For Making Dancers Beneficial To The Public

John Bohannon presents A Modest Proposal

Dance your PhD: John Bohannon & Black Label Movement at TEDxBrussels

Watch this video on YouTube.

I’ll let this presentation speak mostly for itself. I’ve been a fan of the “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest and concept since discovering it a few years ago (it received a mention in 2010). But I want to thank a reader and soon-to-be guest contributor, Jessica of One For All Dance Academy for pointing me to Bohannon’s recent TEDxTalk.

Watch the insightful and entertaining presentation first.

You may notice its relationship to the Jonathan Swift essay you discussed in school somewhere along the way.

Then [Read more…]

Talking About College Dance With K-12 Students

For a dance educator there comes a point, usually in the fall, when it is time to start talking about certain “ends” with your dance students.

IMAGE A dancer poses in her cap and gown. IMAGE

Photo by Abby Hudgins

There is more to the college discussion than what kind of program best suits.

My goal is just to get kids on campus.

I use dance as a gateway to discuss college. Period.

Due to the structure, rigor, and creative nature of dance, dancers tend to be successful in many other aspects of education and life. Vicki Nelson lists the how and why in her article, 10 Credits Dancers Take With Them to College.

The arts produce creative thinkers, able to connect subjects, and develop pathways that standard students may not initially consider.

A major or a minor in dance can lead to a great number of career options that use dance education in important and innovative ways.  If my dance students end up majoring and minoring in dance, great. If not, that is just as great. What I want for them are fulfilled lives with options, perspective, and jobs with health insurance. This doesn’t necessarily require a college degree, but in many instances, it does.

Especially for students who are the first generation in their families to attend college, studying the arts may seem to their parents a frivolous way to spend their hard-earned money.

Their families are concerned about the financial aspect, about being out-educated and thus judged by their children, or worry about their children leaving the nest and how their absence impacts the care for younger siblings. The idea of change is scary. Actual, change, however is necessary and usually more manageable than these families expect.

It is important that we give our students the information they need to approach these discussions with their families and provide concrete examples of what can be done with further education in Dance but also simply what further education can provide.

The Conversation Timeline

Kindergarten – Fourth grade

I begin talking about “what you want to be when you grow up” with my youngest students. I typically ask this question around September and again at the end of the year. It is interesting to see how their ideas change the more they learn, read, and write.

Fifth – Seventh grades

With upper elementary students, I ask what they want to be but also start talking about how to get there. We start talking about the role of higher education and what subjects may need to be a focus in order to make their dreams a reality.

Eighth – Ninth grades

Around middle school and early high school, I start getting specific and really push the grades. Emphasizing academic performance EARLY and its role in determining options is important. At this age, support and parent/teacher involvement are critical. If we haven’t done so already, we start identifying ways for them to get extra help in their challenging subjects.

If dance is a goal, we get serious about dance training. The content I provide in a K-12 classroom is often complimentary to core subjects while exposing students to as much of the field of dance as possible. I typically run after school classes for “serious” dancers and make connections with local dance organizations that are also capable of providing the technical support dancers need in order to be accepted into a college dance program.

Tenth – Eleventh grades

Junior year is usually the time to seriously explore the college dance option by visiting schools with virtual or actual school tours and getting to know the attributes of college dance programs within your state and beyond.

As an educator, I take great care in knowing which colleges offer majors, minors, certification in dance education, and classes for non-majors/minors. Knowing the general number and specialties of dance clubs on various campuses can be equally valuable.

It is important to know how the recreational dancer can be serviced on campus or in the community in case your student does not get accepted into their school of choice or decides not to major/minor in dance.

Once a student has reached campus

…make an effort to help them stay there.

It can be as simple as exchanging a few emails or answering the phone. The pressure of friends and family to come home, enter the family business, or quit in order to work full-time can be daunting and it won’t end just because they’ve managed to leave the nest. Sometimes your familiar voice will be all they need as a reminder to put their needs first.

