This fall, students in the Department of Theatre & Dance at the University of Memphis can for the first time pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Theatre, with a concentration in Dance Science.
“I’d love five” students in the inaugural class, Department Chair Holly Lau said. “I don’t know if we’ll get there, but five will be good.”
Either way, Lau is excited about the introduction of the interdisciplinary concentration at the U of M that expands the possibilities for students. With classes divided between Lau’s department and the School of Health Studies’ Exercise, Sport and Movement Sciences, students seeking this concentration will receive dance training and skills in areas such as nutrition, biomechanics, exercise physiology and kinesiology.
The goal, Lau said, is to train graduates for careers in a variety of related fields, such as health and wellness advisors for dance companies and trainers in fitness clubs. The concentration also will allow students who take additional classes and degrees to pursue careers in physical therapy or dance medicine.
“We have had students in the past cobble this together on their own very successfully,” Lau said. “It creates a dancer who really is best aware of her own body and how to take care of her own self. Every single one of our dancers teach. People who dance teach dance, (and) they are now really very skilled, careful, healthy teachers. So no matter what else they do in their life, they have this.”
This addition positions the U of M’s Department of Theatre & Dance among a small collection of U.S. colleges and universities that feature Dance Science. Some offer it as a Bachelor of Science degree; others list it as a BFA in Dance with a concentration in Health Science. The U of M’s route — as a concentration, not a major — is easier to maneuver through the myriad levels of higher-education approval. Lau’s department had to add only one course to accommodate the addition, Intro to Dance Science.
“Some of the people we’re thinking it might attract are returning professionals, especially people who may have been in the dance world,” Lau said. “They can come in and get a lot of experience-for-life credit for the dance portion for what they’ve done, and then they’ll fill that in with the science classes. We think this might have a unique appeal to a lot of people.”
The idea of importing Dance Science at the U of M gained steam when Dr. Anne Hogan became dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts in 2017. Hogan had previously been the Director of Education at the Royal Academy of Dance, based in London, and its Senior Advisor for International Partnerships, based in the United States.
“The dean was absolutely for it,” Lau said, “and the professor I was working with primarily (in the School of Health Studies) was for it.”
The BFA in Theatre, with a concentration in Dance Science, will require 120 undergraduate hours, including 41 in general education classes, nine in Theatre, three for an internship in Exercise, Sport and Movement Sciences, and 10 in electives. In the concentration, students will take 24 hours in Exercise, Sport and Movement Sciences and 33 in Dance.
“I spoke to someone out of Florida who runs a program,” Lau said, “and he said, ‘The thing that’s different about a person who comes out of dance science and becomes a physical therapist is they understand dancers, and they’re different from athletes. The bodies are different and the goals are different.’”
— Phillip Tutor, CCFA media coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org
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