Dance

Students practice their dance postures

The Sarah Lawrence College dance program presents undergraduate students with an inclusive curriculum that exposes them to vital aspects of dance through physical, creative, and analytical practices. Students are encouraged to study broadly, widen their definitions of dance and performance, and engage in explorations of form and function.

Basic principles of functional anatomy are at the heart of the program, which offers classes in modern and postmodern contemporary styles, classical ballet, yoga, Feldenkrais: Awareness Through Movement®, and African dance. Composition, improvisation, contact improvisation, Laban motif, dance history, music for dancers, dance and media, teaching conference, classical Indian dance, lighting design/stagecraft, and performance projects with visiting artists round out the program.

Each student creates an individual program and meets with advisers to discuss overall objectives and progress. A yearlong series of coordinated component courses, including a daily physical practice, constitute a Dance Third. In addition, all students taking a Dance Third participate at least once each semester in movement training sessions to address their individual needs with regard to strength, flexibility, alignment, and coordination, as well as to set short- and long-term training goals.

A variety of performing opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students are available in both informal and formal settings. Although projects with guest choreographers are frequent, it is the students’ own creative work that is the center of their dance experience at the College. In order to support the performance aspect of the program, all students are expected to participate in the technical aspects of producing concerts.

We encourage the interplay of theatre, music, visual arts, and dance. Music Thirds and Theatre Thirds may take dance components with the permission of the appropriate faculty.

In the interest of protecting the well-being of our students, the dance program reserves the right, at our discretion, to require any student to be evaluated by Health Services.

Prospective and admitted students are welcome to observe classes. 

2017-2018 Courses

Dance

First-Year Studies in Dance: The Practice of Embodied Creative Action

Open , FYS—Year

A common myth about art and artists is that they have visions and then set out to realize those visions. Anyone who has made creative work knows that the reality of the creative process is quite different. Making art, in general, and dance, in particular, often starts with curiosity and nagging questions rather than visions that await realization. Art, like scholarly research, doesn’t come with prewritten, how-to instructions. Rather, it is akin to a puzzle to be solved. Solving that puzzle in dance requires bringing everything you’ve got to the table—your thoughts, action, emotions, and concentration, along with rigorous analysis, courage, conviction, and some sweat. Like all students of dance at Sarah Lawrence, First-Year Studies in Dance students will enroll in multiple component classes in movement practice, creative practice, and analytic studies in dance that together will make up their program. A specially designed seminar for first-year dance students serves only as the core component of the First-Year Studies in Dance. Additionally, First-Year Studies in Dance students typically also enroll in Dance History, Beginning Improvisation, and a selection of movement practice classes. (Please refer to the online course catalogue for the component class descriptions.) Students will be dancing in the studio on a daily basis. The First-Year Studies in Dance Seminar provides students with an additional weekly forum to unite these studies in an introduction to the creative practice of a dance artist. We will expand analytical skills in both oral and written communication, explore an introduction to dance-making that will culminate in creating and performing our own short performance works, and explore how academic research is both a complement to and an integral part of creative practice. We will consider and cultivate critical perspectives on dance as an art form through class exercises, discussion, reading, writing, and oral presentations. We will build skills in each of those areas throughout the year. In sum, these components are designed to encourage individual investigation and the development of a practice of creative investigation in dance. This First-Year Studies course is open to anyone who is interested in exploring dance in all its facets, from students new to dance to students with significant prior experience in dance.

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Dance Movement Fundamentals

Component—Year

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

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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Somatics, Improvisations, and the Athletics of Intimacy

Component—Year

We will be exploring movement and dance through the research of improvisation and the influences of the experiential anatomy of the somatic research of Body-Mind Centering®, Contact Improvisation, and structures and scores for improvising and composing dances. We will make the invisible visible, learning more about the interior of the body and our ideas, and explore pathways to space, time, and place as we also learn basic anatomy and physiology to better understand the mechanics of movement.

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African Diasporic Dance

Component—Year

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

This yearlong course will use physical embodiment as a mode of learning about and understanding African diasporic cultures. In addition to physical practice, master classes led by artists and teachers regarded as masters in the field of African diasporic dance and music, along with supplementary study materials, will be used to explore the breadth, diversity, history, and technique of dances derivative of the Africa diaspora. Afro Haitian, West African, Orisha dances (Lucumi, Afro Cuban), and social dance are some genres that will be explored. Participation in year-end showings will provide students with the opportunity to apply studies in a performative context.