The Fast and Dirty College Dance Degree Code:

  • BFA: for students intending to pursue professional careers as dancers and choreographers. This tends to best prepare students for MFA study.
  • BA: for students that may intent to perform/choreograph but may prefer to teach and/or double major in another academic subject. This path may lead to MA work in multiple disciplines.
  • Dance Certification: for those intending to teach dance in the public schools. Without this distinction, you are NOT considered “Highly Qualified” to teach K-12 no matter what type of degree (including Masters!) you hold.
  • Minor: for students that want to keep their options open, and readily apply their dance education to other subjects. Many dance minors begin as dancers that are not ready to “give it up yet.” Or a minor in dance is a compromise with their parents who think they should major in a more sensible area of study.
  • Specialization: depending on the school, this may be equivalent to a minor or it may not.


A life in the arts is hard. These days, life is hard in any profession so why NOT dance?


Dance affects the body, the mind, and the spirit. Experience as a dancer enhances any career relating to these areas. This allows your student further distinction from other job candidates.

Of course, it also just pays to be really good at what you do.


Discipline and dedication are key components to dance training and translate into other fields of study and work ethic.


Versatility in thinking as well as being open and able identify new possibilities creates a form of job stability that no single profession seems able to provide.

IMAGE Roger Lee in cap and gown, hugs a fellow graduate. IMAGE

Families want what is best for their children.

As educated professionals working in education, our reach must extend beyond the faces we see in our classrooms. We need to reach the families, too.

If your student indicates a desire to attend college, especially to study in the arts, offer to help them talk to their parents. Make information available and be willing to answer questions/concerns.

And please, be supportive if your student determines that returning home is what is best for them. Hopefully, they’ve made the choice for themselves.


What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know

Transitioning To College: What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know is a college preparation guide for first-year students written specifically for dancers. It provides a snapshot of college life, essential information on what to expect in a dance program of study, and scores of tips and tricks for staying healthy and happy.

The E-book Helps You:

Own Your Education
What college freshman can expect to encounter freshman year in terms of dance technique and training, as well as overall scholastics.

Study Smarter, Not Harder

Stay HealthyClick Here

Manage Stress



10 Credits Dancers Take With Them to College

Today’s guest post is courtesy Vicki Nelson. She and I connected over blogging but discovered a shared appreciation for dance. In addition to her professional experience within higher education, Vicki is the parent of two post-college daughters and one daughter currently in college. She studied dance for many years herself and enjoyed being a dance mom for 18 years. With this article, she’s put into words what a credit dance education, and arguably the arts in general, can be to young adults entering college.

Dance Education May Lead to College Success

Photo by bamarina09

As the mother of three daughters, I have spent 18 years as a dance mom. My daughters loved to dance. Each girl took ballet and jazz and one daughter added tap to the mix. We spent a lot of time at the dance studio! Two daughters have now graduated from college and the third is not far behind. No one dances any more.

Was it all a waste of time, money and energy? Of course not! My girls had fun, and learned to love and appreciate the arts. They gained a bit of grace and became more comfortable with their bodies. They made new friends. They had a great role model in their teacher. None of us regrets a minute of the time spent dancing.

However, I’ve come to realize that there are even more important benefits of growing up studying dance once students head off to college.

Qualities Successful Dancers and Students Share

As a college professor I work with college students every day. I see the qualities that successful students have, and I see the qualities that the less successful students lack. I believe that the dance education that my daughters received helped to reinforce many of the important qualities that made them successful in college and will help them succeed in their lives. I’d like to suggest ten of those qualities here.

  1. Time Management

    This may be the single most important quality necessary for success in college. Students who know how to plan ahead, organize, and balance their lives are the students who succeed. Children who grow up adding dance to their weekly activities, especially those who may take several classes each week, must learn to manage their time. They learn to balance, to prioritize, to multitask, to make choices and sacrifices. These lessons will definitely give them an advantage when they get to college.

  2. Discipline

    Anyone who has ever taken a dance class knows that it requires discipline. It requires discipline to show up to class, to control your body, to practice, to focus on the teacher. It requires discipline to give up other things to make room in your life for what is important to you. Students learn, and are able to practice, the discipline of making and following through with choices. When faced with choices in college, these students will be prepared.

  3. Passion

    Photo by ssanyal

    Students who are involved in a dance program have the opportunity to pursue something that they love. In following their passion, they experience the benefits and the satisfaction that comes from following your heart. Hopefully, when they get to college, they will follow a passion for something – whether or not it is dance. They will commit to something simply because they love it – not necessarily because of a class, or a grade, or a career move. Loving something that you do is important in keeping balance in your life.

