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.

MFA Dance 2021-2022 Courses

Hard Times Require Furious Dancing: Movement as Language in Performance, Politics, and Everyday Life

Seminar—Year

This course may be taken as a component or 5-credit seminar (one semester) OR as a component or 10-credit seminar (year). The yearlong open-level course may be taken as a regular seminar (in humanities or creative arts) OR as a component in dance, music or theatre. No prior experience in dance is necessary. Students who wish to join this yearlong class in the second semester may do so with interview and permission of the instructor.

This course begins with a close reading of Alice Walker’s 2010 collection of poems, Hard Times Require Furious Dancing, as an entry into the multiple layers of meaning and complexity that movement can convey and to the ways in which those layers of meaning serve to mobilize us as individuals and as collectives. Acknowledging the apparently limitless possibilities for defining dancing, dance, and movement, we will consider a range of specific references as archetypes: staged performances, public/political demonstrations, and quotidian choreographies that occur as a matter of course in natural and human-made settings. In additional to Alice Walker’s writing, texts from fields including dance, performance, literary criticism, feminism, science fiction, cultural studies, ethno-ecology, and activism, as well as examples of live and recorded performance events (formal and informal), will serve as inspiration for reading, seeing, thinking, conversing, and writing throughout the year. Histories and perspectives of all participants will be called upon to illuminate those materials and translate them into our own words. Class activities will include reading, writing, discussion, and accessible movement practices. Each student will pursue independent research arising from one or more class activities, which will include reading, writing, and presentation. For students taking the course as a regular seminar, conference work may build upon independent research for class or may be configured as a separate project. The aim of this course is to extend our recognition of movement and dancing as essential aspects of existence; to explore theoretical potentials inherent in that study; and to incorporate new insights into our reading, thinking, conversation, and writing practices.

Faculty

Movement Studio Practice

Component—Year

This course will be taught by various faculty, and there will be various levels of the course. Level 1 in the fall will be taught by Peggy Gould. Level 1 in the spring, Level 2, and Level 3 are TBA.

In these classes, emphasis will be on the steady development of movement skills, energy use, strength, and articulation relevant to the technical and aesthetic orientations of each teacher. At all levels, attention will be given to sharpening each student’s awareness of time and energy and to training rhythmically, precisely, and in accordance with sound anatomical principles. Degrees of complexity in movement patterns will vary within the leveled class structure. All students will investigate sensory experience and the various demands of performance.

Faculty

Dance Movement Fundamentals

Component—Year

Faculty TBA in the fall; Peggy Gould will teach this course in the spring along with another faculty member, TBA. This class is open to all interested participants, with no prior experience in dance required. Students who have successfully completed this course will be prepared to enter Contemporary Practice I and/or Ballet I.

Movement and dancing are definitive signs of life! In every environment and at every level of existence, from single-cell organisms to entire populations, dancing is innate to living beings. The objective here is to awaken/reawaken students’ connection to movement as an elemental mode of human experience and learning. Students are introduced to some basic principles of dancing, as well as to strategies for preparing for dancing. Building fundamental skills for a wide range of movement studies, the focus is centered on learning movement and refining individual, partnered, and group performance in a variety of patterns and styles. Basic anatomical information is used to facilitate an understanding of dynamic alignment and movement potentials. Challenges in coordination, rhythm, range, and dynamic quality are systematically engaged, allowing students to gain strength, flexibility, endurance, balance, musicality, and awareness in the dance setting. While the primary emphasis is placed on learning structured material, improvisation and composition are incorporated to support students’ growing engagement with dance as an art form.

Faculty

Ballet

Component—Year

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

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.

Faculty

TBA

West African Dance

Component—Spring

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

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and 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.

Faculty

Hip-Hop

Component—Fall

An open-level course teaching and facilitating the practice of hip-hop/urban dance technique and performance, the class will examine the theory, technique, and vocabulary of hip-hop dance. The course will facilitate the student’s development and ability to execute and perform hip-hop/urban dance steps.

