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.

2019-2020 Courses

Dance

Graduate Seminar I: Investigating the Contemporary in Practice and Theory

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This graduate level course explores a variety of approaches currently evident in dance studies and contemporary dance practice and examines their conceptual underpinnings; such as dance, 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, Johnathan Burrows, Andre Lepecki, Fred Moten, and Irit Rogoff. Students will gain familiarity with current trends in practice and 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: Decolonizing Dance History

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Focusing on the concert stage (and its conditions of possibility) this class introduces students to major concepts, approaches, and issues in the study of dance as a cultural, historical, and artistic practice through lenses of postcolonial and critical race theory. By examining key texts in dance studies in relation to major developments in Western theatrical dance and the impact of Asian, African American, Native American, Caribbean, and European dance on North American stage practices, we explore multiple critical approaches to understanding the impact that histories of global (de)colonization have on dancing bodies.

Each session is designed around a historical, theoretical, and aesthetic paradigm through which to explore a range of critical issues in the dance field. Through lecture, seminar, video analysis, student presentation, group discussion, 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. The goal of this course is two-fold: (1) to understand how dance practices are bodily enactments of specific historical, cultural, and political developments and (2) to investigate different historical approaches to choreography and writing history.

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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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Advanced Dance History and Theory

Component—Year

Undergraduate students may take this course with permission of the instructor.

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 a robustly informed historical, social, technological, and aesthetic point of view.

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African Diasporic Dance

Component—Year

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 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

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 SpiralsTM, 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 are submitted each semester. Insights and skills developed in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the process of movement invention and composition.

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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, 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.

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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.

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Beginning Improvisation

Component—Year

Improvisation is a potentially limitless resource. Whether arising from movement itself or from conceptual/imaginative sources, improvisation can yield raw materials for making dances and other performance works. It can form the basis for community-building activities. It can also support the advancement of our technical skills in all dance forms, from conceptual and choreographic to performative, by giving us greater access to our personal connections to movement. In this course, we will engage in a variety of approaches to improvisation. We will investigate the properties of movement in the context of experience and performance, using activities that range from highly structured to virtually unstructured. The aim of our work is to delve deeply into the creative process in a variety of environmental settings, from the dance studio to outdoor sites around the campus. Throughout the year, goals will include building capabilities for sustained exploration of movement instincts and appetites, honing perceptive and communicative skills, and learning to use improvisation to advance movement technique. All of these goals will support the development of a durable foundation from which to work creatively.

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Big Dance Theatre

Component—Spring

The Big Dance Theatre is known for its inspired use of dance, music, text, and visual design. In the spring semester, students will restage The Snow Falls in the Winter, which is based loosely on the language and tone of the absurdist play, The Lesson, by Ionesco. The play was created for the OtherShore Dance Company and later danced by the Martha Graham Dance Company. Making use of Ionesco’s flat tonality, his simple sentences, and his stage directions, the piece is dark, ironic, and funny. The piece involves weaving text and movement together. Students will showcase their work with an end-of-semester performance.

Composition

Component—Year

Taught by Juliana May in the fall, Beth 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 the 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 repatterning of postural and movement habits.

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Dance on Frame

Component—Spring

This 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, and 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 has to 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 60s and, finally, to videos and installations of our contemporaries—in order to illustrate different approaches and to 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 moves, planes, and deconstruction of space/time—but also, and more importantly, to contemplate and witness the possibilities of creating informal pieces and investigate how video can transfigure and uniquely represent what is being observed. These exercises build toward the completion of a larger video project, incorporating approaches introduced throughout the term that include the presentation or installation of each piece. The class welcomes dancers, performers, video-makers, photographers, and 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 upperclass 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 2018-19, guest artists included Jacalyn Carley/German Dance lecture; Mina Nishimura/Introduction to Butoh; Rocky Bornstein/Dancer’s Health; Shamel Pitts/Introduction to Gaga; John Jasperse and Una Chung in conversation/Influence, Inspiration, Homage, Appropriation, and Theft in Art Making and Dance, and Eleanor Bauer/Choreographic Process.

Dance Movement Fundamentals

Component—Year

This class is open to all interested participants, with no prior experience in dance required.

