What’s Going on in College Dance Today?

June 9, 2014

This past weekend, I got to attend the American College Dance Festival Association’s National Festival. I was a panelist for the ACDFA/Dance Magazine awards for outstanding student choreographer and outstanding student performance, along with Suzanne Callahan and Daniel Singh. We saw 31 pieces from dance departments large and small, prestigious and under-the-radar, performing modern and ballet and even folklorico. It was a fascinating snapshot of the dance going on at college programs around the country.


So, what did the picture look like? Widely varied. There were some dancers with jaw-dropping technique (notably—and unsurprisingly—from LINES/Dominican University, Indiana University, University of Utah), and some dancers who seemed to have only a couple years’ training under their belts. There was some incredibly inventive and powerful student choreography (especially from University of Maryland, Baltimore County and University of Maryland, College Park), and some that felt derivative, which, let’s face it, is all part of the process of discovering your own artistic voice.


But what struck me most was how clear it was which students had been coached in performance quality. For many dancers, the college experience is all about polishing off your skills before launching a professional career; it’s the time when you expand your focus beyond technique and delve further into the many components that make a well-rounded artist.


And in this festival context, it was very obvious which programs had pushed their dancers in this direction. With so many short performances back-to-back, stage presence was what captured my attention most and left the biggest impression. Some of the dancers we saw looked like they were probably great in the classroom, but their performance fell flat onstage because they were just executing the movement. Meanwhile, their peers who danced with the audience in mind, who moved with an intention, who thought about the qualities of their phrasing, who performed in the true sense of the word—they got me incredibly excited about the next generation of professionals.


Check acdfa.org in the next few days to find out who we chose for the ACDFA/Dance Magazine awards.