Tucked away in the Southeast corner of Colorado State University’s campus, the University Center of the Arts is home to the School of Music, Theater, and Dance — not often the programs that draw students to CSU. A very niche group of prospective students however, will be looking at CSU with new excitement and respect, thanks to recent changes. After two years of hard work from faculty and staff, the small-but-mighty Department of Dance announced the finalization of a brand-new degree: the BFA in Dance.
“A Bachelors of Fine Arts, or BFA, is essentially, intense work in dance,” says Emily Morgan, director of dance. “We’re looking at almost 80% of the degree, so it’s intense, rigorous training.”
The “work in dance” Morgan references equates to time spent in the studio physically dancing — something BFA students spend a lot of time doing. The BFA, however, also provides a more well-rounded approach to other aspects of dance: A first year seminar to introduce students to the program and dance world, a seminar for upper class students that focuses on career preparation, an anatomy class, and a music for dance class are all among the courses Morgan cites.
CSU plans to continue to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Dance – although this degree is currently in the process of modification to offer a more flexible degree for students who wish to double major. With room for only 1-3 elective credits, room for a double major is one thing the BFA does not have.
It used to be that many dancers didn’t even go to college, but Morgan speaks of the changing dance world.
“It’s a little bit tricky because I would never say if you want to be a professional dancer you have to get a BFA,” Morgan says. “But it seems to bear out that way just because of the nature of it, professional dancers seem more likely to have a BFA. And it seems like there’s a demand from our incoming students for the BFA.”
“It taught me more than I thought it was capable of at the beginning… it teaches you time management, an understanding of the body, it teaches you about this whole other realm of dance,” says Grace Gallagher, dance department faculty member.
Gallagher received her BFA in dance from Arizona State University, followed by an MFA in Dance Education, and currently teaches in the CSU dance department.
“I’m in a little bit of a different position, I was in more the commercial realm of dance,” Gallagher says. “I think in concert dance you’re going to see a lot more people with a BA or BFA, where commercial dance is different. A lot of people skip the college part, but I actually felt that it gave me a leg up.”
“It teaches you time management, an understanding of the body, it teaches you about this whole other realm of dance.” -Grace Gallagher, dance department faculty member
Commercial dance includes a range of platforms – basically anything where dance is selling something else and typically includes much more jazz, hip hop, and street styles. Concert dance on the other hand, can include more technical training in styles such as ballet or modern, and is geared toward dance meant to be watched as a performance, usually through a dance company.
Dancers who aspire towards a career in concert dance have several options, many choose a conservatory style school, where the whole program is completely focused on dancing — which Morgan describes as, “A BFA to the nth degree.”
A degree like CSU’s on the other hand, a small arts program within a research institution, is designed to give students exposure and experience to a variety of career paths a dancer might choose.
“We’re hoping our program provides training and the ability to think,” Morgan says. “We’re the School of Music, Theater, and Dance situated in the College of Liberal Arts, and so our students are getting intense training in dance, but they’re also getting exposed to all of these other fields that are really important… We’re trying to create students who are prepared to go out into the world as good citizens and good human beings.”
Sometimes, smaller programs can get lost in large research institutions, but that’s not the case at CSU.
“We’re incredibly lucky to have the support of our upper administration of President McConnell,” Morgan says, “Former Provost Rick Miranda was at almost every single dance concert. It amazes me that we have that kind of support, and how visible dance is for our CSU community.”
CSU’s dance degrees also offer several unique opportunities to dancers. Both Morgan and Gallagher named the pedagogy, or teaching aspect of the program as one of the program’s most valuable components. Typically, a dance degree will include one pedagogy class, but CSU’s BFA, and BA both include multiple pedagogy classes.
“The way CSU does it is so great, where in your pedagogy classes you’re constructing lesson plans, and you’re teaching, and then you have the opportunity to actually work with students and then to get feedback on your teaching,” Gallagher says. “That doesn’t happen very often in the real world beyond college.”
CSU’s Land Grant mission has also played a role in shaping the curriculum offered. One class in particular, Dance Repertory Ensemble, was driven by this goal of community engagement. In this year long course, students learn, rehearse, and perform choreography in the fall, and then take it out to the community in the spring.
“One of my favorite experiences here was the first semester we did outreach,” says Emily Wallace, a senior dance major who will be among the first group to graduate with the BFA in the spring. “It can be challenging to wake up every day and continue such a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding art form, and so when we would go to these schools for outreach and see kids who have never danced before find joy in moving and creating, it’s kind of infectious, their attitude and excitement towards it.”
Another unique aspect of CSU’s Dance Program is its size. With a grand total of roughly 50 dance majors, building a community is a major focus.
“I really appreciate the smaller setting because I feel like we do develop as a family here, as cheesy as it sounds,” Wallace says.
“We know what’s going on with every one of our students and try to make it sculpted to the individual and make it possible to double major and not feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick when it comes to dance,” Gallagher says.
About 20 of CSU’s dance majors are also pursuing another major. While a second major with dance is fairly common in many dance programs, the equal attention given to students who are double-majoring is rare. As a double major myself, the size of the program, and subsequent willingness to not only accommodate, but encourage other majors and collaborations is one of the things I’m most grateful for every day.
The program’s small size however, is not a consideration in setting very lofty goals, the BFA being just one step in the bigger plan.
“Our next step is actually editing the BA, and then adding a BFA concentration in P – 12 dance education with licensure in the state of Colorado,” Morgan says. “We’re interested in pursuing that for several reasons – the biggest is our commitment to pedagogy, and our desire to get more dance education into public schools in the state of Colorado. The other motivating factor is that there is no undergraduate dance education program in the state of Colorado.”
Especially in a world weighed down with COVID-19 related challenges, the pushing forward with a new degree in dance shows an incredible commitment to the arts. It’s undoubtedly tough to be a dancer right now, but that hasn’t stopped the momentum of the Dance Department from continually looking forward and finding new opportunities to offer its students.
CSU’s Dance Department offers students an incredible opportunity to work hard – to live and breathe dance in just about every way possible.
“ A university dance program provides a nurturing environment where we as faculty are pushing to take risks and explore and to refine your technique, and it’s creating the safe space for you not only to succeed but to fail.” Gallagher says.
“I want to do everything.” Wallace says, listing performance, teaching, graduate school, and dance therapy all as fields she wants to explore at some point in her career. And with CSU’s BFA in Dance, we can. Given this space to grow, create, and learn, in a program on the rise, the dance majors at CSU are bound to succeed.