Masters in Dance vs Professional Experience
By Anabella Lenzu
Titles are titles, papers are papers, but if you truly know your field, you know it.
It doesn’t matter what title you have. Artists feel obligated to pay approximately $40,000 dollars to enroll in a master’s in dance degree program, because they need to find stability, a home, time to research, and learn the tools to be able to explore, develop and create their art and craft. Enrolling in a master’s program is a luxury that not everyone can afford. Do we need to participate in this system to be valued in this society?
To help illuminate (or obscure) the idea, I invited a few important personalities in the dance field to share their opinions. Join us in the debate, and let’s work for a better dance community.
What happens to the formation of dancers around the world? Is college the place where an artist forms and develops? Is it in the small academies, in the open studios, in the small companies or large dance groups? Dancers, teachers and choreographers travel the world to learn, practice and experiment, not always in the universities.
Silvana Cardell from Georgian Court University, New Jersey said: “The role of colleges in the dance field is mainly to give dance a status in the major scheme of things. This is a field where they fit scholarly work, people write, people document work. The art has a certain evolution and the university has been the one that makes archives about this work. I guess the degree is a certification, something you have to have. The Board of Education requests that anybody that teaches in Universities has to have some sort of a degree somewhere, but also you have to have the experience.”
James Martin from NYU/TISCH said: “I think graduate schools and certainly undergraduate schools can help somebody to focus on who they are, what they can do, what they want to do, and be able to have a better idea of where to go and how to approach it.”
Do you need to go to a university to be an artist? Can you achieve excellence outside of higher education? Did Baryshnikov, Martha Graham or Doris Humphrey, to name a few, study in a university?
James Martin said: “You can get it as an autodidact. You can be an autodidact but it’s very difficult. It’s not for everyone. Not everybody can do it or not everyone has the discipline to do it. It’s limited. When you’re an autodidact, what could happen is you’re limited to what you know, who you know. When you’re in education with other people and you’re interacting with other people -then your field is so much more open in terms of what you’re going to learn and how you’re going to understand what the breadth of the field is. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be an autodidact, but it’s much more difficult and can certainly present problems.”
Amy Larimer from Lehman College/CUNY said: “The training extends far beyond college. I don’t think that four years is enough on its own but I think it’s definitely an important thing in conjunction with the training that goes on for a longer period of time.”
To have tenure in an academic environment has strong appeal. It means getting insurance, economical stability, getting a sabbatical and getting support. In New York City, what other option does a teacher have? At open dance studios in NYC, a teacher gets paid about $5 per student per class! Miserable.
Silvana Cardell said: “I have more problems when the university wants to hire everybody part-time so they don’t pay. That’s my problem. I feel it’s a problem because it’s using people, not that the university wants higher standards for their programs. There’s competition and that’s okay. What I have a problem with is most universities prefer to hire minimum part-time people so they don’t pay benefits – that is a bigger problem. You can fight less about that and believe it or not that is almost unquestionable. You fight about that to your superiors and they don’t do anything about it. If it is something academic, like a person that I really want they may bend the rules hire a guest artist as non-tenure for example. That’s possible at least where I work. It’s very particular with each university and I’m sure other places have different policies.”
How do we connect the real world to the academic world? Through teachers. Dance in universities is supposed to give you a taste of what is in the world by real artists who have experienced the life of a dancer!
Sara Rudner from Sarah Lawrence said: “Just because you’ve been a performer doesn’t mean you are ready to be teacher. I’ve seen that too. I don’t know what “real experience as an artist” means as opposed to unreal experience. It’s a moving target for me.”
Amy Larimer said: “ I need to become a better advocate for dance because there still are a lot of misunderstandings. People really love dance and I think that people want to be supportive. I just think that there are a lot of misunderstandings about how dance is taught. For example, there was a modern class where we’re going to teach an extra hour and add another credit. Someone asked me, ‘But, is there enough information in Modern to warrant adding that extra hour?‘ …as if we were going to run of material or things to teach. I feel like people are willing to listen but I think that there is a little bit of learning on my part to communicate what I believe is important about dance. I feel that I have to get a little bit better about translating that into an academic language that people will understand. There are still misconceptions about dance, and it’s deep because there is still this division in a lot of Western thought which is that the university is about the separation of the mind and the body. There’s a practical application of getting the curriculum across but there’s also this broader devaluing of body knowledge in general over mental knowledge. That comes up in general tenure and things like writing instead of practice.”
