My new goal: Doctor of Dance

Dance Scholar – aka Doctor of Dance

I don’t really have a good excuse for not posting on this blog in the past months, but let’s say it’s because I’ve been busy. First I was applying for grad school, then waiting in agony to hear a response, then making a decision, and finally making plans to attend grad school. The result: starting September 2012 I will be attending the University of California at Riverside in pursuit of a Ph.D. in Critical Dance Studies. I’m very excited and also downright terrified.

Having grown up entirely in the Northeast and never even previously visited California, moving to the West Coast and away from my family is certainly a nerve-wracking new step for me. Not to mention the whole 5-6 year rigorous Ph.D. program that may just eat me alive and challenge my every personal weakness. Yet, I’m also truly excited about a new adventure, and I strongly feel that this grad program is the right next step for me in my life and career.

And so here is my attempt at summarizing the journey that has brought me to this new path…

I’ve always been a thinker. My natural tendency is to analyze situations and the world around me – inquire, investigate, problem solve. In high school, this manifested as strong affinities for math and science. The processes made sense to me: look at a problem, hypothesize, study, test, solve, and be led to another problem or question.

I didn’t used to think this side of me was relevant to my dance-loving side, though. I started college thinking I would continue to dance and separately do Pre-med studies. Yet as time went on and my professors opened me to a new world of understanding dance as art, I came to find that I could apply those same natural analytical tendencies to my true area of passion.

And that’s exactly what I allowed myself to explore when I started this dance blog. My blog was a tangible way to track the examinations into the world of dance that I was interested in pursuing. Instead of dance criticism I chose a more journalistic approach, exploring questions about dance from many facets, like funding, education, exposure, etc. I didn’t really think these explorations would lead to anything; the blog was just something I did on the side to engage in discussions that I found interesting.

Then I went to the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) conference in 2010. I had heard of CORD, the national association for dance scholars, from an undergraduate professor and had been a member since that time; but the theme of this particular conference piqued my interest, and I made it a point to attend. It was there, over a cold November weekend in Seattle, that I felt I had found a natural fit in the academic community. It seemed I had finally found the marriage between analysis and study that I was naturally drawn to and the field of dance, which I was passionately devoted to. And thus I was led to searching grad schools, applying, and eventually deciding to attend.

On one hand, I whole-heartedly admit that entering a Ph.D. program for dance is just an excuse to engage in the deep, extended study of dance I’ve been yearning to do ever since I got my first taste of critical dance analysis in undergrad. Part of me feels I simply won’t be satisfied until I am able to reach that level of study and that I won’t feel able to adequately serve the field without this deeper level of understanding. (Plus Doctor of Dance has such a nice ring to it – the t-shirt has already been commissioned.)

I do also believe, though, that grad school is the right next step for getting me where I want to go in my career. Not that I know exactly what it is I want to do in the field once I graduate (wouldn’t that be nice). But I now feel certain that grad school will not only help me figure out my future goals but also provide the experience needed to reach those goals.

Thus, after some reflection, I’m very glad that I decided to go to grad school and specifically accepted attendance in the Riverside program. It may not be the road commonly traveled, nor the easiest or the cheapest, but I think it’s the right road for me. I’m quite terrified of the challenges that lie ahead but also excited for this new adventure, and I look forward to further developing as a dance writer, professional, and lifelong fan. New motto: Ph.D. or bust!

Assessment of American concert dance world: Needs Improvement

I have seen the dance world from multiple perspectives. I have studied dance most of my life and performed, choreographed, and taught dance. I have learned about dance (with a degree to show for it) and read, thought, and written about dance. I have worked in administrative roles for dance education, presenting, and service organizations. I have engaged with Dance/NYC, Dance/USA, the Congress on Research in Dance, the Arts and Business Council, and the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. I live in New York City where I see dance performances and hobnob with a variety of dance professionals on a regular basis.

And my consensus from observing the dance world from these diverse vantage points is: 1) I love it; I believe in it; I’m not done with it, and 2) It needs a lot of work if it wants to grow and sustain.

I have compiled here a list of problems or areas that I think need improvement in the large context of concert dance in the U.S. I have been thinking about these things for a while, but when I went to actually write down a list, I was surprised that I came up with so many – 20 in total. Because of this, I decided to divide them into categories, so that the full list wouldn’t be as overwhelming. Thus, here is my current list of areas of need for American concert dance

Coming together

  • There is not enough connection and caring among the different sectors of the dance world. I often refer to the 4 A’s and an E: Artists, Administrators, Advocates, Academics, and Educators. I feel that there need to be communication bridges between each of these groups as well as mutual respect and concern for the health of each sector.
  • Specifically, academic researchers and writers tend to be very exclusive. I spoke about this in my review of the Congress on Research in Dance conference last November. I particularly wish that academics were more inclusive of the rest of the field in their studies and also shared their findings with a broader audience, sparking positive change by sharing the knowledge with those it actually affects.
  • Once connecting bridges are established between the different sectors, there needs to be more discourse among people in dance. We need to come together to talk about issues and discuss solutions.
  • I feel dance writers could play a critical role in helping this discourse to happen – using media platforms to bring up topics and engage conversation (not just providing dance criticism). In order to do this, though, we need more opportunities, support, and compensation for dance writers.
  • To fully bring everyone to the table and working together to promote change, we may need to improve our current service organizations and possibly create new ones. For example, I think the Dance Critics Association and Dance/USA could benefit from clarified missions and rejuvenated energy. And with so many separate organizations for each professional group (though each useful), is there need for a national umbrella organization for all things dance, to at least bring representatives from each community together for cross-conversation?

