Higher EdNewMoves

USC, NYU & NewDanceMoves

Desmond Richardson, left, and Patrick Corbin (Richardson photo/Sharen Bradford; Corbin photo/Yi-Chun Wu)
Desmond Richardson, left, and Patrick Corbin (Richardson photo/Sharen Bradford; Corbin photo/Yi-Chun Wu)

Yesterday, University of Southern California announced the faculty roster for the new Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. We’ve known for sometime that the school had already managed a major coup when they hired legendary choreographer William Forsythe. Now, six other powerhouse dance artists have signed on either as full-time faculty or as artists-in-residence, including Patrick Corbin, Zippora Karz, and Desmond Richards, among others.

The Kaufman School of Dance is the first new endowed school established at USC in 40 years, and while little is known about the exact dollar amount of Glorya Kaufman’s gift, we do know that the dance complex itself cost $43 million. According to the school’s website,

The Bachelor of Fine Arts curriculum is designed to prepare the artist, the innovator and the entrepreneur. The hallmark of USC Kaufman — as expressed in its motto “The New Movement” — is the development of a new movement model that will be expressed in new media, scholarship, studio practice and choreography for the 21st century. The program will provide foundational insight, opportunities for artistic development, a robust performance repertory, exposure to world-renowned practicing artists, dance conditioning and strategic career venture skills. Interdisciplinary study is woven into the curriculum, allowing students to collaborate and innovate with established partners throughout campus.

In addition to training with its world class faculty, dance majors at Kaufman will also work with other closely-related schools and institutes at USC including the School of Cinematic Arts, the  Thornton School of Music, and the Brain and Creativity Institute—thus centralizing interdisciplinary and collaborative practice in the dance major.

When we look at the American academy, too often, we see that dance is underfunded on most campuses compared to other artistic disciplines, let alone in comparison to STEM. (That was certainly the case at my own alma mater.) This lack of funding makes it difficult (though not impossible) for dance programs to conduct research or expand professional artistic practice at levels comparable to other programs campus-wide. Funding for USC’s Kaufman School and NYU’s ballet think tank come at a critical time for dance in America. Artistic and academic practices in the artform must be revitalized, and a unified dance community should reinforce its relevance in American culture. That requires carving space for dance as a hybrid, interdisciplinary practice, even as we maintain opportunities to examine dance as a singular art.

Major centers like these are only the beginning though. Dance programs on campuses nationwide must reinvent themselves for the 21st century. Dance faculty must become stronger advocates for their discipline, and that means looking at dance in a way we rarely want to: as an arts-based business. The meager budgetary handout most dance programs typically receive on college campuses not only limits what the program can accomplish, but also reinforces the outdated concept that dance is not a professional pursuit. We have to change that paradigm for our students’ sake, and for the sake of the artform. I’ve found myself talking with students a good deal about art as business in the last year, and I know that conversation will only continue. In the coming months, I will also be looking for ways to expand that conversation with dance faculty as well. Part of that involves new ways of looking at what’s possible on campuses—developing new ways to leverage what already exists, and seeking additional funding sources. All of that though must stem from a core programmatic mission, driven by a vision for what dance can be in the 21st century.

To be continued…