Tanya Calamoneri, PHD in dance said: “I know people who got jobs coming straight from a MFA program who didn’t have any professional experience. But, most of what I see is that the people who get the jobs have some named company on their resume. I think that most colleges are still looking for a national reputation or at least a regional one and people don’t have that coming out of school. I don’t think it’s a good model. I don’t think you can teach if you haven’t done it in the real world. I don’t want to learn from someone who hasn’t actually tried to produce work. Teaching is one way to survive as an artist but you have to continue to produce if you’re going to do that. “
Art and artists are not disposable, like most of the things in this country. Art is supposed to work directly with creativity, values and principles of people. In part, teachers are meant to be models for the students, to show what it is to be a citizen that cares about society. Art is supposed to create citizens of the 21st century that value life, who become better people.
Sara Rudner said: “I was just talking to an Australian friend of mine who’s had years and years and years of experience as a professional and as a teacher. Her university in Australia is saying, ‘Sorry, you don’t have a degree, so we’re going to hire someone who’s ten years younger than you because they have a degree.’ This is an abusive system.” “When you enter a master’s program you are more likely to be exposed to different approaches to your field, to dance. You are more likely to be in a situation where you can have conversations. We love what we do, so we do it. Sometimes what we do is understood or accepted in our schools, but not in our art communities. That doesn’t mean we should stop doing it. “
Tanya Calamoneri said: “I think in some ways a MFA program is more valuable than a PHD if you want to make work. I think it should be a combination of MA and MFA or even a MA and PHD together that is focused on creative work. I think a PHD in dance, if you want to make work, is tricky degree to have. If you want to get hired in the PHD world, you have to want to write. I like writing and I am a decent writer but you really have to want to publish at least once a year.”
Amy Larimer: “There is a lot of be learned about our culture by the way that dance is responded to within an academic setting. I think that it teaches us a lot about what we value.”
The business of universities is selling titles. Before, a bachelor’s degree was enough, now a master’s is often not enough as some jobs even require a PHD just to apply. I understand the game, but does this really apply to the career of a dancer or choreographer? Universities are needed for preparation for real life now more than ever.
Sara Rudner said: “They think that if someone has a master’s in dance, they are more hirable and desirable than someone who had a long career. This is problematic. You can be as committed in a master’s program as in “professional experience”. I’ve also had masters’ students who have just been dumb, passing by the opportunities. When people come to Sarah Lawrence for their masters and ask me, ‘Am I going to get a job?’ I just say, ‘It’s highly unlikely.’ You should be studying because you want to gain some knowledge. That’s why you should be here and we will pile as much on you as we can. We’re going to be as demanding as we can. Ultimately, it depends who the individual is, how ego driven they are, what their sense of reality is.”
Silvana Cardell said: “The degree could give you stability for later on in your life, but no one is going to give you a position just with a degree. I hire people and I see a difference between somebody that has had training, the bachelor’s degree in dance, and a master’s degree. Also to navigate the system you don’t have to fight certain things. They mold into the system easier. I know artists that do this and artists that don’t. Once they get a job at a university and get tenure, some people don’t do anything else, but there are very few people that do this. To get hired without a degree, you have to have significant experience. I wouldn’t be able to fight getting the position full time. The system bends, but it is a problem. The system fights me.”
Tanya Calamoneri said: “John Sexton, NYU president is all about how the university is the home of the artist. It’s the new generation and about how New York should become this new home. I thought, ‘Perfect’. I’m going to get my degree. I’ll eventually teach because I’ve been out in the world working for fifteen plus years and I have something worth giving. Well, I’m sorry but there are people that are not going to get hired and the money isn’t there. They don’t really understand what the dance world needs. I think they just say, ‘Oh, we’ll get a studio and a couple of great professors.’ I also feel like they’re not really teaching people how to be entrepreneurs or how to survive in the world.” “ I think that universities are businesses and they’ve become more and more so. I think it’s really hard for an artist to find a home in that. It could be. It’s a good place because there are people who are interested in creative inquiry and thinking, trying things, and failing. It’s a different kind of environment than the capitalistic one we live in, but it’s not that different. “
Can we teach talent? What is the role of colleges in the dance field? Is there a place for someone like you or me? If the university does not value my interest, commitment and passion for dance, who does?
Silvana Cardell said: “The universities want to say we have this one, and that one, and that one. That’s how you build universities and whoever is in universities. So, if you have an artist that has a name in the world of dance you might be able to hire them. Maybe they will be hired as a guest artist not as tenure track because the universities have this accreditation that they have. They have to follow certain rules to keep their accreditation.”
James Martin said: “There are cases where somebody has a great deal of pedigree. Let’s say they’ve been in major companies and they’re coming from that kind of situation or they have developed themselves and developed a name for themselves as an independent choreographer but they don’t necessarily have big degrees. Those people can get hired. Those are the special instances.”
Elizabeth Keen from Juilliard said: “At Juilliard, it is not required that you have a master’s to teach, because they want people who have the knowledge. At Juilliard I would be very surprised if there is anyone on the faculty who hasn’t had professional experience. Now there are people who also have college degrees and who have master’s degrees. That is not why they are being hired. They are being hired because they know their stuff. Larry Rhodes, who runs the department, never had a degree. Ben Harkarvy who ran the department never had a degree.”
