My honest responses to the current stack of wonderful responses to ‘Is American modern dance a pyramid scheme?’
A Letter to My Former Student: No, Dance Isn’t a Pyramid Scheme; If It Was, I’d Own More Real Estate By Karen Kohn Bradley. Wonderful insight from the professor that taught the original author, Sarah Anne Austin. I love her mention that “history matters here” because, as is the theme of this blog, the past and present of dance mingle together to help the future of dance. So, while the history matters, the present is what we must pay close attention to, as well.
Another quote to note, “Dancers who go through university training are generally smart and resourceful and organized; they had to be.” And they still are. But the current post graduate problem is happening not because post graduate dance majors aren’t smart, resourceful, or organized; it’s about complex undercurrents in the university systems, the audience, and economic state of arts in the U.S.
The resilience of dance and dance majors that all of theses articles mention, including the original, is something that can’t be broken in a post graduate dance major, but it’s weakened and harmed and it takes a strong person, not just dancer, to climb towards far off dance jobs or track down opportunities to mix dance into their post graduate lives. If post graduates received not only outside-of-dance training but support from dance professionals in all of the stages of a college student’s life, then, yes, I believe it would be a smaller fight to go into after Diploma-Day. But that is where the pyramid scheme of things returns, because it’s lacking in nearly all U.S. dance programs/divisions.
A Call for R/evolution: A Response to Sarah Austin’s ‘Is American Modern Dance a Pyramid Scheme?’ by Jennifer Edwards. I agree with this response the most out of the recent three and even more than the original article. Edwards puts a lot of depth of solutions in here, and I applaud her. She gets it; she’s in the current flow of university dance programs in the U.S.
This post graduate dilemma is “a symptom of a larger cultural, socio-economic shift that continues to affect both the arts and education” and I couldn’t agree more. She goes on to explain towards the end of her response that change should happen from within dance programs/divisions, RIGHT NOW.
This response also made me a bit sad afterwards. Her experiences with students is something I experience as a fellow dance major and TA; I look at my classmates and students as they tremble when most of our class discussions about the future post graduate status they face becomes littered with gross sentiment of fear and instability, two emotions that have the potential for aiding success but they sure do suck when you’re a 20-something-year-old with looming, rising student loans. My classmates and students admit defeat before even receiving their first loan payments.
“They feel unprepared, like a secret formula for success is out there but no one bothered to teach them. Some feel cheated and bitter. This is a problem in dance as it is in many other fields as well.” From my sociology major friends to my advertising major friends, we all feel fear and instability, but the dance major relies on something that no other major, except for athletics, must deal with and it’s disappearing with each day, their physical limits.
And with this I’m mentioning those dance performance majors that wish to get their MFA/Ph.D and/or join a company and/or form their own company as an active member and/or create with their own movement. (Teaching, writing, researching, administrating, choreographing, etc. these are all, for the most part, mental activities that have a bit more tangibility, less reliance on daily physical performance.) The body of today is not the same as the body of tomorrow. And, ideal, post graduate dance performance majors want to have the dance jobs and opportunities right out of college so that they can quickly continue for as long as they can. But dance majors lack resources in academia and outside of academia for the right kinds of dance jobs and opportunities that will provide nearly the same level of personal growth that they felt during college.
It is in “the very insular microcosm of dance” that we must discuss and make the changes. We can’t afford to wait for the larger systems to change for much longer. (That’s not a threat, by the way! I don’t believe that dance degrees are facing extinction!)
Further, “college as a path toward a career, not a path toward greater learning” is, honestly, where we are at right now. In the past, no. The university as a whole wasn’t created for the afterwards status; they were more interested in the currently learning status of students. Universities once created the brightest minds, mind you, not the biggest paychecks. But we are here, we are in the now; a related job is expected, desired, and, here’s the sad part, nearly unobtainable with your earned dance knowledge and degree.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite solution quotes from Edwards:
“Changes in curriculum could begin the process of empowering dancers and build a cadre of graduates poised to make needed changes to the field. We are, after all the sum of our parts.”
“we must start students thinking and writing about their futures from freshman year, on.”
