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.

2017-2018 Courses

Dance

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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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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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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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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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 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 I: Investigating the Contemporary in Practice and Theory

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Writing about dance performance will be the topic for fall 2017. This will involve reading past and present criticism, as well as writing about current performances in New York City. This seminar provides an opportunity for students to develop their research, writing, and analytical skills while studying a variety of topics that are of interest to them. Recent subjects have included investigations of the creative process, dance criticism, world dance forms, and the collaborative process. Each project culminates in an oral presentation.

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Contemporary 3

Graduate Seminar—Year

The course will be taught by Ms. Melnick in the fall and Mr. Singh 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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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 understanding 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. Gould in the fall and Ms. Welsh 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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Anatomy Seminar

Component—Fall

This is an opportunity for advanced students who have completed Anatomy I to pursue their studies in greater depth. In open consultation with the instructor during class meetings, each student engages in independent research, developing one or more lines of inquiry that utilize functional anatomy perspectives and texts as an organizing framework. Research topics in recent years have included breathing, anatomy study in dance education, spine function, scoliosis, the use of verbal language in dance training, and anatomy of human reproductive and digestive systems. The class meets biweekly to discuss progress and questions, with additional meetings on alternate weeks as an option for individuals or the group.

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Ballet

Component—Year

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

At all levels, ballet studies will guide students in creative and expressive freedom by enhancing the qualities of ease, grace, musicality, and symmetry that define the form. To this end, we will explore alignment with an emphasis on anatomical principles and enlist the appropriate neuromuscular effort needed to dance with optimal integration of every aspect of the individual body, mind, and spirit. 

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Composition

Component—Year

In this component we will explore how time, syntax, and form combine to communicate intention and meaning in dance making. We will create movement material that we will shape with the goal of experiencing and observing how sound/musical environments, spatial choices, performance style, etc. impact work. Please come prepared to dance, imagine, and respond while we identify and question assumptions.

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Conditioning for Dancers

Component—Year

Open to all students taking a Dance Third. The course will be taught by Ms. Gould in the fall and Ms. Hullihan in the spring.

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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Contact Improvisation

Component

This course will examine the underlying principles of an improvisatory form predicated on two or more bodies coming into physical contact. Contact Improvisation, which emerged in the 1960s and ’70s out of the Judson Experimental Dance Theatre, combines aspects of social and theatrical dance, bodywork, gymnastics, and martial arts. We will explore movement practices that enhance our sensory awareness, with an emphasis on action and physical risk-taking. Contemporary partnering skills, such as taking and giving weight and finding a common “center,” will provide a basis for further exploration. We will explore locating the dance form in varying contexts: from the round-robin to the jam, from scores to choreography, and from studio and theatre to site-based environments.

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Contemporary Culture Critique

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

This class will be organized around regular visits to contemporary dance performances in New York City and the adjacent tristate area, supplemented by viewing contemporary dance and performance works on video. Works will be analyzed and discussed in class. The class will include written critiques that aim to discuss the work within art/dance historical and sociological contexts. Students are required to attend performances, as well as class sessions.

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Dance and Music Improvisation

Component—Spring

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 in Frame

Component—Spring

Dance in Frame is a course about “why and when” to convey a choreographic idea into a video. In our experience, the important questions are simple: When does one’s concept ask for the language of video making? What are the tools available in video that would not only facilitate the work but also demand that the work be made specifically for the screen? To answer these questions, one needs to understand that neither the media nor dance is subjugated to the other. The same understanding of dance must be extended to video and experimental film. During the course, we will screen and analyze works from early experimental films made in the 1920s to early video art works for the 1960s and, finally, videos and installations of our contemporaries in order to illustrate different approaches and guide the students’ own works. Throughout the semester, students will be given a series of hands-on assignments, both individually and in groups. The exercises are designed not only to develop a familiarity with the camera—exploring concepts of framing, camera move, planes, and deconstruction of space/time—but also, and more importantly, to contemplate and witness the possibilities of creating informal pieces and investigating how video can transfigure and uniquely represent what is being observed. These exercises build toward the complexion of a larger video project, incorporating approaches introduced throughout the term and including the presentation or installation of each piece. The class welcomes dancers, performers, video makers, photographers, or anyone else interested in this process.

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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 twice-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 SLC dance faculty and alumnae, and casting sessions for departmental concerts created by the Dance Making class. In 2016-17, guest artists included Deborah Jowitt/Dance Historian and Critic in Conversation With John Jasperse; Jumatatu M. Poe/BIG BODY: J-Sette Performance Workshop; Rebecca Dietzel/Self-Care for Dancers; Sita Frederick/Salsa Translations; Allison Easter/Choreographing the Voice; Ana Dimas/Choreographing for Children; and Perspectives on Curatorial Practice: A Panel Discussion with Laurie Berg, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Allie Tepper, moderated by Kathy Westwater.

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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Hip-Hop

Component—Fall

This class is an open-level class in hip-hop dance. Depending on the instructor, it may include elements of breaking, popping, locking, etc. Class will begin with a warm up, leading to a high-energy combination. While this class is intended for students with some previous dance experience, no prior experience in hip-hop or street dance is required.

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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

A fall Trisha Brown project offers an opportunity to work in depth on body alignment and fundamentals that are integral to exploring the detail and rigor of Trisha Brown's movement style. Classes will include a warm-up to integrate the breadth and full dimension of the body; movement will emphasize finding easeful and dynamic ways of moving. The class will develop into learning phrases of movement from Trisha Brown's repertory that encompass quick, qualitative shifts and complex points of initiation, culminating in a performance project of a repertory piece to be determined. Students will showcase their work with an end-of-semester performance.

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Performance Project

Component—Spring

This class is an opportunity for students to work with a professional guest artist on creating a new choreographic work. The class will include a short warm-up, followed by rehearsals that lead toward a fully-produced performance of the work at the end of the semester.

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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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The Choreographic Idiom: Instinct and Action in the Creative Process

Component—Year

This class will Interrogate the role of narrative, personal testimonial, and formal risk-taking in an effort to upend previous compositional habits and mine an interior space for dance making. Through a free associative languaging practice, elevated and action-based text work, and open improvisational scoring, this is a rare opportunity to explore the micro-interactions/inspirations and agitations of your work. Part of each day will be spent discussing each student’s current relationship to his/her creative process, as well as working inside a live “choreographic fishbowl” and watching each other work and giving direct feedback. This compression of a social and choreographic space allows the group to prioritize vulnerability and the unconscious as vital and critical points of initiation into the creative process.

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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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