NDEO’s Guest Blog Series features posts written by our members about their experiences in the fields of dance and dance education. We continue this series with a post by Danielle Lydia Sheather, MFA, Assistant Professor of Dance, Southern Utah University. Guest posts reflect the experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of the author and are printed here with their permission. NDEO does not endorse any business, product, or service mentioned in guest blog posts. If you are interested in learning more about the guest blogger program or submitting an article for consideration, please click here.
Following the remarks of Kentucky’s Governor Matt Bevin in 2018, "If you're studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there's not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set," I found it urgent to study the relationship between dance, higher education and the stigma that surrounds majoring in the subject.
An experiment I do at the start of virtually all of my classes is to simply ask the students, "What are some remarks you hear from folx when you tell them you are majoring in dance?" Nine times out of ten the entire class responds with a resounding, "That must be fun," or, "That must be easy," or some derivative of those responses. Despite the first collegiate dance program beginning in the United States in 1926, we continue to carry the stigma that the pursuit of dance studies is easy, when in fact, the reality is that it takes courage, it takes vulnerability, and artistry and… and… and... the cards are often stacked against them. Take injury rates for instance.
In a 2019 study published by the BMJ Open Sport and Exercise Medicine at Codarts' (Rotterdam, Netherlands), BA Dance and Dance Education contemporary students were assessed using the Performing Artist and Athlete Health Monitor which included the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre Questionnaire on Health Problems. With an 80% response rate to the questionnaires, some of the results of injuries were as follows:
- 97% of students reported at least one injury, mental complaint ,or other health problem.
- The 1-year injury incidence proportion was 81%.
- Of the injured students, 58% were substantially injured (i.e., problems leading to moderate or severe reductions in training volume or performance or complete inability to participate in activities).
We also cannot ignore that in the United States the cost of education has increased over several years. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that between 2017–2018, prices for undergraduate tuition, fees, room, and board at public institutions rose 31%. That said, according to the College Board, the cost of tuition has actually decreased since the pandemic. In the academic year 2019-20 to 2021-22, average tuition, fees, and room and board dropped 0.2% at private nonprofit four-year schools. From 2020-21 to 2021-22, prices dropped an additional 1.7%. Costs followed a similar pattern in the same timeframe at four-year public schools. It is too soon to tell if the lowering costs will continue, however, and despite these fluctuations it is difficult to find universities that continue to support arts programs. Take for instance the announcement on March 17th, 2021 that Mills College would be closing. President Elizabeth L. Hillman cited, “economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural changes across higher education, Mills’ declining enrollment, and budget deficits” as reasons for its transformation to a non–degree-conferring institution.
So we are grappling with:
- A stigma that majoring in dance is "easy" despite injury rates and mental health issues that arise
- An educational system that does not see the value of arts despite the fact that the Arts & Culture sector adds $877 billion in value to the economy annually, provides 4.5% of GDP, and employs 5.1 million Americans. By comparison, Arts & Culture adds $265 billion more a year to GDP than the transportation sector. And, according to David Dorfman, "We are often seen as the poor stepchildren of the arts, usually thought of as having nothing tangible to sell."
- Fluctuating costs of education that do not protect major dance institutions from pivoting to non–degree-conferring institutions or cutting their programs altogether.
However, we are also contending with:
- Students who want to major or minor in dance and in some cases double major.
- Students who want to be prepared for a multitude of career paths, and deserve to have that opportunity, considering the fact that Arts and Culture does indeed expand our GDP.
- Numerous studies that conclude that Dance in K-12 has positive effects on Student Achievement, School Culture, and Teacher Satisfaction as outlined in “Stand Up for Dance in America’s K-12 Schools” report.
Suffice it to say the cards are stacked against dance majors and yet we continue to have students who want to earn their degrees in dance at higher education institutions. So what do we do? How do we consider moving forward as educators when the odds are against them?
