by Tess Losada
I got my first ever C in high school chemistry. My world of unfailingly perfect grades that I had always achieved with little to no effort came crashing down around me.
Though surviving that C helped me realize that a grade couldn’t actually stop my heart, I felt that same panic in my first college dance technique class. As my professor explained the grading scale, complete with skills tests throughout the semester, I wondered if I would be able to fulfill her expectations and get the A.
One of my favorite aspects of the dance field is how incredibly intelligent dancers are. Most dancers are also rather “type A”; willing to do anything to solve the problem and anxious to find the “right” answer. For individuals who are so driven to do things correctly, being graded on the very subjective facets of dance can be incredibly stressful. It can also be difficult to accept the emotional differences between dancing for fun and the new academic requirements placed on your dancing.
This semester, as I prepare to graduate with my degree in Dance Performance, I feel that I can look back on my undergraduate academic career and understand the grading process with a new mindset. I would like to offer future dance majors some ideas of the things I believe that myself and my classmates wish we had known four years ago.
First, don’t roll your eyes at the attendance policy. It is more than likely that in an undergraduate level dance technique course you will only be allowed one or two absences before your attendance affects your grade. Put yourself in your professor’s shoes – if your course meets twice a week, and you have two absences, you have already missed an entire week of class. I think it is also worthwhile to remember that at the university level, you are paying a premium for each class. So that day when you are exhausted, fighting a cold, and drowning in homework? If nothing else, go get your money’s worth.
Second, consider changing your mental approach to technique class. I am not discouraging having fun, ignoring your artistry, or finding pleasure in movement. I simply think it is vital to be aware of how you are processing each technique class. If you were in a physics lecture, you would be taking notes, doing practice problems, attending tutoring sessions, etc. I have only recently begun to be aware of how many choices we make during each class. It is up to you whether you concentrate on the combination, apply the correction, or continue to work on the side of the studio as your classmates dance. In an ideal world, every dancer would process each technique class using 100% of their mental capacity. That is simply not possible as an undergraduate student. Many days you will find your thoughts consumed with general education classes, extra-curricular activities, friends, and in my case, when you’ll be able to fit in your next meal. However, mentally categorizing your technique classes as academics can provide the extra motivation many dance majors need.
Finally, don’t stress out if you feel you aren’t making the transition as quickly as your classmates. In college, you will find that you and your fellow dancers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. One dancer may have trained extensively in a ballet school, and be accustomed to weekly written vocabulary exams and memorizing difficult combinations quickly. Another dancer may be coming from a small-town studio with heavy competition training but little academic dance knowledge. Yet another dancer may have trained with a high school Orchesis program, and have four years of experience dancing in academics based settings. Everyone will adjust at different speeds, and find different paths for themselves through your program.
Your first semester in a university dance program can be challenging on a variety of levels. You will experience a great deal of personal, academic, and artistic growth. You may also feel like you are “stuck”, or as though your skills have hit a plateau. I found that I wavered between the two, depending on the week, the day, or even the technique class I was in. No matter where you find yourself, try to be open to experiencing dance as it comes to you that day. As you work towards your degree, your technique classes can be a laboratory, a safe place to experiment, and learn more about yourself as a dancer. If your professors see that you are actively engaged, and passionate about what they are teaching, you will never have to worry about a grade.