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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Get More Out of Your Dance Degree—Whether You're on Campus or Not

When Rose Conroy-Voza entered Rider University in 2016, she thought all she needed to focus on was her dance classes. But the 2020 graduate found herself cherishing experiences outside of the studio—memberships in upwards of 10 clubs, an on-campus job and meaningful connections with her professors. "As I was introduced to all these different opportunities," she says, "I realized that there is so much more that dancers could have."

Just because you got into a great dance program does not mean you are getting everything you possibly can out of your college education. Whether you're online or on campus this semester, there's an abundance of resources available. All you need to do is figure out how best to take advantage of them.

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