Exploring Dance Education: DeSales University

by Kathleen Glynn
for The Dance Journal

DeSales University, a Catholic institution located in Allentown, offers a BA dance major program full of vigor, strength, and unity. The mission of the DeSales Dance Department is to thoroughly develop the technical and creative potential of each student while integrating dance and theatre arts within a liberal arts curriculum. Dance professors aim to practically and theoretically approach the art form in order to stimulate the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth of the dancer.

The program’s core consists of ballet and modern technique; however tap, jazz, African dance and ballroom are also regularly offered courses. DeSales is equipped with two spacious dance studios, three performance spaces, an accompanist for all technique classes and a well-used open door policy. This policy encourages dancers to take other classes besides their own assigned course, experiencing new teachers and a new class atmosphere. In addition to daily technique classes, all dance majors must complete freshmen and senior seminars, Dance Composition, Dance History, and Kinesiology. The full-time dance faculty includes Tim Cowart, Director of the program, Kristin Fieseler, Associate Director of the program, and Mishele Mennett, Assistant Dance Professor. Adjunct faculty members include Trinette Singleton Washer, former Joffrey ballerina, Tara Madsen, Janet Peck and Lynn Mariani.

Although there are an endless amount of informal performance opportunities spread throughout the year, the department assembles two major concerts annually. In November, DeSales Dance Department presents the Emerging Choreographers Concert, better known as ECC. This is a completely student-run and student choreographed show, pushing students to embrace leadership positions, collaborate with each other, and grow both as performers and choreographers. In March, the department presents DeSales University Dance Ensemble, also simply called DUDE. This main stage event exhibits works choreographed by faculty members and guest choreographers. In the past, DUDE has included modern, Pointe, African, classical jazz and baroque dance. The 2008 show was granted the rights to present Twyla Tharp’s Torelli and this year will be performing Twyla Tharp’s The One Hundreds.

Every Wednesday afternoon dancers at DeSales come together to attend a master class. This weekly event enables students to explore new styles of dance, meet new faces in the dance world, and step outside of comfort zones. Guest teachers this past academic year have included Caroline Copeland, Rebecca Moyer, Rennie Harris, Ashleigh Laitte, Shen Wei, Ben Levy. Each year the university hosts at least two dance residencies, Rennie Harris, Ben Levy and Ashleigh Laitte have all recently resided at DeSales in order to set pieces on students for the DUDE, to give lecture demonstrations and to teach master classes.

The program at DeSales is very dedicated to giving back and reaching out to the community. Dance students aspiring to pass on their talents and passion to others through teaching learn hands-on at the Conservatory of Dance, COD. This is a small establishment on campus which offers classes to youngsters on Saturday mornings such as beginner or intermediate ballet, tap, jazz, and creative movement. Students are encouraged to sign up to teach or to assist another teacher while also earning credits for this rewarding activity. The dance program offers a course entitled “Teaching Methods” which parallels to the activities of COD.

The Creative Exploration Organization, often referred to as CEO, is a dance majors club at DeSales intended to sponsor several annual events in order to promote support and enthusiasm for the arts on campus. CEO event day is an all-day program, inviting young dancers to come and take classes and to perform a small show as the end result. The Dance Honors Society, also called XTE, is meant to engage exceptional academic dance students in community service opportunities A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required. Activities usually include fundraising for service organizations, attending community service events, such as Relay for Life, and hosting a scholarly lecture at DeSales.

The Dance Department has been offering a well-received Summer Dance Intensive since 2002. The two-week program includes courses in ballet repertory, modern repertory, Pilates, improvisation, and hip hop. Students who partake in the intensive, although they may be as young as 14, are eligible to earn three credits for the completion of this program.

This is a great place to blossom as both a student and a dancer; the dance education at DeSales produces wholesome, knowledgeable artists who are well equipped to jump into the world. It is an education which emphasizes the value in giving back, cultivating one’s own artistry, and embracing a unique, individual identity.