Dance on track to become academic dept.

After more than three decades as part of the department of physical education, the College’s dance program is on its way to becoming an academic department, with a new Dance Committee formed to oversee the transition. According to Holly Silva, assistant director of dance, the College is “committed – to a move towards dance in an academic setting.”

Since its inception in the early 1970s, the ultimate goal of the dance program has been to become a comprehensive academic program and eventually offer a major in dance, Silva said. In 2007, the College ordered an outside peer review of the program, and in the coming year the Dance Committee, consisting of faculty, administrators and two appointed students, will be looking into logistics of the potential change.

Establishing dance as an academic department would not be a revolutionary act on the part of the College. Williams is currently among only about 2 percent of U.S. colleges and universities that do not offer dance as a part of the academic curriculum. All of the other NESCAC schools offer academic credit for dance courses, eight of them offering majors in dance or joint theater and dance. One of the functions of the Committee will be to researchthe programs of other colleges and universities and discuss the specifics of the change to take place here.

In the past, students interested in dance as an area of academic study have found ways of working around the system, taking interdisciplinary courses through the art and theater departments and creating research-based independent study projects. “We have always had students with these interests, but we have no formal mechanisms to support academic study in dance, because we have not been an academic program,” said Sandra Burton, coordinator of the dance program. Through these kinds of connections to other departments, dance as an academic pursuit has already been proven popular with students.

One topic of discussion regards the preservation of dance as an option for physical education. “Our hope is that after the inquiry process, the dance program will be able to offer students two ways of participating, [both through academic and non-academic study,]” Burton said. Several other institutions employ this method, which allows students the opportunity to study dance to whatever extent they choose.

The Committee will also consider facility limitations within the program. The dance program currently serves about 100 students per year, and the facilities even now are not sufficient, according to Silva. What was formerly a valued dance space in Lasell is now home to the new Upper Lasell Fitness Center, and although the newly renovated Goodrich includes an area designated for dance, the current spaces are not sufficient to support an academic program, which will require more seminar rooms in addition to studio space.

Throughout the coming year, the Committee will continue to look into these issues, as well as the staffing, budget and curriculum of the new program. “[I am] hopeful that the outcome will be a program that is even stronger, more vibrant and better able to meet the needs of our students and provide them with an excellent environment for creativity and study,” Burton said. No official deadline has been set for the inauguration of the revamped program.

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