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Students majoring in dance often have to fight prejudices related to their discipline because many people believe that it is less academic than others. However, apart from dancing itself, students also have a full array of academic subjects just like the rest of the students. In the article “Dance is Academic,” Davenport presents some common misconceptions about majoring in dance. While many people understand and appreciate the effort behind mastering the technique of dance and a significant load of physical activity, very few realize that there is the same volume of other disciplines characteristic for all the other majors.
Hence, Davenport (2017) concludes, that “we find ourselves in awkward conversations where a wall of stereotypes blocks comprehension about undergraduate studies in dance” (p. 34). It is necessary to explain to people that dance studies deal not only with performing on stage but also involve serious intellectual academic work. Today, the stigma around undergraduate dancers compared to other majors might affect their psychological health and their belief in themselves.
The connection between dancing and writing might be not very obvious, but it is crucial for both dancers and writers because they can learn a lot from each other. To fight the common misconceptions about majoring in dance, I have conducted interviews with eight dance students. The purpose of these interviews is to learn about peculiarities of majoring in dance, how students view their academic process when compared to others, and what are the most common misconceptions they face about the dance major. It will help me to find what majoring in dancing and writing have in common, and what the latter might borrow from dancing. Therefore, my research question for this experiment will be: What can undergraduate writers learn from dancers?
The first question I asked the eight students was, did you ever feel like other students majoring in other majors undermine yours? All the students were unanimous and gave positive answers without additional commentaries. Then they were asked to name the most common misconception around the dance major if they thought there were any.
The majority (six out of eight students) answered that dancing is viewed as an easy major, which “does not require the use of intellect,” implies only physical activities and fun. Some answers also suggest that common beliefs are that “anybody can do it” and dance studies only deal with the art of performance, omitting “lectures, research, history, writing, and creations” that dance students do for the major.
When the students were asked, do you believe that dance is equivalent to other majors? How? the general idea was that it was not different from other studies. Those who replied that it differs from other majors added that dancing is harder and more challenging. Among the characteristic features that all majors share there are “critical thinking, collaborative skills, solution skills, technical skills, writing,” “it teaches you how to work with people, and challenges your time management skills.”
As for the differences, the first and foremost is the involvement of physical activities to a greater extent than in most other majors, one of the students added that “it requires physical development, constant active repetition and memorization, and unforgivable injuries.” Another student also commented on the unpredictability of performances, which teaches them to be able to adapt to situations and make important decisions quickly.
The next question was, what was the most challenging and joyous part of being a dance major? and there were many diverse answers, but most students agree that it is the total immersion in dancing, collaboration with their friends, and the ability to do what they love that makes it enjoyable for them. Some even do not mind staying late to prepare their homework due to rehearsals. Several students added to the list the joy of creating their projects and watching them performed on stage.
The challenging parts were mastering the numerous dance techniques, physical strain, “taking care of the body physically and mentally.” However, one student replied that learning the new dance techniques was also a joy “because now I know that I can do more than just hip-hop.” Thus, there is the other side to every aspect that it challenging as without it it is impossible to succeed and feel joyous.
Another question was, do you work and go to school? and I asked them to explain their schedule. Seven out of eight students work part-time or at the weekends and, in addition to classes, they have to manage rehearsals. All of them start their days early in the morning with job or classes and then proceed to rehearsals, lectures, and homework. Thus, they usually can get home not before 10 pm at best. Some students said that it is problematic to find time for eating during a busy day. It is also important to structure all the activities to avoid overlapping, and one student commented that “if my boss was not so cool with me, I would have never been able to go to rehearsals on time, maybe not even at all.”
Most students added that they had to sacrifice some classes, rehearsals, or family gatherings for what was most important at that moment. Because of such a busy schedule, some student can only socialize in rehearsals and performances because they have no extra time for anything else. Furthermore, all of them commented that sleep is crucial, so they try to make sure they have a good night’s sleep and relax properly at the weekends.
The interviews with the dance students confirmed the existence of misconceptions and prejudices against dance as a discipline and students, majoring in it. However, students commented on many aspects of their studying process that remain invisible to most other students, as well as undergraduate writers. According to Smith (2018), writers should be watchful of dancers, as they have valuable insight to offer, which can help aspiring writers to see their work in a new perspective.
She draws parallels between the two disciplines, stating that “when I write I feel there is usually a choice to be made between the grounded and the floating” (p. 140), where the grounded is the everyday language we are accustomed to. The similarity is also noted by Fox (2016), who finds that “from the fluid-like movement of an arm to the written word of a pencil, they are both a way of communication and self-expression” (para. 8). Self-expression is the common goal, and though dancers and writers use different means to achieve it, some practices for finding their voice would benefit both.
As dancers have to express their feelings and ideas only through movements, it might help writers to be eloquent with the minimum set of words available to them and be understood. It can be developed through observance, attention to detail, and precision, as these characteristics are key for dancers and writers alike (Dils, 2004). Another aspect that I think writers should borrow from dancers is practicing as much as dancers rehearse for performances.
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Those who can move their legs and arms are not yet professional dancers, as well as everybody who can put words down on paper is not considered a professional writer just because of that. Writing and composing are exercised in the same way as routines and movements are perfected through repetitions by dancers.
Performing on stage is an integral part of studying dance because it allows students to test themselves, develop their skills and technique, and receive critique for further development. Writers need to be criticized and get a feedback about their achievements too, and if they do not perform, they should engage in group readings and discussion and share their work with as many people as possible. Though they cannot get the immediate response and impressions similar to those during a concert, they would still connect with the audience and challenge themselves.
In conclusion, I consider that the main reason for misconceptions about majoring in dance lies with the fact that such students can always be seen rehearsing and performing, and the academic part of their studies remains unknown. In the interviews dance students have shared their insights and personal opinions on studying dance, and it sheds light on some unobvious things that can be useful for undergraduate writers too. Generally, it is not only fun and performances as many tend to believe, but it is an intricate blend of physical activities, academic studies, creativity, and self-exploration, and that is what links it to writing.
Davenport, D. (2017). Dance is academic. Journal of Dance Education, 17(1), 34-36.
Dils, A. (2004). Why dance literacy? Dance dialogues: Conversations across cultures, artforms and practices, 95-113.
Fox, J. M. (2016). 10 Writing tips from dancers. Web.
Smith, Z. (2018). Feel free: Essays. New York, NY: Penguin Press.