Faculty

Yoga

Component—Year

This yoga class is designed with the interests of dancers and theatre students in mind. Various categories of postures will be practiced, with attention to alignment, breath awareness, strength, and flexibility. The physical practice includes seated and standing poses, twists, forward bends and backbends, traditional yogic breathing practices, and short meditations. Emphasis is placed on mindfulness and presence. This approach allows the student to gain tools for reducing stress and addressing unsupportive habits to carry into other aspects of their lives. Attention will be given to the chakra system as a means and metaphor for postural, movement, and character choices. The instructor has a background in dance and object theatre, in addition to various somatically-based practices that she draws upon for designing the classes to meet the individual needs of the class members. Virtual attendance is a requirement.

Faculty

TBA

Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong (Fundamentals)

Component—Fall

Students will be introduced to the traditional Chinese practices of Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong. These practices engage with slow, deliberate movements, focusing on the breath, meditative practice, and posture to restore and balance energy—called chi or Qi. The postures flow together, creating graceful dances of continuous motion. Sometimes referred to as one of the soft or internal martial arts, Tai Ji Quan and Qi Gong are foundational practices within a lifelong, holistic self-cultivation in traditional Chinese culture. 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.

Faculty

Butoh Through LEIMAY Ludus

Component—Spring

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.

This course is an introduction to butoh through the lens of LEIMAY’s Ludus practice, which is the embodied research being taught today by LEIMAY Artistic Director Ximena Garnica. Butoh is a Japanese performing-art form that was created by Tatsumi Hijikata in the 1950s and 1960s. The course will start with an introduction to Hijikata’s butoh-fu, a choreographic method that physicalizes imagery through words. The course will then expand into LEIMAY’s Ludus practice, using multiple physical explorations to embody imagery and enlarge states of consciousness, enabling multiple realms of perception while challenging eurocentric notions of body, space, and time. Each dancer’s physical potential will be cultivated to develop a unique movement language that is rooted in butoh's ideas of transformation. Simultaneously, we will focus on the conditioning of a conductive body through the identification of the body’s own weight in relation to gravity, along with the cultivation of internal rhythm and fluidity. Together, we will decentralize self-centered approaches to movement and explore the possibilities of “being danced by” instead of “I dance,” “becoming space-body” rather than occupying space. We will challenge our body’s materiality and enliven our sensorium through listening to the rhythms and textures of the nonhuman. And we will use impossibility as a spark to enrich the ways in which we create and inhabit the world. This course is based on principles developed through nearly two decades of Ximena’s study of butoh. Historical and cultural context will be offered throughout the course.

Faculty

Improvisation in Dance as Real-Time Composition

Component—Year

Whenever we make something, we are improvising—making it up as we go. But imagination and creativity isn’t random. It is true that artists of all disciplines have eureka moments and epiphanies, but those “aha” moments are born of practices that engage experimentation, strategies, observation, and decision-making—supported by states of concentration. Similarly, the notions of “perfect forms” and “free improvisation” are both theoretical impossibilities. Nothing is ever totally fixed nor is it totally open. No matter what creative endeavor in which we are engaged, we are always in the real world, in a space in between these two extremes. In this course, we will make dances in real time with varying degrees and types of determinacy. We’ll be guided by a wide variety of concerns and ways of focusing our choices but will be consistently aware that we are composing dance in real time. That will require honing our perceptual skills, as well as our skills of articulation and communication, with our collaborators. Throughout the year, we’ll develop our abilities both to build coherent structures that will guide our choice-making and to notice and make use of the serendipity that chance brings. This component is open to students with prior experience in improvisation and dance-making, as well as to those new to the form.  

Faculty

Movement Materials Lab

Component—Fall

This course is a laboratory, focused on the creative potential of human movement. We will explore how work can come into being through the material itself, transformed through the phenomenon of dancing. While movements will be considered in terms of their compositional relationships to one another, the embodied experience of our dancing and its kinesthetic resonance will be prioritized over cognitively defined, conceptual concerns. The course will respect the intelligence of intuition as we build aptitudes for play, manipulation, and expansion of movement palettes. A key focus throughout the course will be the honing of an artistic voice in the creation of resonant dancing.