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Ballet

Component—Year

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

Ballet students of 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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Hip-Hop

Component—Fall

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

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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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Yoga

Component—Year

This asana yoga class is designed with dancers and theatre students’ interests in mind. Various categories of postures will be practiced with attention to alignment, breath awareness, strength, and flexibility. Emphasis is placed on mindfulness and presence. This approach allows the student to gain tools for reducing stress and addressing other unsupportive habits to carry into other aspects of their lives. The instructor has a background in dance and theatre, in addition to various somatically-based practices that she draws upon for designing the classes to meet the needs of the class members. Her class draws upon an alignment-oriented practice, as opposed to a vinyasa style of yoga. Additionally, this class introduces various awareness-building practices borrowed from other body-oriented approaches.

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Conditioning for Dancers

Component—Year

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 development of specialized skills required in dancing. Building on work done once or twice per semester in the Dance Practice Conferences, training issues such as strength, endurance, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness, and coordination will be addressed from a neuromuscular training approach based on the teachings and selected choreographies of Irene Dowd. In addition, students will be introduced to the Alexander Technique, which aims to refine and optimize function by eliminating excessive tension. This is accomplished through specific exercises and practices designed to increase awareness, implement conscious direction, and achieve gentle re-patterning of postural and movement habits.

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Dance Practice Conference

Component

Students taking Dance Thirds 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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Beginning Improvisation

Component—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. This class is an entry into the creative trajectory that later leads to composition and dance making.

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Contact Improvisation

Component

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

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Composition

Component—Year

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 to 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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The Choreographic Idiom: Instinct and Action in the Creative Process

Component—Year

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

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Dance and Music Improvisation

Component—Spring

Permission of the instructors is required.

This class explores a variety of musical and dance styles and techniques, including free improvisation, chance-based methods, conducting, and scoring. We will collaboratively innovate practices and build scores that extend our understanding of how the mediums of dance and music relate both to and with one another. How the body makes sound and how sound moves will serve as entry points for our individual and group experimentation. Scores will be explored with an eye toward their performing potential. The ensemble is open to composer-performers, dancers, performance artists, and actors. Music students must be able to demonstrate proficiency in their chosen instrument. All instruments (acoustic and electric), voice, electronic synthesizers, and laptop computers are welcome.

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Dance in Frame

Component—Spring

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

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Dance Making

Component—Year

Prerequisites: Dance Composition, Lighting Design and Stagecraft for Dance, and permission of the instructor.

In this class, graduates and upper-class undergraduates with a special interest and experience in dance composition will design and direct individual choreographic projects. Students and faculty will meet weekly to view works-in-progress and, in conferences taking place the following afternoon, discuss relevant artistic and practical problems. Music, costumes, lighting, and other elements will be discussed as integral and interdependent elements in the choreographic work. This will culminate in performances of the works toward the end of the semester in the Winter Performance and Spring Performance programs. Performances will take place in the Bessie Schönberg Dance Theatre or elsewhere on campus in the case of site-specific work.

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Anatomy in Action

Component—Year

Students who wish to join this yearlong class in the second semester may do so only with the permission of the instructor.

How is it possible for humans to move in the multitude of ways that we do? Learn to develop your X-ray vision of human beings in motion through functional anatomical study that combines movement practice, drawing, lecture, and problem solving. In this course, movement is a powerful vehicle for experiencing in detail our profoundly adaptable musculoskeletal anatomy. Facilitating our study of the entire musculoskeletal system, we will learn Irene Dowd’s Spirals™, a comprehensive warm-up/cool-down for dancing that coordinates all joints and muscles through their fullest range of motion. In addition to movement practice, drawings will be part of each week’s lecture. (Drawing materials will be provided.) Insights and skills developed in this course can provide tremendous inspiration in the process of movement invention and composition.

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Anatomy Seminar

Component—Fall

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

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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 of 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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Visiting Artists 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 between three and 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.

Making It Work

Component—Spring

In this semester-long course for students completing their studies at the College, we will examine and hone the tools needed for propelling your creative work into the professional landscape. Taught from an active artist/artist manager perspective, the course will attempt to achieve fluency for all makers by providing practical encounters with key areas of budgeting and finance, fundraising and grant writing, presenting and touring, and self-producing components (including marketing, press, audience development and engagement strategies, digital and social interactions, and production administration). We will explore various dance and theatre financial models, from being an independent solo artist to starting your own ensemble. The class will be participatory, asking each student to craft project descriptions, grant narratives, and budgets for their thesis projects or other works shown in the previous semester or first year. We will develop and stage mock applications and peer/panel reviews for real-world funding opportunities, undertake group budgeting for productions that occur in each department, and develop concurrent fundraising plans and crowdsourcing campaigns. The aim of this course is to provide a greater level of competitive preparedness for graduating theatre and dance makers on the cusp of representing themselves and their work in their chosen field(s).