“Understanding how the field actually works while researching, defining, defending, and articulating their artistic work, are experiences that should take precedence over working with one more guest artist or established choreographer. It is time for faculty and administrators to work toward integrating mandatory entrepreneurial curriculum into their programs.”
A Philosophy Major Rants on Dance as a Pyramid Scheme: A Rantful Response from Texas by Nancy Wozny. Wozny is a woman in dance who’s opinion and words about dance I value. I’ve met her once and that’s all that it took for me to know that she’s very passionate about knowing everything that’s happening in dance. I don’t agree 100% with her here, but I’m so grateful that she is adding her voice to this conversation.
This is my main issue with Wozny’s rant: “Can we just stop for a minute to marvel at all the ways dance artists have managed to continue to put fresh dances on our stages outside of dance academia?” We do. We marvel at the professional dance world every day. And it’s beautiful and alluring. It’s why we have so many dance majors claimed each year in U.S. universities.
But the achievements outside of academia aren’t helping, nor hurting, this post graduate dilemma. We can look to those that have grand success in the dance world, with or without a degree, and hope everyone can feed off of that dazzling energy, or we can look to those that are struggling as post graduates and try to find solutions for current majors and the majors of the future of dance.
As a ranting (native) Texan myself, I look to my state’s universities for signs of the illuminated pyramid scheme. And I find them in a few dance programs/divisions. I’m not going to lie, Texas State, for one example, needs to shape up and make the changes from within our microcosm because it’s getting very slippery over here.
Sure, we have a new performing arts center, but how many dance classes and performances are actually held there? About 1 class per year and 2 performances per semester; we are still fighting a game with the “other” performance majors for space, attention, and funding. But apparently the theater division here produces more “successful” post graduate stories than the dance division does, so I assume this is one small factor as to why they get more chances to use the center over us? A scheme to get those majors that are already up even higher and limit the resources for those majors that are in between. (Note that this is not limited to the Theater and Dance Divisions; it’s felt in the Studio Arts Divisions and, even, the English Department.)
But as Wozny is always reminding us in her publications Arts + Culture and the Dance DiSH, there is hope and beauty in dance. I, for one, find that watching or hearing about a successful dance performance helps my little undergraduate heart. And for a few days, I reflect on how big, how beautiful, how bold our dance world has become, is, and will be.
I don’t want to always devote so much of my energy to proving others “wrong.” I’m a horrible debater (I tried it in 9th grade and failed miserably during a session about lunch prices) and I don’t like confrontation, but I fiercely love dance in all its aspects. My branching love and protection of dance in academia is very personal and known to me.
I understand the flow of things going on today from one perspective, student. And I understand the frustrations felt from another perspective, educator. I’ll learn what it is to be a post graduate come May, and I’ll go abroad and feel what it is to be a dancer in another country that fully supports dance, and I’ll return to academia for my MFA and the state of things will surely be changed, and I’ll have to find a new flow and perspective. I look forward to all of these events because I know I’ll have one of the greatest powers, my dance degree. Everything becomes possible with my dance degree, and my dancer perseverance.
I, myself, am not afraid for the present future because I know I’ll find ways to be involved in dance in one way or form FOREVER. But that is also caused by my endless devotion to collecting many skills that related to dance, i.e. photography, writing, and teaching. This wasn’t taught to me in studios or academies or, even, in my community college, because performance was valued and favored as the end result of a dance education. (Though, my “collecting” was allowed at Texas State, it was still fairly unnoticed and unguided; I’m not a BFA really, I’ve made my degree more of a BA.)
I’ve never limited myself to one subject of dance, and I think I know why finally: I want the whole of dance, not the part. (Thanks, upper-level philosophy courses!) I’ve also never wanted to perform professional. Instead, I’ve built myself as an enterprise I can use in this hostile college environment (I always write English and Philosophy essays about dance to my professors’ amazement). And I realized that I had to build myself with these many personal skills to be ready for the even more hostile economic environment of “the real world” (I hate that phrase so much…).
So, please, don’t take this for an angry and negative musing. I only want there to be more conversation about the struggles and issues in U.S. dance programs in order for there to be more solutions and active changes.