Teach-Learn Connection

August 25, 2010

Dance with a Practical Edge

Some college dance programs train students for a second career.

By Victoria Looseleaf


Calling all dance majors! If prospects of nailing a job after graduation seem slimmer in this economic climate, there are other options to consider when seeking a dance career. There also are options when it comes to choosing a college that will not only keep a dancer in leotards and tutus, but provide her with marketable skills. Today’s colleges offer not just performance degrees but more pragmatic programs, including Dance Science, Dance Management, and teaching certification. Dance Magazine chose three undergraduate programs to profile. While each takes a different approach, all are geared toward providing the dancer with necessary skills to find a job in the dance arena.

Teaching Dreams: University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Sue Stinson, coordinator of the dance education program, arrived at UNCG in 1979 to run the dance teacher licensure program, one of the country’s first. As with any performance degree, students are required to audition as well as take dance major courses. The certification program is hands-on, with candidates going into the public schools as part of their training. Once finished, graduates are qualified to teach in these schools. Since North Carolina has a mandate to offer dance in the schools, jobs had always been plentiful for graduates with certification, but that isn’t quite the case today.


“Until the recession, every graduate got a job,” says Stinson. “Last year was the first time we had anyone looking for a full-time teaching position. We tell them we won’t guarantee a job, but with a teaching license and some flexibility—being willing to relocate, for example—your chances of being hired are really good.”


Stinson adds that many alumni who did not get licensed regretted it later. A number of people who had been dancing for several years were ready for a career change and then enrolled in the program.


Faith Mottershead graduated last year with a BS in dance education from UNCG. She currently teaches at the Community School of Davidson in Davidson, NC. “Since I was young, I wanted to dance and choreograph and start my own company, but I fell in love with teaching,” says Mottershead, “and UNCG has an excellent program. The faculty is great, and when I graduated I had three job offers. Since we also took technique and choreography classes, I felt like I was prepared to help the kids I now teach to put on shows.”

Anatomy of the Body: California State University, Long Beach (CSULB)
  In this harbor town south of Los Angeles, the university boasts a lively dance department, with seven studios and a Pilates center. For those seeking careers in dance or dance fitness, CSULB offers a BA in Dance, Option in Dance Science, a curriculum that includes biology and kinesiology. These are taken in addition to the required classes, such as technique and dance history.


Karen Clippinger, whose work involves the application of scientific principles to enhance alignment and movement while lowering injury risk, designed the program in 2004 with Judy Allen. She is also the program advisor. Because the science studies are rigorous, with numerous labs and courses in human anatomy, exercise physiology, and motor learning, only five students graduated from the program in 2010.


Clippinger says it’s essentially a preparatory program. “It provides a base for students to go on to physical therapy school. But it does give you the background information to make you a better teacher—to understand how to prevent injuries, how to design a better class. The body is your vehicle and the more you understand it, the greater longevity you’ll have. We teach this in an applied, practical way.”

Clippinger notes that while many students still seek a performing career, others, deciding that world is too competitive, opt for another direction, such as “being a personal trainer or Pilates instructor.”


Nicole Gendel graduated from CSULB last May with a dance science degree, later becoming certified in Pilates. She plans to move to New York and audition for dance companies while teaching Pilates. Gendel says she chose the school because of its dance science program. “CSULB prepared me for the job market because the field of dance science is so important,” she says. “My knowledge of preventing and recovering from injury, proper body alignment, and how muscles work helped me acquire a keen eye.”


Dancing for Dollars: Oklahoma City University’s BS in Dance Management

Jo Rowan is chair of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management and founder of the school’s dance program. She and her husband, John Bedford, dean of the school, launched the curriculum at the private university in the mid-’80s because they wanted to give dancers a wide range of career choices. The school has 250 students, with 45 enrolled in dance management. The latter are required to take a range of business courses—from management to accounting to marketing—in addition to performance classes.


Says Bedford, “Students learn how to plan and implement tours, how to produce, sponsor, and present perfor­mances, as well as study fund-raising and development. They also study dance studio management and learn about contract law, workers compensation, and performing arts unions.” He points out that most students have a performing career and use their management prowess later.


Success stories abound, including that of Katy McDermott. A 1995 dance management graduate, McDermott moved to New York in 1998, where she began stage-managing at P.S. 122. She stage-managed for Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company for three years, beginning in 2000. Currently she works at the dance division of the booking agency IMG Artists, where her clients include Jones, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company.


“I chose the school because it had a good reputation for producing dancers who worked,” explains Texas-born McDermott. “But after my freshman year I realized the performance life wasn’t for me. I liked the stability that a management degree gave me. In my first three months with Bill T. I worked at Jacob’s Pillow, the Lincoln Center Festival and the Olympic Arts Festival in Sydney. It’s a wonderful way to still be connected to dance.”

Passion is one hallmark of a great dancer. That it can also be found in people with dance-related careers is what makes their lives—and work—infinitely rewarding.



Victoria Looseleaf writes for the
L.A. Times and teaches dance history at USC and Santa Monica College.