  4. Commitment

    Dance students learn that doing anything well requires a commitment. That commitment takes time, energy, sacrifice, and follow-through. Dancers learn to stick with something. You cannot become a dancer over night. It takes time to develop as a dancer. College students, too, need to recognize that some things take time to develop and require a commitment of time, energy and sacrifice. In this often commitment-phobic age, students who know the value of commitment will make a difference – for themselves and for others.

  5. Hard work

    Dance is hard work. As much fun as it may be, as fulfilling and satisfying as it may be, as good as it is for the soul, it is hard work. Dancers learn how to put in the hard work to achieve something. They are not afraid of doing something difficult. They know that they need to tackle a difficult task (or step, or routine) and break it down and work at it. Many college students worry about hard – hard courses, hard instructors, hard majors. Students who are willing, and able, and unafraid, to take on challenges achieve more.

  6. Technique

    Photo by bombarosa

    Dancers spend much of their time learning to perfect, or at least improve, their technique. They know from experience that doing something well often happens because of all of the small details. A good dancer knows that a beautiful dance grows from good technique. Details matter. Details add up. Details take hard work. Paying attention to the smallest of details can make the difference.

  7. Skill-building

    Dancers understand that there is always room for improvement. No matter how long you have been dancing, no matter how good you are, no matter how clearly you understand a step or how instinctive a move has become, there is always room for improvement. Dancers learn that you never stop growing in your ability, that there is always somewhere to grow. In college, they will continue to strive for something more.

  8. Criticism

    Dance students understand that criticism is not a bad word. They understand that true criticism means helping someone find the best in themselves by giving them feedback. They understand that criticism is good and that good criticism helps them grow. They understand, because they have heard it being given for years, how to give good criticism to others. College students who are able to receive – and use – criticism will gain more from others. College students who know how to constructively criticize others – positively, specifically, non-emotionally – will be able to help others.

  9. Creativity

    Dance is not technique. Dance is not skill. Dance is not discipline or hard work. Although all of those qualities are required, dance is ultimately a creative work of art. Dance students begin to understand that they have something within themselves that they bring to a dance. Dance students begin to understand that dance is greater than they are. It is the ultimate unity of the music, the choreography, the technique and the soul of the dancer that creates the dance. Dancers learn to tap that creative energy within themselves – and they will bring that creativity to all that they do.

  10. Self Investment

    Ultimately, dancers learn to throw themselves completely into whatever they do. They blend the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual into a greater whole. Students who head off to college understanding, and having experienced, this totality of themselves will be better able to seek and maintain a balance in their lives.

My daughters no longer dance – although I continue to hope that they may return to it some day – but they have reaped countless benefits from their dance experience. The life lessons which they have gained gave them a head start in college – and in life. Current dance students may not yet realize that each time they lace up their pointe shoe, or take their place at the barre, or practice just one more pirouette, they are preparing themselves for life.

Vicki Nelson currently teaches communication at a small liberal arts college and has more than 25 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, academic advisor and administrator. She founded College Parent Central, a website designed to help parents navigate through the college years, to give parents information about how to be productively involved in their student’s college life while finding ways to allow their student to gain independence. Visit Vicki’s website at or contact her at

What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know

Transitioning To College: What Freshman Dance Majors Need To Know is a college preparation guide for first-year students written specifically for dancers. It provides a snapshot of college life, essential information on what to expect in a dance program of study, and scores of tips and tricks for staying healthy and happy.

The E-book Helps You:

Own Your Education
What college freshman can expect to encounter freshman year in terms of dance technique and training, as well as overall scholastics.

Study Smarter, Not Harder

Stay HealthyClick Here

Manage Stress


Why and How to Encourage Students to See Concert Dance

Last weekend I attended the final day of the Dance/USA conference held in Houston this year. The first morning session was a topic that is near to my heart – cultivating dance-literacy. Included in the discussion were thoughts and experiences on increasing awareness and knowledge of dance art through dance on the Internet, dance on television, dance in community building and engagement initiatives, dance in politics, and dance in our K-12 and university educational systems. Though I found the discussion enriching, I was a little disappointed that no one mentioned the population of dancers and dance educators that exist in private studios.

