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 2020-2021 Courses

Graduate Seminar I: Independent Research in Dance

Graduate Seminar—Year

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.

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Graduate Seminar II: Choreographic Lab

Graduate Seminar—Year

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 to make work shapes what we make.

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Anatomy

Component—Year

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 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, 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.

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Ballet

Component—Spring

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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TBA

Butoh

Component—Spring

In this class, students will engage in a series of somatic, improvisational movement and vocalization practices that reflect principles of butoh, Zen, and Noguchi Taiso (Water Body Movement). Through engaging in those practices, we will explore a way to liberate our body from a sense of self and from existing concepts of a body in order to realize unprecedented transformation and evolution of the body. Students will be descending a ladder into a well that is hidden deep inside the body and will keep digging the well until the water splashes out.

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TBA

Composition

Component—Spring

Composition literally means placing materials (i.e., beings, both animate and inanimate), movements, actions, sounds, words, light, etc. with one another. Composition is the process of creating relationships, both between materials and within time and space. Various faculty members bring distinct approaches to the contemporary practice of artistic creation and composition. This course is taught in and through an embodied practice of dance, but the principles are universally applicable to any art form. 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. This course is most appropriate for students who have already completed Beginning Improvisation.

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TBA

Conditioning for Dancers

Component—Fall

This class gives students tools to develop practices that support longevity in the moving body. A weekly anatomy and kinesiology discussion will be followed by movement practices rooted in Pilates, yoga principles, body weight exercises, cardiovascular training, methods of releasing, and physical therapy exercises—all tailored for a dancer’s needs. We will investigate how these modalities support somatic and contemporary dance practices, thus building more range and opportunity in the body. The class is a space for students to investigate personal movement patterns and develop tools to support their individual dance practices.

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Creative Practices in Performance: Movement-Based Composition and Improvisation

Component—Fall

Improvisation and composition are innate resources that we are constantly employing—consciously or not! Every day, we respond improvisationally to countless unexpected momentary shifts in our internal and external environments and make (compose) arrangements to address needs and desires. Building on those abilities by using movement as a central focus, improvisation can yield rich materials for instant performance, as well as dynamic elements for composing in multiple performance media. Improvisation and composition each support the advancement of our technical skills as performers and provide opportunities for us to build reliable connections as members of a creative community. In this course, we will engage in a variety of approaches to generating and arranging movement, using activities that range from highly structured to virtually unstructured. The unique experiences and background of each participant will serve to inform explorations throughout the semester. Goals will include building capabilities for sustained exploration and development of ideas, honing perceptive and communicative skills to cultivate a durable terrain from which to work creatively. We will explore expressive potentials inherent in movement; learn to master kinetic vocabularies; and incorporate music, sound, gesture, text, and objects in pursuit of individual, collaborative, and collective visions. Students will create and perform a series of studies over the course of the semester, directing one another and sharing ideas and solutions in class discussions.

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Dance Meeting

Component—Year

This is a twice-monthly meeting of all Dance Thirds (undergraduate and graduate students), during 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 members and alumnae, and casting sessions for departmental concerts created by the Dance Making class. For reference, the 2019-20 guest artists included Mary Armentrout, Christopher Williams, Miguel Gutierrez, Shelley Senter, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Jaamil Olawale Kosoko.

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.

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Decolonizing Dance History

Graduate Seminar—Spring

This course offers an investigation of the history of concert dance by examining its relationship to colonization and its decolonizing moves and potentials. The study of dance—as a performing art, everyday practice, and humanities discipline—engages the significance of embodiment in human experience. This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of race, gender, sexuality, and bodies in motion through the lenses of dance studies, postcolonial theory, and critical race theory. By examining the impact of African American, Native American, Asian, Caribbean, and European dance practices on theatrical dance, we explore multiple critical approaches to understanding the impact of global histories of colonization on dancing bodies and the agency afforded by dance in struggles of decolonization. Each session is designed around a historical, theoretical, and aesthetic paradigm through which to explore a range of critical issues. Through lecture, seminar, video analysis, student presentation, group discussion, and written assignments, students will learn methods of observation, analysis, interpretation, and evaluation. 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 approaches to choreography and writing history.

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Guest Artist Lab

Component—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 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.

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TBA

Hip-Hop

Component—Year

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.