Break Your Bad Habits: The Feet

By Lauren Kay


Dancers depend on strong, supple feet to finish a line, support a jump’s landing, and provide stability. But strengthening the feet, in both modern and ballet, can become secondary to working on larger body parts. “We spend so much time on alignment and the core that sometimes the feet are forgotten,” says Deborah Wolf, who teaches modern dance at Cornish College for the Arts. “Dancers who know how to let weight fall through the feet into the floor have a beautiful sense of transition between movements, as well as ample cushioning for jumps.” DM explored how to break bad feet habits with help from Wolf, Vera Timashova of Canada’s National Ballet School, and Ballet West’s physical therapist, Kevin Semons.

Sickling the foot (pointing, but turning in) not only breaks the line of the leg at the ankle but also puts you at risk for injury. Semons notes that the foot is more likely to sickle when lifting off the ground. “If the foot is pointed on the ground, you have the nerves giving feedback from the floor of what part is touching,” he says. “But when the foot comes off, you don’t have that feedback anymore, and sickling can occur.”

Break it:
According to Semons, the muscles that pull the foot into a sickled position—the inside of the calf and arch—are often stronger than the muscles on the outside of the foot, which are responsible for “winging.” To strengthen those outer muscles, sit on the floor, wrap a Thera-Band around the arch, and pull the foot into a winged position. Do three sets of 15 repetitions, first with the foot pointed, then flexed. Repeat the exercise with the ankle perpendicular to the floor (sitting in a chair, feet flat on the ground) to mirror the position of standing.


Uneven Weight Distribution Resting into one part of the foot might feel natural when standing in place, but it poses problems when it comes to balancing and moving through space. Semons says this habit often begins during downtime in class. “When dancers are standing around, there’s a tendency to roll into the arch,” he says. “Eventually the habit creeps into dancing.”

Break it:
When dealing with a weight imbalance in the foot, the first place to investigate, says Wolf, is the pelvis. “Check to see if a dancer’s pelvis is neutral and if they are truly turning out from the rotators. If not, they will have a lack of connection down the leg into the foot.” For balancing in relevé, Wolf recommends the following exercise: Think about a tripod of weight distribution, the two outer edges of the ball of the foot, and the middle of the heel. “Fire the hamstrings, and lift the heels a half inch off the floor,” she says. “Hold for 32 counts, then lower and repeat. If you can maintain the weight correctly at this starting point, you’ll be able to do so throughout full rising and lowering.”


Disconnect from the Floor Directing weight through the feet into the floor creates a grounded, fluid quality of movement; it also generates the downward energy needed to propel the body upward. Wolf refers to performers without this connectedness as “shape dancers: dancers who copy what they see and only go for the end result. There’s a lack of moving through the metatarsal with articulation.”

Break it:
Timashova says a connection with the floor comes first and foremost through a deep plié, which energizes the entire leg. She also recommends focusing on brushing down through the ground when working in tendu. Wolf’s advice: “Breathe into the body, and then down into the feet. Think about how you work through all the stages of even a simple step like a tendu. Throughout each moment, let the energy drop down and out through the feet and then into the ground.”



Lauren Kay, a
Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.


Across The Floor


Ballet or College? How About Both?

Nashville Ballet 2, the second company of Nashville Ballet, has created a training division for preprofessional dancers. A stepping stone to performing with NB2, the program offers an intensive full-time curriculum, as well as the option to pursue a college degree through partnerships with Belmont University and other local schools. And tuition is relatively affordable at $500 per semester. See www.nashvilleballet.com


New Positions

On July 1, The School of the Arts at Purchase College, SUNY, home to one of the nation’s leading dance conservatories, welcomed a new dean. Ken Tabachnick, former general manager of New York City Ballet, brings experience in many facets of the arts and nonprofit sector, from lighting design to intellectual property law.  g Donna Faye Burchfield, formerly dean of the American Dance Festival, has been appointed director of the University of the Arts School of Dance in Philadelphia. She succeeds Susan Glazer, who retired from the position in June after 29 years. Burchfield joined the ADF faculty in 1990, becoming dean in 2000, and served as artistic director of the Hollins University/ADF Master of Fine Arts in Dance since 1993.  g  At the Patel Conservatory in Tampa, FL, Peter Stark has stepped into the newly created role of dance department chair. A former dancer with NYCB, Boston Ballet, and Washington Ballet, Stark comes to Patel after 10 years as the director of Orlando Ballet School.


Honors & Awards

In May, between performances at his Hell’s Kitchen arts center (see “Reviews,” Aug.), Mikhail Baryshnikov stopped by Juilliard’s commencement ceremony to receive an honorary degree.  g  At the annual National College Dance Festival, held at the Kennedy Center in May, two students took home ACDFA/Dance Magazine Awards. The award for Outstanding Student Choreographer went to Megan Kendzior (University of Florida) for her work Witness. Emily Terndrup, from the University of Utah, received the Outstanding Student Performance award for her role in Where Your Body Lies, which she choreographed with Patrick Barnes. g  In May, Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, awarded an honorary degree in the performing arts to Marcia Dale Weary, founder and artistic director of Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. —Siobhan Burke

Pictured: Students in the dance science program at CSULB. Photo by Ian Douglas, Curtesy Movement Research.