NU’s dance program out of step, majors say

Christina Salter

Nicole West was one of four students in her freshman class to enter Northwestern as a dance major.

Although NU’s dance program has gradually expanded over West’s four years at school, it continues to struggle with a lack of resources and disputes over its academic policies.

Most recently, a change in the pre-registration process this quarter has prevented some students from taking as many dance classes as usual, causing them to pay for additional instruction at local studios. Though many faculty and students agreed that the department has the students’ best interests in mind, West said the changes left many students questioning the new policies.

“We kind of generally feel like our voice isn’t heard,” said Genevieve Garcia, a senior dance major. “The supply isn’t really related to the demand of what students want.”

Garcia, who usually takes four or five technique classes a quarter, was only able to register for two such classes this term.

Under the new registration process, dance majors can only pre-register for up to three technique classes, and dance minors for two, said dance program coordinator Susan Lee. Musical theatre students, who have a dance requirement, are next on the priority list and can pre-register for one. Classes then open to all students.

Before Winter Quarter, students registered for dance classes by placing their names on wait lists to get permission numbers from theatre department assistants. The process was labor-intensive and confusing, said Rives Collins, chairman of the theatre department.

The goal was to make the process more transparent and fair to all students, Collins said, adding that the system helps students who never could get into dance classes. Majors and minors also benefit from having certain classes guaranteed, though they may not be able to take as many classes as they want.

But the registration change doesn’t mean that any more classes are offered, so many students still don’t get the classes they want, West said.

“It’s a little scary because I have classes that I really want to take before I graduate and I’m never going to have these teachers again,” she said.

Dance minor Michelle Jacobs wanted to take ballet classes at NU four days a week, but this quarter all three ballet classes were offered back-to-back on the same day. Instead, she enrolled in extra ballet classes at Giordano Dance School, 614 Davis St., and said she knows of other NU students who are doing the same.

Jacobs said the program is trying to be accommodating but faces a lack of funding.

“The dance department kind of falls by the wayside, and it’s really too bad because we have a phenomenal faculty and just not enough resources,” she said.

On the other hand, theatre major Sara Sawicki said the new process allowed her to take a dance class for the first time as a junior, something she had wanted to do since freshman year to improve her movement on stage.

“I actually understood the process and was finally able to easily register for a class this quarter,” Sawicki said.

Dance major Juli Farley said she will probably be able to get most of the classes she wants, but registration will be more stressful. She also considered taking outside classes, but said the idea of paying extra money on top of NU tuition was “kind of ridiculous.”

Farley said that because NU’s program isn’t a conservatory, dance students aren’t expected to take technique classes every day, although many students expressed the desire to do so.

“I want to be a professional dancer, so why wouldn’t I want to be dancing every day?” she said.

Like NU’s theatre program, the dance program is rooted in liberal arts. Technique classes are considered important, but so are academics.

Collins said that a liberal arts dance program like NU’s is not better or worse than a conservatory, just different.

“I would hope that people coming to a school like NU would understand the kind of education they’re heading for,” he said.

Although the faculty understands students would like more dance technique class offerings, Collins said, the problem is usually a lack of studio space or funding.

Some students questioned policies like the new pre-registration process as reflections of an administrative bias for theatre majors.

“There’s always been sort of an unspoken, silent battle between the theatre and dance worlds,” West said. “We get the trailing off ending from whatever they need to use.”

Others said the dance program may not receive the same adequate resources as the theatre department.

“We just aren’t funded,” said Garcia. “It’s the truth and people know that.”

Collins, however, said the dance program is in solid condition and has grown somewhat in the last four years, though “everyone wishes more dance classes were offered.” The current economic situation for the whole university doesn’t make expansion seem likely in the near future.

“Will it grow? I don’t know,” Collins said. “I don’t see any cuts, but I don’t see any new resources.”

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