Why private studios were not part of this discussion is an interesting topic, but one that I will save. Instead I’d like to share some thoughts about why creating opportunities for students to see live concert dance should be a priority for teachers, studio owners, and parents, and some ideas about how to make concert dance more accessible.

Read This…

Power of Performance: Building inspiration in students through concert dance

in DanceStudioLife Magazine‘s May/June issue.

I can finally link to this wonderful article by my friend Nancy Wozny! Before, I had to tell readers to pick up a copy or subscribe to the magazine (which I highly recommend anyway!). In the article three teachers from very different locations within the U.S. describe how and why they encourage students to see live performance.

It’s a topic I’ve discussed in various ways before. However, the quotes in this article richly support my own thoughts. Therefore, I’ve decided to feature several of them here.

Why Encourage Students to See Concert Dance

  • Inspiring increased drive and dedication in class
    • “When they come back after seeing a show, their focus and drive are off the charts. They see what they can become if they work hard. Although students might be the best in their class, they don’t often see how much further they need to go.” – Melissa Dobbs; Metropolitan Fine Arts Center in Washington, DC.
  • It is good for your business
    • These experiences show that you care about educating whole and well-rounded dancers. Parents really do appreciate dance studios that make education (not just performing, competing, or even training) a priority.
  • Seeing dance principles applied
    • “There’s something about seeing professional dancers do the things that I am telling them all the time that makes it really sink in. Honestly, I see better dancing after they have seen the magic that can happen onstage.” – Louanne Courtright; Louanne Courtright Dance Studio in rural Michigan
  • Promoting the ability to discuss dance intelligently
    • Should students plan to dance at all in college (as a major, minor, or otherwise) they will need to be able to critically discuss and write about concert dance. Developing these skills in a topic of interest (such as dance) will help students in whatever academic and career paths they choose.
  • Learning about theater etiquette
    • As students go out into the wider world, like it or not, they are representatives. What they do or do not learn about etiquette, manners, and conduct reflects on the teachers, communities, and institutions that have reared them.
  • Exposing students to different dance perspectives, aesthetics, and cultures
    • “She recalls the case of one student, Spencer Ramirez, who was committed to jazz dance — that is, until he started going to see modern dance. ‘His whole world opened up after seing contemporary dance,’ says Dobbs. Now a student at The Julliard School, Ramirez was changed by what came into his awareness while sitting in the audience.”
  • Opening students’ minds to the greater dance world
    • “I also want our students to know that dance is more than what’s on television and at competitions.” Melissa Dobbs; Metropolitan Fine Arts Center
  • Developing lifelong supporters of the arts
    • “I want to develop students who grow into lifelong supporters of the arts. If you are not doing that, you are not giving a full dance education.” Michelle Spezio; Spezio’s Dance Dynamics in western New York

A neglected relationship or not, dance artists and dance art feed and influence the work and training within dance studios. And, dance studios are training both the artists and audiences of the future. Choosing to foster this relationship is better for all.

How to Encourage Students to See Concert Dance

Photo by David Poe

Photo by David Poe

Ultimately, I feel encouragement is about removing resistance and making concert dance forms more accessible.

  • Organize excursions to local university or dance company performances, or weekend trips to larger cities for live performance opportunities
  • Hold fundraisers to cover costs
  • Invite touring artists to conduct master classes or workshops at your studio (Students are more likely to attend concerts featuring artists with whom they have a personal connection)
  • Announce and post flyers at your studio about upcoming events
  • Work within your local community to bring arts opportunities to the area
  • Watch and discuss performances on video/DVD. (Viewing parties could be organized as a special event or excerpts could be viewed in class to supplement what is being covered.)

There are more great ideas in the DanceStudioLife article!

You might also take a look at the following articles on Dance Advantage. They offer methods of facilitating concert dance experiences and how to incorporate exploration of dance art in your classes:

Blog Action Day: ASTEP Toward Ending Poverty

Today is Blog Action Day, “an annual nonprofit event that aims to unite the world’s bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, to post about the same issue on the same day.”  This year’s aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion about poverty. I was particularly excited about this topic because it is one that has been on my mind for the last several years.  It is a complex issue and one that I have been working to understand while doing my small part to increase awareness.