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. Students who have successfully completed this course will be prepared to enter Contemporary Practice I and/or Ballet I.

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Dance Practice Conference

Component—Year

Students taking a Dance Third will meet with the instructor for this component course at least once per semester to address individual dance training issues and questions and to identify short- and long-term goals. Guided by discussion, we will develop practical strategies to address issues and questions in the context of achieving goals by means of specific supplemental exercises that address strength, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, coordination, and effective approaches to learning. This course is designed to support and enhance students’ work in dance classes, rehearsals, and performances.

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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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Gaga

Component—Spring

Gaga is a new way of gaining knowledge and self-awareness through your body. Gaga provides a framework for discovering and strengthening your body and adding flexibility, stamina, and agility while lightening the senses and imagination. Gaga raises awareness of physical weaknesses, awakens numb areas, exposes physical fixations, and offers ways for their elimination. The work improves instinctive movement and connects conscious and unconscious movement; it also allows for an experience of freedom and pleasure in a simple way, in a pleasant space, in comfortable clothes, accompanied by music, each person with himself/herself and others.

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LeeSaar The Company

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 warmup, 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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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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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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Contemporary Dance Practices

Component—Year

In these classes, emphasis will be on the continued development of basic skills, energy use, strength, and control relevant to the particular style of each teacher. At all levels, 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. Intermediate and advanced students will study more complex movement patterns, investigate somatic use, and concentrate on the demands of performance.

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Performance Project

Component—Fall

West African and European contemporary dance-trained Lacina Coulibaly will introduce students to, and develop tools to create, an intimate or sacred space within themselves and with others. In keeping with his own philosophical approach, the process will originate from walking, the natural gait. Taking this as the basis for the creation of rhythm, the students will work without judgment, either internal or external. They will also study the fundamental principles of West African dance and its sensibilities that form the base of Lacina’s own practice, each student taking those principles into their own bodies and allowing them to give rise to new vocabulary. In Lacina’s home culture, dance is community. In his interpretation, dance is about relationship—within our own bodies, with the Earth, with others, and with the world around us, both visible and invisible. That relationship is where rhythm takes place. Our role as dancers is to serve the spirit of the dance and all of the relationships that go with it. At the end of the semester, students will showcase their work as a performance.

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Somatics, Improvisations, and the Athletics of Intimacy

Component—Fall

This course will combine skills and applications of somatic research that include release techniques and body-mind practices, such as Body-Mind Centering® systems and patterns of development and evolution; embodiments of contact improvisation; and tunings of somatic approaches within solo, duet (strong emphasis on partnering), and ensemble dancing. The interest and focus is in the very physical, sensorial, and imaginative and in discovering new challenges and risks within our movement—of both body and mind—toward improvisational and compositional processes.

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Teaching Conference

Component—Year

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

In this practice-based course, students will develop skills to bring their artistry into a teaching setting. We will work systematically and imaginatively to develop teaching practices in the dance/movement forms that move us most deeply. To begin, we will read and discuss selected excerpts of foundational texts in dance/movement education. For the remainder of the fall semester, students will develop pedagogical approaches centered on individual interests. Each student will identify and deepen the knowledge of dancing that they wish to teach. In the studio, we will employ movement, observation, discussion, and class exercises. Additionally, each student will engage in independent research—surveying literature in the field of dance pedagogy, as well as potential sources beyond the field according to individual interests, and writing and presenting work to the class in the form of a practicum. Emphasis is placed on process, with the dual objectives of building metaskills (conceptualizing) and practical ones (actualizing) in constructing durable curricular structures. For the spring, focus of the class shifts to teaching generative forms, including improvisation and composition, with each student developing a formalized teaching plan. Each member of the class will serve as both teacher and student, with a weekly discussion of class activities and selected class readings drawn from a range of sources and perspectives. Supplemental independent research will support, inform, and enrich creation of the teaching plan. In both semesters, individual pedagogical research and development will be summarized and submitted in a final report, with an annotated bibliography serving as documentation of the development process as well as the basis for future promotional material.

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Rotating 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 represent emergent, as well as established, practices.

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, an approach that allows students 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. This 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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