Dance Courses

The Sarah Lawrence College MFA in Dance is based on the premise that the art of dance is an integration of body, mind, and spirit learned through creative, technical, and intellectual practices.

Students are exposed to vital aspects of the art as performers, creators, and observers and are encouraged to study broadly, widen their definitions of dance and performance, and engage in explorations of form and function. The program combines seminars in reading, writing, and research; choreographic inquiry; and a daily physical practice chosen from contemporary dance, classical ballet, African dance, yoga, t’ai chi ch’uan, and studies in world dance. All students also study experiential anatomy, dance history, lighting design and stagecraft, and music for dancers.

2018-2019 Courses

Dance

Introduction to Dance History

Component—Year

This course is for all students beginning the dance program.

This course explores the history of Western theatrical dance from the courts of Louis XIV to the present. The course offers an overview of key artistic movements and traces the development of major forms and genres, considering them within their social, cultural, racial, and gendered contexts. Through class screenings, attendance at live performances, and written assignments, students will learn methods of observation, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation informed by a broad understanding of dance’s past and present and how it relates to their own research and practice.

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Butoh Practices and Beyond

Component—Spring

In this class, we will engage in a series of somatic, improvisational movement and vocalization practices that reflect principals of butoh, Zen, and Noguchi Taiso (or water body movements). Through engaging in those practices, we will explore a way to liberate our body from a sense of self and from existing concepts of a body in order to realize an unprecedented transformation and evolution of the body. We will be descending a ladder into a well that is hidden deep inside the body and will keep digging the well until the water splashes out. We will also examine specific images used in butoh scores (e.g., throw up something red and something blue, being jealous of dog’s vein, stick to salmon’s face like a psycho…) to explore and cultivate more profound and active relationships between “images” and “movements.” This class is open to dance, theatre, and any other students who are curious and interested in discovering alternative approaches to body and movement practices.

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Advanced Dance History: Topics in 20th-Century Dance and Performance History

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This writing-focused graduate seminar examines 20th-century dance history from a variety of critical perspectives such as collaboration and intermedial aesthetics; transdisciplinary and experimental performance practices; gender, race, and sexuality; site-specific work; and technology and screendance. Students will have the opportunity to deepen their expertise of the subject and exercise their own critical and scholarly voices by unsettling and questioning the Western theatrical dance canon from robustly informed historical, social, technological, and aesthetic points of view.

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African Diasporic Dance

Component—Year

Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester only with permission of the instructor.

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and an understanding of African diasporic cultures. In addition to physical practice, master classes led by artists and teachers regarded as masters in the field of African diasporic dance and music, along with supplementary study materials, will be used to explore the breadth, diversity, history, and technique of dances derivative of the Africa diaspora. Afro Haitian, West African, Orisha dances (Lucumi, Afro Cuban), and social dance are some genres that will be explored. Participation in year-end showings will provide students with the opportunity to apply studies in a performative context.

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Anatomy in Action

Component—Year

The course will be taught by Ms. Welsh in the fall and Ms. Gould in the spring. Students who wish to join this yearlong class in the second semester may do so only with the permission of the instructor.

How is it possible for humans to move in the multitude of ways that we do? Learn to develop your X-ray vision of human beings in motion through functional anatomical study that combines movement practice, drawing, lecture, and problem solving. In this course, movement is a powerful vehicle for experiencing in detail our profoundly adaptable musculoskeletal anatomy. Facilitating our study of the entire musculoskeletal system, we will learn Irene Dowd’s Spirals™, a comprehensive warm-up/cool-down for dancing that coordinates all joints and muscles through their fullest range of motion. In addition to movement practice, drawings will be part of each week’s lecture. (Drawing materials will be provided.) Insights and skills developed in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the process of movement invention and composition.

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Ballet

Component—Year

Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester only with permission of the teacher.

Ballet students at all levels will be guided toward creative and expressive freedom in their dancing, enhancing the qualities of ease, grace, musicality, and symmetry that define this form. We will explore alignment, with an emphasis on anatomical principles; we will cultivate awareness of how to enlist the appropriate neuromuscular effort for efficient movement; and we will coordinate all aspects of body, mind, and spirit, integrating them harmoniously.