Faculty

Choreographic Lab

Component—Spring

This course is designed as an imaginative laboratory in choreographic practice. It is time and space for rigorous play, where we engage critically with our own respective creative processes. All class sessions are devoted to choreographic practice in a mentored laboratory setting. Students are charged with bringing in choreographic proposals or ideas on which to work with their peers during these sessions. Throughout the course, specific compositional and/or artistic concerns will be highlighted that will frame our investigations. Those concerns will be used to focus our critical analysis on an aspect of our choice rather than as a score that defines the choreographic proposal itself. Much of our work will focus on refining the process of choreographic practice in order to better understand how the processes with which we engage shapes what we make.

Faculty

TBA

Guest Artist Lab

Component—Year

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 three-to-seven class sessions. These mini-workshops will introduce students to that artist and his/her creative process. Guests will present emergent, as well as established, voices and a wide-range of approaches to contemporary artistic practice.

Faculty

TBA

Live Time-Based Art

Component—Year

In this class, graduates and upper-class undergraduates with a special interest and experience in the creation of time-based artworks that include live performance will design and direct individual projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and discuss relevant artistic and practical problems, both in class on Tuesday evenings and in conferences taking place on Thursday afternoons. Attributes of the work across multiple disciplines of artistic endeavor will be discussed as integral and interdependent elements in the work. Participation in mentored, critical-response feedback sessions with your peers is a key aspect of the course. The engagement with the medium of time in live performance, the constraints of presentation of the works both in works-in-progress and in a shared program of events, and the need to respect the classroom and presentation space of the dance studio will be the constraints imposed on the students’ artistic proposals. Students working within any number of live performance traditions are as welcome in this course as those seeking to transgress orthodox conventions. While all of the works will engage in some way with embodied action, student proposals need not fall neatly into a traditional notion of what constitutes dance. The cultivation of open discourse across traditional disciplinary artistic boundaries, both in the process of developing the works and in the context of presentation to the public, is a central goal of the course. The faculty members leading this course have roots in dance practice but also have practiced expansive definitions of dance within their own creative work. This course will culminate in performances of the works toward the end of the semester in a shared program with all enrolled students and within the context of winter and spring time-based art events. Performances of the works will take place in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Theatre or elsewhere on campus in the case of site-specific work.

Faculty

Performance Project

Component—Year

Performance Project is a component where a visiting artist or company is invited to create a work with students or to set an existing piece of choreography. The works are performed for the College community at the end of the semester. 

Faculty

Music for Dancers: The Logic of Interaction

Component—Spring

This component will provide students with the opportunity to play a full array of percussion instruments from around the globe: African djembes, Brazilian zurdos, Argentinian bombo, Peruvian cajon and quijada, Indian tabla, traditional traps, and more. Students will also be able to program and execute electronic drums, such as the Wavedrum and Handsonic. The focus will be prevalent toward enhancing a dancer’s full knowledge of music but will expand the vocabulary for choreographers, actors, and composers, as well. The purpose of the component is to grant students the tools needed to fully immerse themselves in the understanding of the relation of music, dance, and the performing arts. Students will expand their knowledge of terminology and execution and will be able to learn the basic rudiments of notation. We will analyze the interaction of music from both intellectual and cultural points of view. We will learn how to scan musical scores with various degrees of complexity and explore the diverse rhythmic styles that have developed through time and through different geographical and social conditions. Classes will consist of group playing. All instruments will be provided and made available for practice.

Faculty

Dance Teaching Methods

Component—Fall

Throughout the semester we will work collectively to prioritize questions and dialogue that support an understanding of what movement styles we are drawn to, how we create, interpret, and organize ideas in movement and how we might begin to share this information with each other. Students will develop a self practice and investigate the intersection between this personal movement study and teaching inquiries as a means to imagine and develop a class that is supportive to and inclusive of multiple movement levels and abilities. Working to describe the intangible and the experience of movement itself we will refine how we filter this inside the dance class and how it might be initiated or shared to enhance one's ability to access movement, increase awareness, understand rhythm, technical structures, perception, and humanity within the exchange of teaching.

