Dance Courses

The Sarah Lawrence College M.F.A. 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.

Courses

Dance

Dance/Movement Fundamentals

Year

This class is an introduction to the basic principles of contemporary and ballet practices. The fundamentals class will develop skills basic to all movement studies, such as dynamic alignment through coordination and integration of the neuro/skeletal/muscular system, strength, balance, and basic spatial and rhythmic awareness.

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Modern and Postmodern Practice

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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Ballet

Year

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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Dance Training Conference

Year

Students will meet with the instructor at least once per semester to address individual dance training issues. We will examine these issues by discussing progress, specific challenges, and short-term and long-term goals. In addition, we will develop practical strategies to achieve those goals by means of supplemental strength, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, and coordination exercises. This course is required for all students taking a Dance Third. It is designed to support the work being done in movement practice classes, concerts, and performance projects.

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Beginning Improvisation

Year

Merge your imagination and movement potential through dance improvisation. This invaluable creative mode offers students the opportunity to recognize and develop sensations, ideas, and visions of dancing possibilities. Internal and external perceptions will be honed while looking at movement from many points of view—as an individual and in partnership with others. Beginning Improvisation is required for all students new to the dance program. This class is an entry into the creative trajectory that later leads to composition and dance making. Other improvisation classes are recommended for students who have already taken Beginning Improvisation and want to explore this form further.

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Experimental Improvisation Ensemble

Spring

This class explores a variety of musical and dance styles and techniques, including free improvisation, chance-based methods, conducting, and scoring. We will collaborately innovate practices and build scores that extend our understanding of how the mediums of dance and music relate 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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Contact Improvisation

Year

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 out of the Judson Experimental Dance Theatre, combines aspects of social and theatrical dance, bodywork, gymnastics, and martial arts. We will exploremovement 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.

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Composition

Year

Movement is the birthright of every human being. These components explore movement’s expressive and communicative possibilities by introducing different strategies for making dances. Problem posed run the gamut from conceptually driven dance/theatre to structured movement improvisations. These approaches vary depending on the faculty. Learn to mold kinetic vocabularies of your own choice and incorporate sound, objects, visual elements, and text to contextualize and identify your 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 toinvolve themselves in the joy of creative.

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Dance Making

Year

Individual choreographic projects will be designed and directed by seniors and graduate students with special interest and experience in dance composition. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and to discuss relevant artistic and practical problems. Whenever possible, the music for these projects, whether new or extant, will be performed live in concert. Dance Making students are encouraged to enroll in Lighting Design and Stagecraft for Dance.

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Senior Seminar

Year

This class is designed to support the creative and technical practices, as well as the practical concerns, of students in their senior year. It will also serve as a forum for discussions of art practices in other media and the nature of the creative process. Choreographic projects will be presented and discussed in seminar and in conference.

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Anatomy in Action

Year

How is it possible for humans to move in the multitude of ways that we do? Learn to develop your X-ray vision of the human being in motion in a course that combines movement practice, drawing, lecture and problem solving. In this course, movement is the vehicle for exploration of our profoundly adaptable anatomy. In addition to making drawings as we study 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. Insights gained in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the creative process.Students may enter this yearlong course in the second semester only with the permission of the instructor.

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Anatomy Seminar - Graduate

Year

This is an opportunity for advanced students who have completed Anatomy I to pursue their study of anatomy in greater depth. Each student will research a topic or topics in which functional anatomy plays a significant part. We will meet weekly to discuss questions and share experiences.

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Yoga

Year

This yoga class is tailored to investigative and supportive physicality and mental focus for art-making and creativepursuits. In addition to asanas and anatomical analysis, myths and principles from this ancient tradition are woven into this practice. Appropriate for dancers, theater students and anyone interested in experiencing a contemplative practice to support their health and endeavors.

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Feldenkrais: Awareness Through Movement®

Fall

Moshe Feldenkrais believed that "rigidity, mental or physical, is contrary to the laws of life." His system of somatic education develops awareness, flexibility, and coordination 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 are required to bring their full attention to their experience in order to develop their capacity for spontaneous, effortless action. Self-generated learning will release habitual patterns, offer new options, and enhance the integrated activity of the entire nervous system.

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African Diasporic Dance

Year

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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Dance and Camera, Body, Image and Metastable State

Spring

The class begins with the question, “The body is real, but how do images of the body function and what are the limits of reality?” We place our bodies in (the context of) this question. For this purpose, the class introduces the Live Processing technique, in which students relate to several prepared videos as external agency. Students develop a connection to the bodies in video sequences as if they are extensions of their own bodies.For each class, we set up video monitors around the space, run cables together, and dance in the environment. The students discuss, prepare their own video sequences, study details of the movements in the videos, and eventually combine it with their own movement. Live Processing puts bodies in process and offers an autonomous approach for each student to create unique movement every time. We move beyond our familiar territory by situating our bodies in metastable states. Or perhaps our bodies become the metastable states. We will find out.

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Labanotation/Repertory

Fall

This course will cover elementary and intermediate levels of Laban’s system of movement notation.  Students will concentrate on correct observation and analysis of movement, writing facility, and the ability to read and perform authentic, historical dance forms.  Reconstruction and performance of a notated work from the modern dance or ballet repertoire will be the culmination of the students’ work.