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Composition

Component—Year

This course will be taught by Ms. Rudner in the fall and Ms. Gill in the spring.

Movement and creativity are the birthrights of every human being. This component will explore expressive and communicative movement possibilities by introducing different strategies for making dances. Problems posed run the gamut from conceptually driven dance/theatre to structured movement improvisations. Learn to access and mold kinetic vocabularies collaboratively, or individually, and incorporate music, sound, gesture, text, and objects in pursuit of a vision. Students will be asked to create and perform studies, direct one another, and share and discuss ideas and solutions with peers. Students are not required to make finished products but, rather, to involve themselves in the challenges and joys of rigorous play.

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Conditioning for Dancers

Component—Spring

Open to all students taking a Dance Third.

This course provides students with a weekly opportunity to explore and practice supplemental training strategies to support development of specialized skills required in dancing. Building on work done once or twice per semester in the dance practice conferences, training issues such as strength, endurance, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, and coordination will be addressed from a neuromuscular training approach based on the teachings and selected choreographies of Irene Dowd. In addition, students will be introduced to the Alexander Technique, which aims to refine and optimize function by eliminating excessive tension. This is accomplished through specific exercises and practices designed to increase awareness, implement conscious direction, and achieve gentle re-patterning of postural and movement habits.

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Contemporary 3

Graduate Seminar—Year

The course will be taught by Ms. Nugent in the fall and Ms. Melnick in the spring.

Emphasis will be on the continued development of basic skills, energy use, strength, and control relevant to the particular style of each teacher. Attention will be given to sharpening each student’s awareness of time and energy and to disciplining the body to move rhythmically, precisely, and in accordance with sound anatomical principles. The students in this advanced class will study complex movement patterns, investigate somatic use, and concentrate on the demands of performance. 

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Dance and Music Improvisation

Component—Fall

Permission of the instructors is required.

This class explores a variety of musical and dance styles and techniques, including free improvisation, chance-based methods, conducting, and scoring. We will collaboratively innovate practices and build scores that extend our understanding of how the mediums of dance and music relate both to and with one another. How the body makes sound and how sound moves will serve as entry points for our individual and group experimentation. Scores will be explored with an eye toward their performing potential. The ensemble is open to composer-performers, dancers, performance artists, and actors. Music students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in their chosen instrument. All instruments (acoustic and electric), voice, electronic synthesizers, and laptop computers are welcome.

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Dance Making

Component—Year

Prerequisites: Dance Composition, Lighting Design and Stagecraft for Dance, and permission of the instructor.

In this class, graduates and upper-class undergraduates with a special interest and experience in dance composition will design and direct individual choreographic projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and, in conferences taking place the following afternoon, discuss relevant artistic and practical problems. Music, costumes, lighting, and other elements will be discussed as integral and interdependent elements in the choreographic work. This will culminate in performances of the works toward the end of the semester in the Winter Performance and Spring Performance programs. Performances will take place in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Theatre or elsewhere on campus in the case of site-specific work.

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Dance Meeting

Component—Year

This is a monthly meeting of all Dance Thirds (undergraduate and graduate students) in which we gather for a variety of activities that enrich and inform the dance curriculum. In addition to sharing department news and information, Dance Meeting features master classes by guest artists from New York City and beyond, workshops with practitioners in dance-related health fields, panels and presentations by Sarah Lawrence College dance faculty and alumnae, and casting sessions for departmental concerts created by the Dance Making class. In 2017-18, guest artists included Cori Olinghouse/clowning therapy; Dean Moss/choreography; Eleanor Hullihan/dancers’ health; Omari Mizrahi/voguing; Nathara Bailey/workshop on Inclusion, Identity, and anti-oppression; and Petra Kuppers/disability culture movement.

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Feldenkrais: Awareness Through Movement®

Component—Fall

Moshe Feldenkrais believed that rigidity—physical, mental, or emotional—is contrary to the laws of life. His system of somatic education develops awareness, coordination, and flexibility as students are verbally guided through precisely structured movement explorations. The lessons are done lying on the floor, sitting, or standing and gradually increase in range and complexity. Students practice bringing their full attention to their experience, self-generating the learning that will release habitual patterns and offer new options. Enhanced integration of the entire nervous system cultivates the capacity for spontaneous, effortless movement and powerful action in life.