If we don’t protect the dance intellectuals, where is the state of dance headed?
Elizabeth Keen said: “I think that you can hide in an educational system by playing your cards right, and then you pass through with half the knowledge, but I don’t think that’s good. My message is there are many roads to Rome. Some people can go through a system and be stultified by it and another person can go through the same system and benefit from it. A certificate can mean everything and can mean nothing. If you’re hiring, each case has to be judged separately. Some places say “You must have this, and you must have that” and there are superb teachers who don’t get hired because the particular school makes no exception for experience in the field, which is a little ridiculous.”
James Martin said: “There can be people who have a really special talent and a special connection to the material and have through their own journey and their own path done a great deal of professional work, really know a lot, and have a lot of really valuable information. It’s a shame if those people get passed over but I think often it can happen. We’re trying to get our students to ask themselves the big questions about what it is to be an artist, what it means to be an artist. What is the orthodoxy of the time? How do I challenge that orthodoxy?”
Tanya Calamoneri said: “When people tell me that they want a PHD I go, ‘Why do you want your PHD?’ I think if you want to teach then great. I love to teach and I am having a hard time finding a job so, I don’t think it’s necessarily the route for everybody. I think you have to want to teach and you also have to want to publish or you dance in a major company with a major name. Beyond that, getting a PHD, in my opinion, is like a luxury at this point. I have a lot of debt and I had a great education. I have a lot of great respect for the people that I studied with and they’re not paying my bills. It’s a double edged sword having a PHD. It’s a lot of work, so I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing for everybody.”
I want to be part of the system that values sacrifice, work, commitment. That is why I keep going, that is why I write about it.
About Anabella Lenzu: Since I moved to the United States in 2005, I have been working consistently as a faculty member (Assistant Professor) and/or a Guest Artist/Teacher in more than 10 colleges and universities, including: NYU Gallatin, Sarah Lawrence College, Lehman College, Wagner College, Randolph College (VA). In fact, I have been a teacher my whole life. I founded and directed a successful dance school in Argentina for 20 years before coming to the US, complemented by teaching professional level classes and workshops in Italy, England and Chile. For more than 12 years I have collaborated as a journalist and critic for different dance and arts magazines in Argentina, Spain and USA, talking about history, critical point of view and the value of ethics, esthetics and try to promote the art in our society. I directed my own art magazine in Argentina for 3 years and I publicized my first book Unveiling Motion and Emotion in March 2013.
Sara Rudner, a graduate of Barnard College, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She participated in the development and performance of Twyla Tharp’s modern dance repertory from 1965-1985. During this time she began to choreograph for a small group of dancers known as the Sara Rudner Performance Ensemble, conceiving and directing a series of dances that broke with conventional conventions, i.e., time frames, spaces and occasions. Since 1985 Sara has continued to pursue her interest in choreography, improvisation and performing collaborating with like minded colleagues including Dana Reitz, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Russell Dumas, Christopher Janney, Patricia Hoffbauer, Rona Pondick, Robert Feintuch, Jennifer Tipton, Jodi Melnick, Anastasia Lyras among others. She received a Bessie in 1984 and has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. She has been adjunct faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, a teaching fellow at Bennington College while earning her MFA in choreography, guest faculty in composition at The Juilliard School and, at present, she is the Director of Dance at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work for theater and opera include the production of Caryl Churchill’s “The Skriker” directed by Mark Wing-Davy at the Public Theater in New York City; “The Greeks” directed by Gregory Boyd at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, Peter Sellar’s production of Olivier Messiaen’s opera “St. Francois D’Assise” co-produced by the Salzburg Festival and the Paris Opera Bastille; Hector Berlioz’s “Beatrice and Benedict” directed by Tim Albery for the Santa Fe Opera; Richard Strauss’ “The Egyptian Helena” directed Bruce Donnell for the Santa Fe Opera; and Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” directed by Daniel Slater for the Santa Fe Opera. Sara appeared in the films “Amadeus,” “Ragtime” and “Hair” directed by Milos Foreman and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. She also danced in Ms. Tharp’s “The Catherine Wheel.”
Silvana Cardell, award winning Argentinean choreographer living and working in Philadelphia, since 2002. Cardell holds a BFA in dance from University of the Arts and a MFA in choreography from Temple University. Her repertory has been performed in Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Poland and Bulgaria. She has been invited to teach and perform at major dance and theater festivals throughout Latin America, including Festival de Río de Danza Tapias de Janeiro Brasil; Festival al Solsticio de la Primavera en Capilla del Monte, Córdoba; Escuela Municipal Norma Fontenla de San Salvador de Jujuy; Centro Cultural, Salta sponsored by Secretaría de Cultura de La Nación. She has been the recipient of the prestigious Fundacion Antorchas Prize, Argentina ( 2001). Since 2005 to 2009 Cardell has served on the faculty at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, where she has been a guest choreographer (2011 and 2012). Since 2009 she is the Director of the Dance Department at Georgian Court University, New Jersey.