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Laban Motif

Spring

Motif Notation is a method of recording observed movement.  It is a system that has been developed closely with Labanotation (the method of notating movement by Rodolf von Laban).   Motif Notation is very useful on multiple levels: it uses symbols that express the larger framework and idea behind a series of movements and gives a very strong sense of the intention of the mover and choreographer.  Motif Notation includes Basic Body Actions, Shape Qualities, Effort and Effort Phrasing, Planes, Dimensions, Space motifs and Keys in space. Through Motif Notation students can understand dynamics, timing, and action.  It also allows the student dancer to express the intention of his/her movement in space and spatial relationships with others.  Motif Notation can be applied in any field of study, from dance, to sports, to training, teaching, to therapy to group dynamics and conflict resolution.

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Rumba Tap

Fall

This class offers students different ways to access their inner rhythm machine and to explore the most immediate and natural physical outlets for the music in their mind. Improvisation will be part of this process. Although some tap technique will be covered and incorporated, the class focuses on body percussion/rhythmic coordination and a general understanding of the earth-shattering power of Afro-Cuban culture, music, and dance.

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Dance History

Year

This is a course in the history of performance in the United States from the early 20th century to the present, as exemplified by the dancers, choreographers, and teachers who brought about notable changes in the art. The relationship of dance to the larger cultural environment will be discussed, with emphasis placed on the dance of our time. The spring term will also include studio practice. This course is designed to help the student relate his or her own work to the development of the art and to encourage creative critical perception.

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Teaching Conference

Fall

This course is an inquiry into the ways in which dance might be taught in various settings to different populations. The detailed study of kinesthetic, verbal, and creative actors in teaching will be presented and analyzed in terms of teaching objectives. Students will be placed as practice teachers, under supervision, in dance classes on campus and in community schools.

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Lighting Design and Stagecraft for Dance

Year

The art of illuminating dance is the subject of this component. We will examine the theoretical and practical aspects of designing lights for dance. Students will create original lighting designs for Dance program concerts.

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Music for Dancers

Spring

The objective of this course is to grant dance students with the tools needed to fully understand the relationship between music and dance. Students will expand their knowledge of diverse musical elements, terminology, execution and procedures, and learn the basics of rhythmic notation.This course will provide students with the opportunity to play a full array of percussion instruments from around the globe: African djembes, Brazilian zurdos, Argentinean bombo, Indian tabla, electronic drums, etc. Students will also learn how to scan musical scores with various degrees of complexity and explore the diverse rhythmic styles that have developed through time in response to different geographical, social, and philosophical conditions. The focus will be prevalent towards a dancer’s full knowledge and understanding of music. All musical instruments will be provided.

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Dance Meeting

Year

This is a regular gathering of all Dance Thirds in which we share ongoing student interests and invite guests to teach, perform, and inform. Topics have included dance injuries, dance therapy, kinesthetic awareness, nutrition, world dance forms, and presentations by New York City choreographers.

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Contemporary 3

Year

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 advance class will study complex movement patterns, investigate somatic use, and concentrate on the demands of performance.

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Performance Project

Fall

Elizabeth McPherson will restage excerpts from Anna Sokolow’s most famous pieces, “Rooms” (1955).   Ms. Sokolow’s work was often inspired by her ethnic background and strong social and political convictions.  In Rooms, Ms. Sokolow used chairs to symbolize rooms in a cheap hotel, and the way dancers move on and around those chairs reveals the anxieties and obsessions of the hotel's residents. The work was used in a short film, also titled Rooms (1966).  Students will showcase their work with an end of semester performance.

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Performance Project

Spring

We bring Live Processing to a performance environment from the classroom. (Please refer to the class description about Live Processing under Dance and Camera.) Performers dance in a video-surrounded environment and learn to use multiple video sources at once, to create movement that is similar yet different each time they practice it. The score is made for a body to become an open series of metastable states through which a subject passes. We put thebody in process to disrupt its usual flow of image, subjectification, and attributions. Students will showcase their work with an end of semester performance.  

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Graduate Seminar I

Fall

Writing about dance performance will be the topic for Fall 2014. 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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Graduate Seminar I

Spring

Perspectives: A Graduate Seminar on Sreendance: In the Spring semester, we will survey a selection of works in film and video that capture dance as a moving image. Many of the filmmakers whose work will be considered are themselves dance makers or closely aligned and collaborators with dance makers, including Busby Berkeley, Maya Deren, Bob Fosse, Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk, Charles Atlas, Cathy Weis, Ralph Lemon, Sally Potter, and Wim Wenders, among others. Focusing primarily on film and video works from mid- to late 20th and early 21st century, this course seeks to develop understanding of how over this time period, coinciding with the emergence and availability of film and video technology and equipment, an artistic form referred to as screendance and/or dancefilm emerged. How screendance has both reflected and influenced developments in dance making practices will be of particular interest. Also of interest will be how iconic works of this form and the artists featured in them have impacted our culture and society. Selected readings for the course will explore the history, theory, and practice of this rapidly expanding field of interest. Students will keep a journal of the works viewed in class; write a research paper and give an oral presentation on a topic of their choice in consultation with the faculty; and attend screenings and discussions of the annual Dance on Film Festival at Lincoln Center.

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Graduate Seminar II

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 always at work in the world.

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Graduate Seminar III

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, to broaden their range of movement possibilities, and integrate their creative and technical practices.

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