Emory Report

October 25, 1999

 Volume 52, No. 9

Dance program a rare spin for schools like Emory

When New York Dance Theatre dancer Ruth Streiter enrolled at Emory this fall, she was pleased to know that she would be able to continue taking classes through the University's dance program, but she didn't expect to be challenged.

"After so many years of professional training, I expected a college dance program to be a step down," Streiter said, "but now I am forced to use my brain in dance in a way I never have before."

While few Emory undergrads arrive with a professional dancing career under their belts, many have studied dance and are excited to be able to continue that training alongside their other academic pursuits. During the past 12 years the dance program has evolved into a program that:

  • attracts students to Emory who want to continue dance training as a supplement to their pre-professional, liberal arts studies.
  • is rare among liberal arts/research institutions of Emory's size for its core tenure-track faculty.
  • is growing and thriving in a national climate of declining funding for dance.
  • nourishes the local dance community.

The program has offered a minor for many years, but this year for the first time students may major in dance as well. The dance major is designed to be a double major that dovetails well with the University's large number of pre-professional students.

"We are very much a part of the liberal arts model," said Sally Radell, associate professor and director of the program. "Dance is one of many components of a student's life and academic experience. We encourage students to discover how dance relates to other aspects of school and life."

The accepting and nurturing--yet still physically demanding--environment is often in contrast to hard-driving dance company schools and draws a wide range of students, from those serious about careers in dance to those planning on medical school. For example, two University students had solo works selected for the prestigious 1997 American College Dance Festival Association gala; a dozen works from the 75-plus presented are selected for the event. One, Jennifer Gorevitz, had just finished her MFA at Sarah Lawrence, while the other, Danh Ngo, is now in medical school at Emory. Three faculty and four student works from Emory have been selected during the last seven years.

"As a modern dance-based program, we really teach the work of the body," said Associate Professor Anna Leo. "That fits in well with the many pre-med and science-oriented students who take our classes. It teaches them a whole new way to think of and look at the body."

During a recent tenure review, the University realized that few schools like Emory have dance programs staffed with tenure-track faculty. Cornell and Tulane universities are notable exceptions, but the majority of high-quality college dance programs are found at large public universities such as Ohio State, Arizona State and Florida State universities. Many liberal arts universities employ adjunct or affiliate artists instead of tenure-track faculty.

In addition to Radell and Leo, the dance faculty includes Assistant Professor Lori Teague and full-time dance instructor Wayne Smith. Teague teaches dance pedagogy, movement fundamentals, improvisation, composition and all levels of modern technique. Smith teaches all levels of modern and jazz technique, coordinates costume support for the program and is developing a touring company of Emory students to perform in local schools. The faculty also is augmented by adjunct and visiting instructors such as ballet instructor Sheri Latham and Zelma Badu, who is teaching Ghanian dance this semester.

At a time when dance programs across the country are struggling under shrinking budgets, Emory's continues to grow to accommodate student demand, and it will get new rehearsal and performance space when the Performing Arts Center is completed. During the past 12 years, the program has grown from two faculty members offering eight courses for 120 students, to four full-time faculty offering 24 courses serving 500-550 students each year.

Emory's dance program plays a big role in Atlanta's surprisingly large number of modern dance companies. Radell estimates that more than half of the working modern dancers in Atlanta have come through Emory, and she expects this figure to grow with the new major in place.

"We see one of our missions as supporting the local dance community by training dancers, hiring local choreographers at a good wage and offering professional development through courses like the pedagogy class we offer," Radell said. "What we do is the epitome of theory-practice learning; our students learn the theory, try it out in the real world and then examine the relationship."

-Deb Hammacher

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