In David Dorfman's 2019 article "Is Dance Underfunded Because It's Undervalued?" for Dance Magazine, he asks the following question: "How do we cultivate both monetary support and dignity so that choreographers and dancers are valued as legitimate creators that are fervently contributing necessary cultural DNA for present and future generations?" He then proceeds to give valuable tools to combat the issues raised in his question. "Talk about money with the same knowledge and passion with which we talk about our mentors, our dances and the art form's history. Research the roots of our current capitalist value system and know it intimately…. Sit down with people who have resources and believe you have something to offer them. Tell them what you need in order to make your art and how their investment will elevate our country's cultural fabric."
I believe a step further would be to include financial literacy in dance education particularly when we look at trends of funding and the art form's history and its ramifications that will impact their careers. This should be a part of students’ education and professionalization and an important part of the curriculum. It also should be supported by the Program, the Department, the School, the College and the University at large to combat the stigma that the study and pursuit of dance is merely fun. While it is, it is also an important part of our mental, physical, and emotional health as well as our economic structure.
Danielle Lydia Sheather, (www.daniellelydiasheather.com) Canadian-born dancer/choreographer/artist/educator and current Assistant Professor of Dance at Southern Utah University, most recently developed the curriculum for the progressive jazz dance track at SUU in order to represent a more equitable education and allowing jazz dance to be an equally offered component of technical training with both ballet and modern. She is also the recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Scholarly and Creative Activity Award. Danielle’s choreography has been presented at: Baryshnikov Arts Center (NYC), WAXworks at Triskelion Arts (NYC), WHITE WAVE DUMBO Dance Festival at the Gelsey Kirkland ArtsCenter (NYC), Dixon Place (NYC), Stevie Eller Dance Theater (AZ), McGinnis Theater (NC), The Capitol Theatre (UT), and Le Regard du Cygne (Paris, France). She also has been commissioned to create works for Zodiaque Dance Company and Zodiaque Dance Ensemble and has set work for Flatlands Dance Theater in Lubbock, TX. She received her MFA from The University of Arizona as a University Fellow and was awarded the College of Fine Arts Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant and the Medici Scholarship. Danielle received her BFA in Dance and BA in Psychology from the University at Buffalo Honors College.
Bonbright, Jane M. “Evidence: A Report on the Impact of Dance in the K-12 Setting.” Https://Arts.gov, The National Dance Education Organization and the National Endowment for the Arts, 2013, https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/Research-Art Works-NDEO2.pdf.
Caldwell, Rachel. “What the Closing of Mills College Means for Dance in Higher Ed.” Dance Teacher, 4 May 2021, https://dance-teacher.com/mills-college-closing-dance/.
Dorfman, David. “Is Dance Underfunded Because It's Undervalued?” Dance Magazine, Dance Magazine, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.dancemagazine.com/is-dance-undervalued/.
National Center for Education Statistics. “The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, May 2022, https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76.
National Endowment for the Arts. “New Data Show Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Arts & Culture Sector.” New Data Show Economic Impact of COVID-19 on Arts & Culture Sector, 15 Mar. 2022, https://www.arts.gov/news/press-releases/2022/new-data-show economic-impact-covid-19-arts-culture-sector.
“Oldest Dance Program Becomes Newest Department.”, University of Wisconsin-Madison News, 21 Apr. 2010, https://news.wisc.edu/oldest-dance-program-becomes-newest department/.
Press, Associated. “Bevin: Cut College Programs That Don't Pay Off.” Https://Www.wdbj7.Com, WDBJ, 13 Sept. 2017, https://www.wdbj7.com/content/news/Bevin-Cut-college-programs that-dont-pay-off-444184533.html.
van Winden DPAM, Van Rijn RM, Richardson A, et al Detailed injury epidemiology in contemporary dance: a 1-year prospective study of 134 students BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2019; 5:e000453. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2018-0004
Photo Credit: Asher Swan