University of Arizona Faculty On What It's Like to Go From Professional to Professor
In the final years of her decade-long career with the Lewitzky Dance Company, University of Arizona Associate Professor Amy Ernst began to develop an interest in dance injury prevention. She remembers feeling an urge to widen her understanding of dance and the body. Soon after retirement from the Company, she was hired by the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Inglewood, California as a physical therapy assistant, where she worked for the next three and a half years. This work eventually led her to pursue an M.F.A. in dance at the University of Washington-Seattle. She remembers growing into the role of a professor during her time pursuing her degree. That incubation phase was critical. Ernst joined the faculty at the University of Arizona in 1995, and now as director of the M.F.A. program, mentors the new generation of dance faculty, company directors and innovators.
Transitioning from being a performer to a professor is a shift in focus. Ernst explains, "Instead of requiring hyper-focus on your own technique and level of performance on stage night after night, the rigor of being a faculty member is balancing the requirement for excellence in teaching, service, and creative activities." This triple proficiency is a standard for university positions.
Photo by Ed Flores/MFA candidate Kara Madden rehearses undergraduate dance majors
At the University of Arizona in Tucson, all graduate students receive hands-on teaching experience in dance technique classes, as well as lecture courses. The program ensures M.F.A. dancers develop teaching skills in multiple disciplines, something that Assistant Professor Autumn Eckman highlights as critical for working in academic settings. Eckman, whose career spanned performing and choreographing for Hubbard Street, Giordano Dance Chicago and State Street Ballet, emphasizes the importance of being able to move between disciplines as a teacher and artist saying, "As a teacher, you call upon your experiences. M.F.A. candidates need a breadth of knowledge and experience to become leaders."
That breadth of experience also extends to scholarly research. Ernst explains "service to the art form as a faculty member includes producing research that moves dance forward as a discipline in an academic setting. This is built into the curriculum for our M.F.A. dancers. They have an opportunity to explore their interests and how they inform their creative practice." At UA, an internationally recognized research intensive university, this aspect runs deep. M.F.A. dancers are encouraged to take advantage of the proximity to experts in other fields and seek out collaborations with other disciplines on campus. M.F.A. dancers are just as likely to be on stage performing as they are presenting research.
Photo by Ed Flores/MFA candidate David Bagley teaches undergraduate dance majors
The balance of performance, choreography, and academics is what attracted now Assistant Professor Tamara Dyke-Compton and Instructor Christopher Compton to pursue M.F.A. degrees at the University of Arizona. After touring as principals in Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out, they were ready to put down roots, but the decision to leave the stage was a hard one. At UA, they were able to perform in the state-of-the-art Stevie Eller Dance Theatre in a robust season of faculty and guest work. Dyke-Compton says, "dancers unsure if they want to leave the stage or not can continue to perform and evolve as artists. An M.F.A. is a time to explore and re-inspire." Compton adds, "the undergraduate talent and technical support available in this program provide choreographic opportunities that are unmatched." For both, this time of exploration yielded them the roots they were looking for sooner rather than later, and both were appointed faculty positions. "Now it's about having an impact in the long run," says Dyke-Compton, "it's about giving back to students."
To prepare graduate students for careers in academia as well as other leadership roles in the field, the University of Arizona curriculum is a "three-dimensional view of dance," Ernst says. "The M.F.A. curriculum requires dancers to produce scholarly research alongside choreography, and to teach dance academics alongside technique classes. The focus is on learning from real-world settings and the challenges that arise. And if you're interested in becoming a faculty member, an M.F.A. is key. It is a terminal degree, and now for most universities, a minimum requirement."
There is one aspect of being a professor that seems to rise above the rest. For all, it is about mentorship and developing the next generation of dance leaders. As Eckman puts it, "as a professor or graduate teaching assistant, it is about supporting the strengths of the students you have in front of you. You meet them where they are and help them find their unique voices and contributions to this art form."
Thirty years ago, U.S. Joint Resolution 131, introduced by congressman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senator Alphonse D'Amato (R-NY), and signed into law by President G. W. Bush declared:
"Whereas the multifaceted art form of tap dancing is a manifestation of the cultural heritage of our Nation...
Whereas tap dancing is a joyful and powerful aesthetic force providing a source of enjoyment and an outlet for creativity and self-expression...
Whereas it is in the best interest of the people of our Nation to preserve, promote, and celebrate this uniquely American art form...
Whereas May 25, as the anniversary of the birth of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson is an appropriate day on which to refocus the attention of the Nation on American tap dancing: Now therefore, be it resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress that May 25, 1989, be designated "National Tap Dance Day."
Happy National Tap Dance Day!
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.