Studying abroad has long been a staple of a well-rounded college experience. But in the past, the lack of dance-focused programs, together with the rigorous requirements of a BFA track, have made it impractical for many dance majors.
Yet studying in a foreign country can have a profound effect on a dancer’s artistry. “Immersing oneself in a community very different from your own and communicating with other artists about art—that’s a rich experience,” says Patricia Rincon, head of dance at the University of California, San Diego. “Your lens is expanded to new ways of seeing and approaching your work.”
More study-abroad opportunities are popping up for dancers. Some universities offer faculty-led summer intensives in prime dance locations, while others partner with foreign institutions for semester-long dance experiences. Even if a college doesn’t host its own program, it may offer resources for students to study abroad through another foreign or American institution. Here are three ways that programs are typically structured.
Each summer, University of South Florida associate professor Michael Foley leads a group of about 20 dancers from both USF and Barnard College to Paris, where they spend four weeks experiencing Parisian culture through the lens of dance. Students live in a residential area, study with European artists, attend performances and choreograph, in addition to writing papers and keeping journals. But Foley makes time for them to explore the city. “I try to find a balance, so it’s not just dance camp with a French twist,” he says. “They’re doing what they would do if they were professionals: taking class in the morning, working on repertory in the afternoon and living in the city.”
The intensive counts toward six credits, which can be applied to requirements in choreography, dance history or cultural studies, depending on the institution. Because the program happens outside of the normal school year, it doesn’t interfere with graduation timelines.
Florida State University hosts a similar Paris program, in partnership with the Académie Américaine de Danse de Paris. In addition to ballet, students experience dance history firsthand through classes in court dance and Duncan technique, take open classes around the city and tour art museums and famous dance sites, such as backstage at the Palais Garnier.
Katarina Bennicoff Yundt, an FSU student who attended last summer, says the language barrier made classes particularly fascinating. “To us, ‘plié’ means ‘do a plié,’” she says. “But to them, ‘plié’ just means ‘to bend.’ They’d be talking about the arm. You had to stay really focused to keep up.”
Some schools offer entire semesters abroad, led by a dance faculty member. (A semester-long USF Paris program is tentatively set to launch in spring 2015.) Often, these programs are held in partnership with a foreign university. This fall, Hobart and William Smith Colleges dance department, with associate professor Cadence Whittier, will lead one such program in New Zealand.
Geneva, New York–based HWS, which places a strong emphasis on community service, is teaming up with the University of Auckland, whose dance faculty is well-known for their arts and education programming. Auckland’s dance studies majors frequently go out into different communities, leading interactive sessions, for example, with elementary and special-needs students. Similarly, HWS students will gain hands-on experience implementing arts programming with local organizations. The university offers two courses to help students with the immersion process and to understand the needs of Auckland’s diverse populations. “They gain more experience observing how other people and communities do things,” says Whittier.
For semesters abroad, students have more opportunities to customize their experiences. In the HWS program, for example, attendees include other academic majors as well as serious dancers. Faculty will help those desiring more technique classes to find extra courses at local studios and at the university.
“Most of my students, when they come back, seem more grounded, and that permeates their academic and artistic studies,” says Whittier. “With that comes confidence in their ideas and interactions.”
Tailor Your Own Adventure
The most adventurous dance majors set out solo at a foreign institution. Being one of the only American students can be intimidating, but it’s also one of the purest ways to experience a new culture. Many of these universities facilitate connections among their American students and offer cultural workshops to help them adjust. If a dancer prefers a more guided experience, many U.S. schools (such as USF and FSU) welcome outside students into their group programs.
College study-abroad offices coach students through the process, often with the help of a dance faculty advisor. For instance, Rincon, at UCSD, frequently recommends the Instituto Universitario Nacional del Arte in Buenos Aires for those wishing to study ballet and contemporary. She draws on her own experience teaching abroad when making suggestions, but overall, student experiences are diverse and highly individualized. “It’s all tailored to their interests,” she says.
Sometimes students integrate dance into nondance programs. “I’ve had dancers go to Argentina with an economics teacher and study tango,” says Whittier. HWS’ center for global education helped another student studying academics in France secure a teaching internship and apply for a grant to fund dance classes.
“I feel like I’m a more well-rounded artist now,” says Bennicoff Yundt about her summer in Paris. The experience pushed her outside her comfort zone and broadened her perspective. In the end, these revelations are what make studying abroad so valuable. “There are moments of utter enlightenment,” says Foley. “To watch them find a sense of ownership of their identities and who they want to be as dancers is incredible.” DT
Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.