Nyama McCarthy-Brown advocates for more diverse dance options in higher ed. Photo by Dennis Griggs, Courtesy McCarthy-Brown.

The Majority of College Dance Programs Focus on Western Techniques—and It's Shortchanging Students' Artistry

Nyama McCarthy-Brown, assistant professor of community engagement through dance pedagogy at Ohio State University, breaks down the need for more inclusive dance training in higher ed.


The Numbers

"We have over 600 college dance programs in the United States, and less than 10 of them focus on something other than ballet or modern," says McCarthy-Brown of her research. The more college dance departments privilege Western techniques, the more students will follow a pattern that limits their options, losing the opportunity to work within other cultural practices.

Room for Growth

What would it look like if ballet or modern dancers consistently diversified their training with bharatanatyam or traditional West African dance? "I don't think we fully understand what the benefits are, because we haven't given students the opportunity to expand in those ways," says McCarthy-Brown. "We deserve a chance to find out."

Push for Choice

McCarthy-Brown says she's seeing more and more students advocating for diversity in their curriculums, "but it really becomes the job of administrators and directors to make these changes," she says. Find a teacher or mentor who supports your hunger to explore other forms, ask for help and "don't relax the struggle," McCarthy-Brown says. If your program only offers electives, continue to expand your training in community classes, in clubs on campus or during summer intensives.

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Stark Photo Productions, Courtesy Harlequin

Why Your Barre Can Make or Break Your At-Home Dance Training

Throughout the pandemic, Shelby Williams, of Royal Ballet of Flanders (aka "Biscuit Ballerina"), has been sharing videos that capture the pitfalls of dancers working from home: slipping on linoleum, kicking over lamps and even taking windows apart at the "barre." "Dancers aren't known to be graceful all of the time," says Mandy Blackmon, PT, DPT, OSC, CMTPT, head physical therapist/medical director for Atlanta Ballet. "They tend to fall and trip."

Many dancers have tried to make their home spaces as safe as possible for class and rehearsal by setting up a piece of marley, like Harlequin's Dance Mat, to work on. But there's another element needed for taking thorough ballet classes at home: a portable barre.

"Using a barre is kinda Ballet 101," says 16-year-old Haley Dale, a student in her second year at American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School. She'd bought a portable barre from Harlequin to use at her parents' home in Northern Virginia even before the pandemic hit. "Before I got it, honestly I would stay away from doing barre work at home. Now I'm able to do it all the time."

Blackmon bought her 15-year-old stepdaughter a freestanding Professional Series Ballet Barre from Harlequin early on in quarantine. "I was worried about her injuring herself without one," she admits.

What exactly makes Harlequin's barres an at-home must-have, and hanging on to a chair or countertop so risky? Here are five major differences dancers will notice right away.

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December 2020