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Graduate Seminar I: Investigating the Contemporary in Practice and Theory

Graduate Seminar—Fall

This graduate course explores a variety of approaches currently evident in dance studies and contemporary dance practice and examines their conceptual underpinnings, such as: dance and gender, race, and identity; dance and the intermedial; dance in the museum; and the embodiment of dance’s past. Key case studies will be viewed and discussed, along with a critical exploration of theoretical proposals of authors such as Giorgio Agamben, Claire Bishop, Judith Butler, Thomas DeFrantz, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Elizabeth Grosz, Andre Lepecki, Alva Noë, and Irit Rogoff. Students will gain familiarity with current trends in practice and in theoretical discourse through written exercises and oral presentations and develop their critical perspective as thinkers and dance makers.

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Graduate Seminar I: Performance Theory and Aesthetics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The spring semester will focus on critical perspectives in dance, culture, and identity. When we look at dancing, what are we seeing, experiencing, and understanding? How do current representations of dance perpetuate or disrupt assumptions about personal and social identity? Embedded notions of gender, economic class, and race are threaded through our daily lives. Art and popular culture sometimes reinforce dominant cultural ideas, but can they also serve to propose alternatives to those ideas? In this seminar, we will examine a range of dancing on film, Web-based media, television programs, and commercials. These viewings—along with selected texts from the fields of dance and performance, literary criticism, feminist theory, queer theory, and cultural studies—will form the basis of class discussions, exercises, readings, research, and writing. The ultimate aim of this course is to cultivate a richly informed conversation among engaged participants, using academic work and life experience to illuminate and advance our appreciation of dance as an elemental art form.

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Graduate Seminar II

Graduate Seminar—Year

This seminar is a laboratory for developing and refining projects from the Dance Making class. It is designed to encourage students to work collaboratively in solving questions of physical, spatial, and temporal issues in their work, to explore connections between dance and other forms, and to make them aware of and conversant with the creative process that is always at work in the world.

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Graduate Seminar III

Graduate Seminar—Year

This seminar emphasizes a dynamic foundation for dancing, offering participants an opportunity to refine their technique and analytical skills. Relevant aspects of functional anatomy are presented and considered throughout this class. Students are encouraged and coached to increase awareness of their current strategies, broaden their range of movement possibilities, and integrate their creative and technical practices.

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Lighting Design and Stagecraft for Dance

Component—Year

This class is a prerequisite for Dance Making.

The art and practice of illuminating dance is the subject of this component. We will examine the theoretical and practical aspects of designing lights for dance. Emphasis will be on learning basic lighting skills and stagecraft. Students will create original lighting designs for dance program performances.

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Making It Work

Component—Spring

In this semester-long course for students completing their studies at the College, we will examine and hone the tools needed for propelling your creative work into the professional landscape. Taught from an active artist/artist manager perspective, the course will attempt to achieve fluency for all makers by providing practical encounters with key areas of budgeting and finance, fundraising and grant writing, presenting and touring, and self-producing components (including marketing, press, audience development and engagement strategies, digital and social interactions, and production administration). We will explore various dance and theatre financial models, from being an independent solo artist to starting your own ensemble. The class will be participatory, asking each student to craft project descriptions, grant narratives, and budgets for their thesis projects or other works shown in the previous semester or first year. We will develop and stage mock applications and peer/panel reviews for real-world funding opportunities, undertake group budgeting for productions that occur in each department, and develop concurrent fundraising plans and crowdsourcing campaigns. The aim of this course is to provide a greater level of competitive preparedness for graduating theatre and dance makers on the cusp of representing themselves and their work in their chosen field(s).

