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Dance program alums voice concern

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Dance program alums voice concern

Haley Steffen  (‘19) and Lindsey Ahlers (‘18) dance in the Center for the Arts.

Haley Steffen (‘19) and Lindsey Ahlers (‘18) dance in the Center for the Arts.

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips

Haley Steffen (‘19) and Lindsey Ahlers (‘18) dance in the Center for the Arts.

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips

Kristen Wuerl (‘18) | Chips

Haley Steffen (‘19) and Lindsey Ahlers (‘18) dance in the Center for the Arts.

Kristen Wuerl, Staff Writer

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In response to the Academic Planning Committee’s (APC) Feb. 21 proposal to cut the dance major, dance program alums have written letters of solidarity to Luther’s Board of Regents and the APC, exemplifying the unrest spurred by the proposal to fully cut four majors on campus.

More than 25 alums wrote letters at the time of print, primarily addressing how their dance education and experience at Luther embodied the college’s mission. If the Board of Regents approves the proposed cuts, the dance department would only retain its minor. For Professor of Dance Jane Hawley (‘87), dance as a field of study is essential to a liberal arts education.

“For some reason, it’s acceptable in our society to be ignorant of dance and the body,” Hawley said. “I was appalled how numbers and meaning do not equate, and I’m curious about why the body and embodied learning are not prized at a liberal arts college.”

Alum Catherine Lewis (‘16), a dance and psychology double major, said that she learned about the proposed cuts from current Luther students.

“I think cutting the dance program is an incredible mistake,” Lewis said. “The Movement Fundamentals curriculum is one of the very few post-modern dance programs in the United States. Rather than training in ballet, modern, and jazz, Luther trains in somatics and the body. We become artists instead of imitators.”

Hawley explained that the three Movement Fundamentals courses that the dance department currently offers — 105, 205, and 305 — teach students how to apply dance concepts through experiential anatomy. For Lewis, these courses exemplified the dance program’s interdisciplinary nature and spurred new perspectives.

“The dance major taught me to think in entirely new ways,” Lewis said. “Movement Fundamentals demands that you take learning from other disciplines and apply it in the dance studio. I had to embody this learning, which caused me to understand concepts and material so much more deeply than simply thinking about it in a classroom desk.”

Kristen Wuerl (’18) | Chips
Inga Aleckson (’18) and Mohammed Aljardat (’19) dance together.

Hawley found similar testaments of interdisciplinary work in letters from other alums as well.

“[These alumni] are innovators in their fields because of embodied learning,” Hawley said. “Interdisciplinary thought is really easy for them because the body comes into all disciplines. They are able to do new research and research that ties into the innovation in their fields.”

Theatre and dance double major Amanda Moran (‘12) agreed with Hawley and said that the dance program spurred her to pursue personal research. “It primed me for not only being aware in my personal life but also for successfully moving into the profession of somatic counseling,” Moran said. “When I began my training in dance and movement therapy, I found that my body-based skills were very advanced compared to my peers who had come from traditional dance and psychology backgrounds.”

Lewis said her training in Movement Fundamentals set her apart from fellow graduate students as well. “My clinical instructors give feedback that I have a really strong understanding of body mechanics,” Lewis said. “These are skills I undoubtedly developed through dance training.”

Hawley appreciated the letters of support and was relieved that dance students’ education was so valuable. “I don’t think I would’ve known the vitality of these people had they not had to defend what is vital to them,” Hawley said. “These letters are a testimony of a liberal arts education, and that’s been really deeply inspiring, no matter what happens.”

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