(more…)

What happens when dance and theater nerds join forces

This entire blog post goes under the heading “better late than never.” That’s because I’m finally getting around to writing about the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) conference that I went to last November in Seattle. Yep, that’s right, over 7 months ago. But it’s all good, because I took copious notes. So here goes.

Straight to it: the conference was great. There were many informative presentations of quality research done by individuals in the academic sector. Since it was a joint conference of CORD and the American Society for Theatre Research (ASTR), we got to hear about topics relating to both fields – dance and theater – and also about points of intersection between them. To be honest, not all of them were interesting (to me) and sometimes the combination of monotone speakers, fluorescent lighting, and lack of sleep caused me to doze off from time to time. But most of the presentations were well-done and quite relevant, such as discussing documentation strategies for the performing arts and exploring identity in contemporary modern dance.

I also really appreciated the State of the Profession plenary – a panel of academics from mixed backgrounds and interests sharing their views about the present and future of their respective fields. It was great to hear what seasoned scholars considered to be the current issues as well as their opinions on how to move forward. One idea I found particularly interesting came from Praise Zenenga, professor at The University of Arizona, who expressed his desire to unlock the power of the human body, as he believes the “body is a site of interdisciplinary inquiry.” (Such a nerdy arts phrase, but I guess that’s why I like it.)

I was really glad that CORD took a page from the ASTR playbook and welcomed “working sessions” into the mix, (more…)

15 Reasons why all children should learn to dance

Ever since my post back in May about the Side-by-Side dance program in Utah, I’ve been thinking about dance education in schools and checking out various sources on the subject. Recently I read Judith Lynne Hanna’s 1999 book, Partnering Dance and Education. I really appreciated Hanna’s thorough analysis of the topic, as she explored the potential of dance education, discussed various models of teaching, and cited specific programs and research studies that helped to illustrate the ideas. Particularly I enjoyed her many reasons why learning dance is so valuable, including an entire chapter called “The Power of Dance Well Taught.”

I’d like to share here, straight from the book, 15 benefits of dance and dance education, as listed by Judith Lynne Hanna.

1) Dance education aids the development of kinesthetic intelligence.

2) Dance education creates opportunities for self-expression and communication within the constraints of the medium of the body.

3) Dance, whether representational, thematic, or abstract, is a repository of civilization that changes through time.

4) Dance education teaches the values and skills of creativity, problem solving, risk taking, making judgments in the absence of rules, and higher-order thinking skills.

5) Dance provides an opportunity for students to recognize that there are multiple solutions to problems. (more…)

From the mouths of teens, why arts funding should not be cut from schools

A few weeks ago, I volunteered for the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (under Scholastic Inc.) to help run their annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.  Hundreds of middle school and high school students gathered from around the country to be recognized for outstanding visual art works or writing submissions. After seeing samples of some of the works from the award recipients, I was completely in awe at the amount of talent that surrounded me, especially at such a young age.

I was also blown away by their responses to the issue of arts funding. One of my jobs as volunteer was to survey the visual art students about their experience of taking art classes, so that their responses could be used in a campaign to keep arts programs in schools. The answers that I got from the students were amazing, so insightful and honest, many even profoundly philosophical about why art is important. I was so impressed with their responses, that I’d like to share some of them here. What follows are some anonymous responses from high school students to the last question of the survey (stated in their exact words).

Why is it not a good time to cut school art programs?

  • Why would any time be a good time to cut art classes in school?
  • It’s like dreaming – it gives anyone a reason to wake up in the morning.
  • It defines our culture and shapes America.
  • Now more than ever, students need to know there are all different ways to be happy.
  • Because creativity is the only thing to get us out of our current predicament
  • Cutting art programs would deprive the world of a generation of package and graphic designers.
  • We need a voice.
  • Because art lets us express individuality, and without that, what are we?
  • Kids will become more like horses with blinders, not observing everything.
  • In troubled times, art is the only thing we can turn to that makes sense.
  • If you get rid of someone’s creativity, you get rid of their reasons to live.
  • Because art is a very important part of everybody’s education, not just those interested in art
  • Because art is a root to what makes us human

It’s great  for teachers and parents to fight for arts programming in school, but I think it’s so wonderful to hear it from the students themselves. Their responses are such inspiring words for why arts in general are so important in our country, now and always. With such bright and talented young people, I am hopeful for the future. But I’m also struck with the need to keep nourishing these young creators through arts education, and to keep promoting art across the country.