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Performance Project

Component—Fall

Our body is a black hole that equally absorbs everything, even seemingly unrelated things. A thousand different events are simultaneously happening and being processed in the body. Subtle nuances and expressions of external spaces affect the way we stand, skin sensations and perceptions evoke kaleidoscopic internal landscapes, and abstracted information delivered through feelers on our feet suddenly trigger unexpected emotions. Performance Project examines our body’s new beginning and encounter with everything in the black hole-like space where both the conscious and unconscious mind and internal and external experiences are being stirred. The class will include a short warmup, somatic and movement practices informed by butoh and various other movement forms, followed at the end of the semester by rehearsals that lead to a fully produced performance of the work. determined. Students will showcase their work with an end-of-semester performance.

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Performance Project

Component—Spring

In celebration of Sara Rudner’s extraordinary creative output, her visionary role in leading the dance program at Sarah Lawrence College from 1999-2016, and her retirement from the College in May 2019, the Spring 2019 Performance Project will be dedicated to and directed by Sara Rudner. This project will be a reworking of Sara Rudner’s dance, choreographic, and performance practices and will be designed for, and with, Sarah Lawrence students. The project is conceived as a series of dances and will include highly structured activities, as well as improvisations. The creativity and commitment of all participants is required. Let’s dance!

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Rotating Guest Artist Lab

Graduate Seminar—Fall and Spring

This course is an experimental laboratory that aims to expose students to a diverse set of current voices and approaches to contemporary dance making. Each guest artist will lead a module of between three and seven class sessions. These mini-workshops will introduce students to that artist and to his/her creative process. Guests will represent emergent, as well as established, practices.

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Somatics, Improvisations, and the Athletics of Intimacy

Component—Year

The course will be taught by Ms. Nugent in the fall and Ms. Holmes in the spring.

We will be exploring movement and dance through the research of improvisation and the influences of the experiential anatomy of the somatic research of Body-Mind Centering®, Contact Improvisation, and structures and scores for improvising and composing dances. We will make the invisible visible, learning more about the interior of the body and our ideas, and explore pathways to space, time, and place as we also learn basic anatomy and physiology to better understand the mechanics of movement.

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Teaching Conference

Component—Year

Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester only with permission of the instructor. The course will be taught by Ms. Gould in the fall and Ms. Nugent in the spring.

In this practice-based course, students develop skills to bring their artistry into a teaching setting. Readings, discussion, and short written pieces will support exploration of perspectives on teaching and development of individual areas of interest. Following current practices in the field for bringing together arts and education, we will study methods for artists to partner with educators and implement those methods in a weekly class for children enrolled in SLC’s acclaimed Early Childhood Center (ECC). In addition to our work with ECC, there are several options for those interested in an expanded practical curriculum. SLC’s Campbell Sports Center offers opportunities for students to initiate and lead physical education classes; and SLC’s Office of Community Partnerships can assist students in pursuing teaching initiatives in surrounding communities, including Yonkers, greater Westchester, and other New York City Metropolitan areas.

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Thesis Prep

Graduate Seminar—Year

The yearlong MFA Thesis Seminar is the academic capstone of the master’s study in the dance department at Sarah Lawrence College. The course is structured to take the advanced student through the stages of writing a thesis: defining the field of research, identifying and articulating a research question, developing the bibliography, choosing an appropriate methodology, organizing the material, and developing strategies of analysis and argumentation that lead to the writing of an original thesis. Various modes of inquiry will be examined, drawing on the disciplines of Dance Studies, Philosophy, and Practice as Research. Through group discussions of published research, student work, and one-on-one meetings with the course leader, the seminar will focus on investigative processes with particular emphasis on understanding, contextualizing, experimenting with, and articulating one’s own process of scholarly inquiry and discourse.

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Yoga

Component—Year

This asana yoga class is designed with dancers and theatre students’ interests in mind. Various categories of postures will be practiced with attention to alignment, breath awareness, strength, and flexibility. Emphasis is placed on mindfulness and presence. This approach allows the student to gain tools for reducing stress and addressing other unsupportive habits to carry into other aspects of their lives. The instructor has a background in dance and theatre, in addition to various somatically-based practices that she draws upon for designing the classes to meet the needs of the class members. Her class draws upon an alignment-oriented practice, as opposed to a vinyasa style of yoga. Additionally, this class introduces various awareness-building practices borrowed from other body-oriented approaches.

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