program: 25–30
Degree offered: MFA in dance
Audition required: Applicants apply to the graduate school and submit a written statement, a choreography reel and letters of recommendation to the dance department. Candidates are selected by a committee.
Coursework includes: Dance technique (ballet, modern and African), Alexander technique, composition, improvisation, choreography, Laban Movement Analysis, dance literature, yoga
How it works: Students meet for seven weeks during the summer: a one-week intensive workshop taught by guest faculty, followed by a six-week semester. In the fall and spring, students have formal online classes and self-proposed independent studies, and they can develop a pre-thesis project, completing the thesis during the second fall and spring semesters. (Five semesters total.)
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT