Masters in Dance vs Professional Experience
By Anabella Lenzu
Titles are titles, papers are papers, but if you truly know your field, you know it.
It doesn’t matter what title you have.
Artists feel obligated to pay approximately $40,000 dollars to enroll in a master’s in dance degree program, because they need to find stability, a home, time to research, and learn the tools to be able to explore, develop and create their art and craft.
Enrolling in a master’s program is a luxury that not everyone can afford.
Do we need to participate in this system to be valued in this society?
To help illuminate (or obscure) the idea, I selected a series of
important personalities in the dance field to share their opinions.
Join us in the debate, and let's work for a better dance community.
What happens to the formation of dancers around the world? Is college the place where
an artist forms and develops? Is it in the small academies, in the open studios, in the small companies or large dance groups? Dancers, teachers and choreographers travel the world to learn, practice and experiment, not always in the universities.
Silvana Cardell from Georgian Court University, New Jersey said: “The role of colleges in the dance field is mainly to give dance a status in the major scheme of things. This is a field where they fit scholarly work, people write, people document work. The art has a certain evolution and the university has been the one that makes archives about this work. I guess the degree is a certification, something you have to have. The Board of Education requests that anybody that teaches in Universities has to have some sort of a degree somewhere, but also you have to have the experience.”
James Martin from NYU/TISCH said: “I think graduate schools and certainly undergraduate schools can help somebody to focus on who they are, what they can do, what they want to do, and be able to have a better idea of where to go and how to approach it.”
Do you need to go to a university to be an artist? Can you achieve excellence outside of higher education? Did Baryshnikov, Martha Graham or Doris Humphrey, to name a few, study in a university?
James Martin said: “You can get it as an autodidact. You can be an autodidact but it’s very difficult. It’s not for everyone. Not everybody can do it or not everyone has the discipline to do it. It’s limited. When you’re an autodidact, what could happen is you’re limited to what you know, who you know. When you’re in education with other people and you’re interacting with other people then your field is so much more open in terms of what you’re going to learn and how you’re going to understand what the breadth of the field is. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be an autodidact, but it’s much more difficult and can certainly present problems.”
To have tenure in an academic environment has strong appeal. It means getting insurance, economical stability, getting a sabbatical and getting support. In New York City, what other option does a teacher have? At the open dance studios in NYC, a teacher gets paid about $5 per student per class! Miserable.
Silvana Cardell said: “I have more problems when the university wants to hire everybody part-time so they don’t pay. That’s my problem. I feel it’s a problem because it’s using people, not that the university wants higher standards for their programs. There’s competition and that’s okay. What I have a problem with is most universities prefer to hire minimum part-time people so they don’t pay benefits - that is a bigger problem. You can fight less about that and believe it or not that is almost unquestionable. You fight about that to your superiors and they don’t do anything about it. If it is something academic, like a person that I really want they may bend the rules hire a guest artist as non-tenure for example. That’s possible at least where I work. It’s very particular with each university and I’m sure other places have different policies.”
How do we connect the real world to the academic world? Through teachers. Dance in universities is supposed to give you a taste of what is in the world by real artists who have experienced the life of a dancer!
Sara Rudner from Sarah Lawrence said: “Just because you’ve been a performer doesn’t mean you are ready to be teacher. I’ve seen that too. I don’t know what “real experience as an artist” means as opposed to unreal experience. It’s a moving target for me.”
Art and artists are not disposable, like most of the things in this country. Art is supposed to work directly with creativity, values and principles of people. In part, teachers are
meant to be models for the students, to show what it is to be a citizen that cares about society. Art is supposed to create citizens of the 21st century that value life, who become better people.
Sara Rudner said: “I was just talking to an Australian friend of mine who’s had years and years and years of experience as a professional and as a teacher. Her university in Australia is saying, ‘Sorry, you don’t have a degree so, we’re going to hire someone who’s ten years younger than you because they have a degree.’ This is an abusive system.” “When you enter a master’s program you are more likely to be exposed to different approaches to your field, to dance. You are more likely to be in a situation where you can have conversations. We love what we do, so we do it. Sometimes what we do is understood or accepted in our schools, but not in our art communities. That doesn’t mean we should stop doing it. “
The business of universities is selling titles. Before, a bachelor’s degree was enough, now a master’s is often not enough as some jobs even require a PHD just to apply.
I understand the game, but does this really apply to the career of a dancer or choreographer? Universities are needed for preparation for real life now more than ever.
Sara Rudner said: “They think that if someone has a master’s in dance that they are more hirable and desirable than someone who had a long career. This is problematic. You can be as committed in a master’s program as in a “professional experience”. I’ve also had masters’ students who have just been dumb, passing by the opportunities. When people come to Sarah Lawrence for their masters and ask me, ‘Am I going to get a job?’ I just say, ‘It’s highly unlikely.’ You should be studying because you want to gain some knowledge. That’s why you should be here and we will pile as much on you as we can. We’re going to be as demanding as we can. Ultimately, it depends who the individual is, how ego driven they are, what their sense of reality is.”
Silvana Cardell said: “The degree could give you stability for later on in your life, but no one is going to give you a position just with a degree. I hire people and I see a difference between somebody that has had training, the bachelor’s degree in dance, and a master’s degree. Also to navigate the system you don’t have to fight certain things. They mold into the system easier. I know artists that do this and artists that don’t. Once they get a job at a university and get tenure, some people don’t do anything else, but there are very few people that do this. To get hired without a degree, you have to have significant experience. I wouldn’t be able to fight getting the position full time. The system bends, but it is a problem. The system fights me.”
Can we teach talent? What is the role of colleges in the dance field?
Is there a place for someone like you or me? If the university does not value my interest, commitment and passion for dance, who does?
Silvana Cardell said: “The universities want to say we have this one, and that one, and that one. That’s how you build universities and whoever is in universities. So, if you have an artist that has a name in the world of dance you might be able to hire them. Maybe they will be hired as a guest artist not as tenure track because the universities have this accreditation that they have. They have to follow certain rules to keep their accreditation.”
James Martin said: “There are cases where somebody has a great deal of pedigree. Let’s say they’ve been in major companies and they’re coming from that kind of situation or they have developed themselves and developed a name for themselves as an independent choreographer but they don’t necessary have big degrees. Those people can get hired. Those are the special instances.”
Elizabeth Keen from Juilliard said: “At Juilliard, it is not required that you have a masters to teach, because they want people who have the knowledge. At Juilliard I would be very surprised if there is anyone in the faculty who hasn’t had professional experience. Now there are people who also have college degrees and who have master’s degrees. That is not why they are being hired. They are being hired because they know their stuff. Larry Rhodes, who runs the department, never had a degree. Ben Harkarvy who ran the department never had a degree.”
If we don't protect the dance intellectuals, where is the state of dance headed?
What do you think?
Elizabeth Keen said: “I think that you can hide in an educational system by playing your cards right, and then you pass through with half the knowledge, but I don’t think that’s good. My message is there are many roads to Rome. Some people can go through a system and be stultified by it and another person can go through the same system and benefit from it. A certificate can mean everything and can mean nothing. If you’re hiring, each case has to be judged separately. Some places say “You must have this, and you must have that” and there are superb teachers who don’t t get hired because the particular school makes no exception for experience in the field, which is a little ridiculous.”
James Martin said: “There can be people who have a really special talent and a special connection to the material and have through their own journey and their own path done a great deal of professional work, really know a lot, and have a lot of really valuable information. It’s a shame if those people get passed over but I think often it can happen. We’re trying to get our students to ask themselves the big questions about what it is to be an artist, what it means to be an artist. What is the orthodoxy of the time? How do I challenge that orthodoxy?”
I want to be part of the system that values sacrifice, work, commitment.
That is why I keep going, that is why I write about it.
About Anabella Lenzu:
Since I moved to the United States in 2005, I have been working
consistently as a faculty member (Assistant Professor) and/or a Guest
Artist/Teacher in more than 10 colleges and universities, including:
NYU Gallatin, Sarah Lawrence College, Lehman College, Wagner College,
Randolph College (VA). In fact, I have been a teacher my whole life. I
founded and directed a successful dance school in Argentina for almost
20 years before coming to the US, complemented by teaching
professional level classes and workshops in Italy, England and Chile.
For more than 12 years I have collaborated as a journalist and critic for different dance and arts magazines in Argentina, Spain and USA, talking about history, critical point of view and the value of ethics, esthetics and try to promote the art in our society. I directed my own art magazine in Argentina for 3 years and I publicized my first book “ Unveiling Motion and Emotion” in March 2013.
Sara Rudner, a graduate of Barnard College, was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She participated in the development and performance of Twyla Tharp’s modern dance repertory from 1965-1985. During this time she began to choreograph for a small group of dancers known as the Sara Rudner Performance Ensemble, conceiving and directing a series of dances that broke with conventional conventions, i.e., time frames, spaces and occasions. Since 1985 Sara has continued to pursue her interest in choreography, improvisation and performing collaborating with like minded colleagues including Dana Reitz, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Russell Dumas, Christopher Janney, Patricia Hoffbauer, Rona Pondick, Robert Feintuch, Jennifer Tipton, Jodi Melnick, Anastasia Lyras among others. She received a Bessie in 1984 and has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. She has been adjunct faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, a teaching fellow at Bennington College while earning her MFA in choreography, guest faculty in composition at The Juilliard School and, at present, she is the Director of Dance at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work for theater and opera include the production of Caryl Churchill’s “The Skriker” directed by Mark Wing-Davy at the Public Theater in New York City; “The Greeks” directed by Gregory Boyd at the Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, Peter Sellar’s production of Olivier Messiaen’s opera “St. Francois D’Assise” co-produced by the Salzburg Festival and the Paris Opera Bastille; Hector Berlioz’s “Beatrice and Benedict” directed by Tim Albery for the Santa Fe Opera; Richard Strauss’ “The Egyptian Helena” directed Bruce Donnell for the Santa Fe Opera; and Alban Berg’s “Wozzeck” directed by Daniel Slater for the Santa Fe Opera. Sara appeared in the films “Amadeus,” “Ragtime” and “Hair” directed by Milos Foreman and choreographed by Twyla Tharp. She also danced in Ms. Tharp’s “The Catherine Wheel.”
Silvana Cardell, award winning Argentinean choreographer living and working in Philadelphia, since 2002. Cardell holds a BFA in dance from University of the Arts and a MFA in choreography from Temple University. Her repertory has been performed in Argentina, Brasil, Uruguay, Poland and Bulgaria. She has been invited to teach and perform at major dance and theater festivals throughout Latin America, including Festival de Río de Danza Tapias de Janeiro Brasil; Festival al Solsticio de la Primavera en Capilla del Monte, Córdoba; Escuela Municipal Norma Fontenla de San Salvador de Jujuy; Centro Cultural, Salta sponsored by Secretaría de Cultura de La Nación. She has been the recipient of the prestigious Fundacion Antorchas Prize, Argentina ( 2001). Since 2005 to 2009 Cardell has served on the faculty at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, where she has been a guest choreographer (2011 and 2012). Since 2009 she is the Director of the Dance Department at Georgian Court University, New Jersey.
JAMES MARTIN is currently Associate Arts Professor of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Dance Department. Between 2006 and 2012 he held the position of Associate Chair. He has danced with Gus Solomons jr, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane and Company, Donald Byrd/The Group, Jamie Cunningham and Tina Croll, Heidi Latsky, The New York Baroque Dance Company, Connecticut Ballet Company, and is currently performing with Claire Porter. His choreography has also been commissioned by the Connecticut Ballet Company, the Bat Dor Summer Workshop, the American Dance Festival, the Pittsburgh-based company Bodiography, and the dance departments of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, James Madison University, Princeton University, Wesleyan University, Tulane University and most recently by Cello Point. . His evening length work, in the fall of 2011, The Enchanted Piano had its world premiere in New York City at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center to great critical acclaim.