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Contemporary Culture Critique

Component—Year

This class meets once a week.

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

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Teaching Conference

Component—Year

In this practice-based course, students develop skills to bring their artistry into a teaching setting. Readings, discussion, and short written pieces will support exploration of perspectives on teaching and development of individual areas of interest. Following current practices in the field for bringing together arts and education, we will study methods for artists to partner with educators and implement those methods in a weekly class for children enrolled in SLC’s acclaimed Early Childhood Center (ECC). In addition to our work with ECC, there are several options for those interested in an expanded practical curriculum. SLC’s Campbell Sports Center offers opportunities for students to initiate and lead physical education classes; and SLC’s Office of Community Partnerships can assist students in pursuing teaching initiatives in surrounding communities, including Yonkers, greater Westchester, and other New York City Metropolitan areas.

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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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Performance Project

Component—Fall

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

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Performance Project

Component—Spring

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

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TBA

Dance Meeting

Component—Year

This is a twice-monthly meeting of all Dance Thirds (undergraduate and graduate students) in which we gather for a variety of activities that enrich and inform the dance curriculum. In addition to sharing department news and information, Dance Meeting features master classes by guest artists from New York City and beyond, workshops with practitioners in dance-related health fields, panels and presentations by SLC dance faculty and alumnae, and casting sessions for departmental concerts created by the Dance Making class. In 2016-17, guest artists included Deborah Jowitt/Dance Historian and Critic in Conversation With John Jasperse; Jumatatu M. Poe/BIG BODY: J-Sette Performance Workshop; Rebecca Dietzel/Self-Care for Dancers; Sita Frederick/Salsa Translations; Allison Easter/Choreographing the Voice; Ana Dimas/Choreographing for Children; and Perspectives on Curatorial Practice: A Panel Discussion with Laurie Berg, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, and Allie Tepper, moderated by Kathy Westwater.

The New Elements: Mathematics and the Arts

Open , Lecture—Spring

This lecture will explore the bearing of modern mathematical ideas on 20th-century Western creative and performing arts. Euclid’s collection of geometric propositions and proofs, entitled The Elements, is an archetype of logical reasoning that, since antiquity, has had a broad influence beyond mathematics. The non-Euclidean revolution in the 19th century initiated a radical reconception of not only geometry but also mathematics as a whole. We will investigate, on the one hand, mathematical content as a source of new forms of expression, including non-Euclidean geometry, the fourth dimension, set theory, functions, networks, topology, and probability. On the other hand, we will study mathematical practice and the artists and writers who, intentionally or not, reflect modern mathematical attitudes in an attempt to break with the past. While this lecture does not aim for a comprehensive survey of the entire last century, we will investigate a sequence of case studies, including: Russian Suprematist art; the Bauhaus school in Western European architecture and design; Serialism in Western music; OuLiPo, “a secret laboratory of literary structures” in post-war French literature; and the origins of postmodern dance in 1960-70s North America, among others. This course assumes no particular expertise with mathematics or cultural history. Course readings and a program of art and performance viewings, both in lecture and off campus, will establish a basis for investigating the relevance of fundamental mathematical concepts to modern literature and the arts. Group conferences will provide practice for students, working with such mathematical concepts as they relate to particular artistic practices.

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Related Disciplines

Body and Soul: Drawing From Life

Open , Seminar—Year

For a visual artist, the human form provides a subject unlike no other. Descriptively, emotively, biologically, and culturally, the figure is a mirror, the representation of who we are as well as who we wish to be. For the artist, a true understanding of the human form—its unique formal, symbolic, narrative, psychological, and historical role—comes through prolonged and detailed exploration. The potential of the human form as an artistic resource will be the focus of this yearlong course. Daily exercises, both in and outside the studio, that stress the development of personal vision and disciplined work habits will be key to growing each student’s observational and technical skills. Over the course of the year—using both observation and memory, as well as a variety of materials and methods and an analysis of the relationships between gesture and form, rhythm and movement, and structure and biology—will lay the foundation necessary for individual expression.

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