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Hip-Hop: Dancing Diaspora from the Local to the Global

Graduate Seminar—Fall

This course focuses on hip-hop as a dance form, from its origins in the South Bronx to its current status as a global phenomenon. We will explore hip-hop culture in the broader framework of the African diaspora—as a way to envision worldwide connections among people and cultures of African descent and to understand hip-hop’s lineage in a context of black social dance. We will also consider extensions of hip-hop into other dance forms, such as house and voguing, foregrounding issues of gender and sexuality. Themes of the course include dance in hip-hop as a mode of resistance and critique, a site of struggle over ownership in capitalism, and a means for imagining black liberation. Key theorists such as Naomi Bragin, Imani Kai Johnson, and Thomas DeFrantz will be discussed. 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 approaches to writing about their significance in order to develop critical perspectives as thinkers and dancers.

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Hula

Component—Fall

This beginning-level dance class is designed to introduce students to Hawaiian hula dance through percussion, song, and dance. Through demonstrations and movement participation, students will explore a variety of movements and learn basic hula terminology from the distinct and unique culture of the Polynesian islands. Students will design a storyline through the hula movements learned over the course of the semester.

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Intersections of Dance and Culture: Studying Assumptions, Framing Experiences

Graduate Seminar—Year

When we encounter dancing, what are we seeing, experiencing, and understanding? How do current representations of dance perpetuate and/or disrupt assumptions about personal and social realities? Embedded historical notions and enforcements based on race, economic class, gender, social/sexual orientation, nationality/regional affiliation, and more are threaded through our daily lives. Performing arts, both inside and outside of popular culture, often reinforce dominant cultural ideas. Can they also propose or inspire alternatives? In this class, we will view examples of dancing on film, digital/internet media, television programs and commercials, as well as live performance. These viewings—along with readings of 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 and exercises. Each student will develop an independent research project arising from one or more class activities.  Independent research will include reading, writing, and presentation. The central aim of this course is to cultivate generously informed conversation, using academic research and experiential knowledge to advance our appreciation of dance as an elemental art form.

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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.

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Movement Studio Practice

Component—Year

In these classes, emphasis will be on the steady development of movement skills, energy use, strength, and articulation 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 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.

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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.

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TBA

Performance Project: Rosas danst Rosas

Component—Fall

Fumiyo Ikeda, assisted by John Jasperse

In 1983, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker had her international breakthrough with Rosas danst Rosas, a performance that has since become a benchmark in the history of postmodern dance. Rosas danst Rosas builds upon the minimalism initiated in Fase (1982): Abstract movements constitute the basis of a layered choreographic structure in which repetition plays the lead role. The fierceness of these movements is countered by small, everyday gestures. Rosas danst Rosas, originally created in 1983, is unequivocally feminine: Four female dancers dance themselves, again and again. While the choreography will remain the same, this restaging in 2020 will be framed with a contemporary viewpoint on gender; students of any gender identity are welcome. The exhaustion and perseverance that come with it create an emotional tension that contrasts sharply with the rigorous structure of the choreography. The repetitive, “maximalistic” music by Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch was created concurrently with the choreography. This restaging of Rosas danst Rosas will focus primarily on the 2nd movement. The Fall 2020 Dance Program Performance Project, Rosas danst Rosas (1983) by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, is made possible with the generous support of the Barbara Bray Ketchum Artist-in-Residence Fund.

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Time-Based Art

Graduate Seminar—Year

In this class, graduates and upperclass undergraduates with a special interest and experience in the creation of time-based artworks across various disciplines will design and develop individual creative projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and discuss relevant artistic and practical problems, both in class and in conferences taking place the following afternoon. 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 will be the sole constraint imposed on the students’ artistic proposals. While, typically, many of these works might include embodied action that could fall under the discipline of dance, this course is open to any student who is interested in cultivating discourse across traditional disciplinary artistic boundaries, both in the process of developing the works and in the context of presentation to the public. As such, the inclusion of live performers is not a requirement. If students plan on making works including dance and are living on or near campus, they will have access to the dance studios by booking time in advance and following social distancing and PPE requirements. At the completion of the fall 2020 semester, all student works will be exhibited virtually in screenings and/or postings in an online platform.​

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West African Dance

Component—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.

Yoga

Component—Fall

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.

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