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It’s minor, but noteworthy: George Washington University just launched a new dance MFA program that starts next year.
It’s cool for a few reasons. First, there aren’t many dance-related higher-ed options in the Washington area. GWU used to feature a regular dance MFA, but they phased it out several years ago, around the same time American University stopped offering its masters in dance. The University of Maryland has been the only MFA game in town for five years or so—and while some of the professors there are clearly quality teachers, I’ve also heard mixed things about the program. So it’s great that there’ll be another option.
Second, this is one of those newfangled mid-career MFA programs that have been coming into vogue lately for professional dancers, which start from the concept that dancers’ careers are short and choreographers need to make full use of their time. In response, the programs lean heavily on independent study and ask participants to show up at the sponsoring institution only a few times a year. It’s great for something like dance, where you have a bevy of professionals who’ve been seriously honing their craft for a decade or two but lack the little piece of paper that enables them to teach at the university level.
“I notice a lot of mid-career artists who hit this glass ceiling in their career and can’t access the next level of terminal degree to leverage their career as a choreographer,” says Dana Tai Soon Burgess, chair of GWU’s Department of Theatre and Dance (and who, incidentally, got his MFA at GWU a while back).
But what I’m most impressed with is that the program is designed to take advantage of the university’s focus on all things international, and on D.C.’s particular geographic strengths. Burgess and his company tour internationally as cultural ambassadors for the Department of State, and he’s met skilled dancers from all over the world who want to advance their careers. In this program, they can visit the school a few times a year to study with mentors and partner with institutions like the Smithsonian, Organization of American States, and Kennedy Center, and then return to their homes and reconnect with their work there.
“I’m very hopeful that we’ll have artists from several different regions of the world. We’ve already been receiving applications,” said Burgess. He pointed out that it means the participants will be coming from a variety of backgrounds—and that, subsequently, the postmodernism so typical in Western contemporary dance might not be front and center for many of them.
Which is also cool. I can be a contemporary dance snob, but there’s no doubt that anyone who’s danced for years—whether doing Georgian folk dance or Indian bharatanatyam—knows a thing or two worth sharing about how the human body moves.
Photo by Mary Noble Ours