JAMES MARTIN is currently Associate Arts Professor of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Dance Department. Between 2006 and 2012 he held the position of Associate Chair. He has danced with Gus Solomons jr, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll, Heidi Latsky, The New York Baroque Dance Company, Connecticut Ballet Company, and is currently performing with Claire Porter. His choreography has also been commissioned by the Connecticut Ballet Company, the Bat Dor Summer Workshop, the American Dance Festival, the Pittsburgh-based company Bodiography, and the dance departments of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, James Madison University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Tulane University and most recently by Cello Point. . His evening length work, in the fall of 2011, The Enchanted Piano had its world premiere in New York City at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center to great critical acclaim.
Elizabeth Keen a veteran dancer and choreographer. As a dancer, she appeared with the companies of Paul Taylor and Helen Tamiris/Daniel Nagrin. She choreographed for her own group, The Elizabeth Keen Dance Company, which toured nationally under the auspices of the Dance Touring and the Artists in the Schools programs as well as many seasons in NYC. She has also choreographed for opera and theater Credits include: ANIMAL FARM, TEMPEST, WINTER’S TALE (National Theatre, London); LA TRAVIATA, CARMEN (Glyndebourne); CARMEN (The Met); FIERY ANGEL (LA Opera and L’Opera Bastille); GUYS and DOLLS (Goodman Theater) and A COMEDY of ERRORS, (NY Shakespeare Festival). She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Princeton University, the Juilliard School as well as for The José Limón Summer Dance Workshop and Perry Mansfield in Steamboat Springs, CO. She is a graduate of Barnard College and the Sarah Lawrence Master’s degree program. Currently she is Adjunct Faculty at Marymount Manhattan College.
Amy Larimer is a dance/theater artist whose work blends movement, sound and text and draws heavily on improvisation. Her work has been performed at festivals including: The Crisis Art Festival in Arezzo, Italy, the NYC Improvisation Festival, the Unscripted New York Improvised Theatre Festival, the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation, the Comedy in Dance Festival and Dancemopolitan as well as at venues in New York City including: The 92nd Street Y, Dixon Place, DTW, HERE, Joe’s Pub, The PIT, The Tank, Triskelion Arts and The West End Theater. She was a founding member of Nicholas Leichter Dance and toured internationally with Leichter for 10 years. She has been lucky enough to work with Clare Byrne, Daniel Clifton, Colin Connor, Aaron Draper, Polina Klimovitskaya, Daniel McCusker, Patricia Nannon, Debra Wanner and the Bronx Repertory Company. She choreographed and performed in Beth Portnoy’s dance film “Gyre-ation” which has been presented at the Loikka Dance Film Festival in Helsinki, Finland; Dance for Reel at Emory University in Atlanta and Videomovimiento in Bogota, Colombia. She received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and recently published an article on improvisation in the Journal of Dance Education. She is an Assistant Professor and the Artistic Director of the Dance Program at Lehman College as well as the creator and director of The Raving Jaynes: Improvised Dance Theater.
Tanya Calamoneri: Artistic Director/Performer of SOGONO, began choreographing in 1997, via her collective with Allen Willner and Krista DeNio, violent dwarf. Based in San Francisco from 1996-2003, she was ED of Dancers’ Group, and Co-Director of both 848 Community Space and Temescal Arts Center, and was a founding faculty member of the Experimental Performance Institute at New College of CA. She attended Moving On Center School for Participatory Arts and Research from 1996-7 (directed by Martha Eddy and Carol Swann), danced for and was company manager to Kim Epifano/Epiphany Productions (98-00), and danced for Jess Curtis (99), among other contemporary choreographers. She was a member of the Butoh-based company inkBoat from 2000-2003, touring to Germany and within the Western U.S., working as a performer, teacher, and administrative manager with artistic director Shinichi Momo Koga. Since 2000, she has studied Butoh intensively under Minako Seki, Ko Murobushi, Carlotta Ikeda, Shinichi Koga, Yuko Kaseki, Takuya Muramatsu of Dairakurakan, Su-En, and others. Tanya moved to New York in 2003, completed her MA from NYU’s Gallatin School, for which she wrote a curriculum to teach Butoh dance in American higher education, and helped found the live/work rehearsal and performance space Studio 111 in Brooklyn. From 2005-2007 she was a co-director of the arts service organization, The Field, in New York City. In 2012 she received her PhD in Dance from Temple University. She was the Project Manager of DanceMotion USA at BAM. Currently Tanya is VISITING ASSISTANT PROFESSOR at Colgate University.
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