There are many political and activist organizations which offer resources and calls to action that I would encourage you to explore, and I will include a short list at the conclusion of this post. While I certainly appreciate and value the work of these organizations, I have always felt that change begins with one person reaching out to another. Sometimes it seems easier to throw money at problems, hoping to stick a finger in the dam of global poverty.  However, there are groups who seek a different approach – to reach out and help one person or one small group of people gain access to the things we sometimes take for granted. Building one well in one community, offering a small loan to one individual so that they can grow their business and in turn help others and the economy within their community, reaching out to one child to give them hope for their future.

“One person can have a profound effect on another. And two people…well, two people can work miracles. They can change a whole town. They can change the world.”
-Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, writers of the TV show Northern Exposure

ASTEP in the Right Direction

When people make a one-on-one connection with someone in need it can alter their lives (and consequently, the lives of others) forever. This was the case for Mary Mitchell-Campbell, a successful Broadway music director whose volunteer work in India inspired her to make an impact on worldwide childhood poverty.  She founded ASTEP (Artists Striving To End Poverty), an arts-based nonprofit that works directly with disadvantaged children, seeking to empower them through the arts. ASTEP has been a work in progress since about 2001, but received non-profit status two years ago and currently leads programs in the U.S., Africa, and India, connecting “artists who wish to share their talents with children who can benefit from artistic encounters.”

How does this combat poverty?

As you and I know, the arts have the power and potential to teach life skills (communication, self-expression, problem solving, decision making, perseverance) in ways that wind deeply into the heart, soul, and mind of the person/people whom they touch.  Essential life skills are typically what a disadvantaged or impoverished child lacks, limiting their future and opportunities as they grow into adulthood. Amazingly, hope is present in the most hopeless of situations. Anyone who has worked with the disadvantaged can tell you about this surprising phenomenon.  In these situations, however, it becomes difficult for those without opportunity to nourish this hope. The arts can provide the tools needed so that these children can invest in the hope they have for their future.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune
Without the words,
and never stops at all.

-Emily Dickinson


You Can Teach Anything with the Arts

ASTEP has designed programs for children in areas where war, disease, disaster, and poverty have ravaged villages and communities. These are places where childhood is marred by concerns that, in developed nations, even grown adults do not have to cope with; where trial and trauma has a psychological impact on the youth who live there. It is in this arena that the arts, and specifically ASTEP, have been able to make a positive impact.  ASTEP recruits artists, students, and professionals who volunteer to share their time and talents as teachers in the organization’s programs. Their workshops, camps, and projects are developed to serve the needs of each, particular community and help children there deal with their own difficult circumstances. Watch this video diary of how one weekend made a difference in the lives of some South African youth.



How You Can Help

If you’d like to know more about ASTEP, please visit their website and download the presskit.  If you’d like to get involved there are several ways to do so.

  • Volunteer: artist opportunities are available in their active programs (currently in India, New York, and Florida) – click here for an application.
  • Give Your Time: ASTEP runs a soup kitchen initiative in Manhattan every third Sunday of the month.
  • Consider Donating: contribute money, supplies (like dance shoes), or equipment, or sponsor a volunteer.
  • Become a Partner: combine the efforts of your non-profit with those of ASTEP.
  • Purchase Tickets to ASTEP events.
  • Assist the NYC Office: data entry and fundraising research opportunities available.
  • Host a Benefit Concert: consider donating proceeds from your school’s dance recital!
  • Set up a Change Drive: small change = BIG change.
  • Purchase Items Online: Go to the volunteer page for links to sites which donate to ASTEP with the purchase of items, Broadway tickets, or even for searching online.
  • Form an ASTEP Club at your college.
  • Spread the Word: on your website or blog, at your studio, or to your friends.

Also, stay updated on ASTEP’s activities by signing up for their mailing list.

Worth Your Attention

Please check out these other organizations, all doing their part to bring an end to poverty.


The Girl Effect – Girls have the power to change the world! See more about Girl Effect projects and how you can give.

[youtube=] – Join the fight against global poverty.


Stand Up and Take Action – Against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals. Stand Up October 17-19, 2008 and Take Action. Find an event near you.

Learn More

How much do you know about world poverty? Take this quiz and find out!

Investigate and learn more:

The World Bank’s PovertyNet

Global – Causes of Poverty

The Skeptic’s Guide to Global Poverty (excerpt) – buy the book