Faculty

Dancing in Progress: Perspectives on Teaching and Learning

Component—Spring

Students in this course will develop skills to bring their artistry into a teaching setting, combining practical and theoretical studies. We will work systematically and imaginatively to develop teaching practices in dance and movement forms that move us most deeply, addressing individual and collective concerns throughout the process. We will explore strategies for teaching a variety of techniques, from codified dance forms to generative forms, including improvisation and composition. Over the course of the semester, with all members of the class serving as both teachers and students, each participant will develop a cohesive plan for teaching in professional settings.  Studio practices—including movement, observation, discussion, and class exercises—will support in-depth exploration of teaching and learning as intrinsically related aspects of education at its best. In addition to work in the studio, independent research will entail surveying literature in the field of dance education and training, as well as potential sources beyond the field, according to individual interests. Practical and theoretical research will form the basis of a final presentation (teaching one or more sections of the curricular plan) and a final written report with annotated bibliography, summarizing and documenting the development process, as well as providing a basis for future promotional material.

Faculty

Anatomy

Component—Year

Prior experience in dance and/or athletics is necessary. Students who wish to join this yearlong class in the second semester may do so with permission of the instructor.

How is it possible for us to move in the countless 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. 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, facilitating study of the entire musculoskeletal system. In addition to movement practice, drawings are made as part of each week’s lecture (drawing materials provided), and three short assignments will be submitted each semester. Insights and skills developed in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the process of movement invention and composition.

Faculty

Anatomy Research Seminar

Component—Year

This is an opportunity for students who have completed a full year of anatomy study in the SLC dance program to pursue functional anatomy 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 investigation of motor and experiential learning, development of a unique warm-up sequence to address specific individual technical issues, inquiry into kinetic experience and its linguistic expression, detailed study of knee-joint anatomy, and study of the kinematics and rehabilitation in knee injury. The class meets biweekly to discuss progress, questions, and methods for reporting, writing, and presenting research, alternating with weekly studio/practice sessions for individual and/or group research consultations.

Faculty

Lighting in Life and Art

Component—Year

Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation that allows us to see. Light’s qualities and its interaction with space have profound effects on the affect of an experience. We all know that the feel of a midsummer afternoon is not the same as that of a cloudy, gray afternoon or a subway car or a sunset or a night with a full moon. What qualities of light generate these disparate feelings? The art and practice of crafting light is the subject of this component. We will examine the theoretical and practical aspects of light in multiple settings. This will begin with a practice of noticing what we might typically ignore. From there, we will approach learning how to craft the conditions of light primarily, though not exclusively, within a theatrical environment. Understanding the historical conventions of theatre—in particular, those of theatrical dance in the United States—will provide a point of departure to begin to think beyond those historical conventions. Emphasis will be on learning basic lighting skills, including those of stagecraft. Students will collaborate with, and create original lighting designs for, the Time-Based Art works when such needs are appropriate to the artistic proposal.

Faculty

Graduate Seminar: Independent Research in Dance

Component—Year

Qualified undergraduate students, including those who have completed courses in Dance History or First-Year Studies in Dance, may join this course with permission of the instructor.

This is a research tutorial course that provides an opportunity to explore foundational texts in dance and performance in the context of the Master of Fine Arts in Dance program. With our programmatic focus on performance and choreography, there are, nevertheless, important writings and discussions in our field that will be essential for students to engage as they prepare for careers in dance and performance. In concert with our reading and discussion, each student will undertake substantive independent research and writing. The emphasis is on developing a line or lines of inquiry, devising strategies with which to effectively and meaningfully follow learning pathways to produce well-crafted writing. This will entail identifying specific research topics, sources, and methods; engaging with those resources and practices; and reporting on the process in successive stages. Projects will evolve throughout the year, culminating in a final revision of writing and in-class presentation. Students will produce periodic reports and multiple drafts of writing during each semester and will serve as readers for colleagues, as well.

Faculty

Dance Meeting

Component—Year

This course will be taught by various dance faculty guests.

Dance Meeting convenes all undergraduate students enrolled in a five-credit Dance Third, a three-credit Dance Study, or a one-credit Dance Study, along with all MFA in Dance graduate students, in meetings that occur roughly once a month. 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 distinguished guests, SLC dance faculty, and alumnae; and casting sessions for departmental performances created by the Live Time-Based Art class.