Students express concern over dance department director’s removal

The college restructured the dance program in fall 2019, leaving it without a director, which several students and an SGA senator claim negatively impacts the experience of students in the program. 

While students can now declare a dance minor more easily, and the college removed the audition process to make dance classes available to more students, some dance students said the move removed structure to the program and created challenges to accommodating students of various experiences. 

Sophomore dance minor Hannah Weilminster said the removal of the head of dance position has left students without the structure they need to succeed in their careers because students no longer have someone to go to with their questions or concerns. 

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“As students, we realize how important dance is, especially if we want to be in the musical theatre world,” Weilminster said. “The fact that they got rid of a head of dance, it just says that they don’t care, or that it’s not necessary to make it in this world, and I completely disagree.”  

Theatre and performance major and dance minor Maya McClain said she’s happy students can easily apply, but wished the college made the change sooner. It took McClain a year to declare her dance minor.

“It’s frustrating to think that I had to go through so many people just to get this one little word on my degree saying that I have a dance minor, and then it was equally as hard to get the classes to fulfill the requirement,” McClain said in an interview with The Beacon. 

The junior said she understands the value in opening up dance classes to more students, but sees some issues with the change. She explained how challenging it can be to take a dance class where the teacher has to accommodate students with various levels of experience . 

“When you have teachers in the class who try to accommodate both levels, you have people who come in who are complete beginners who have never taken a dance class and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna take this jazz class for this semester because I want to dance,’” she said. “Then, they end up dropping out after the first week because it’s too hard, or then the teachers cater the class toward the students who aren’t as trained, so then the students who are like me, who have been dancing for 12 years, are not challenged.” 

Performing Arts Department Chair Robert Colby told The Beacon that students must report to Administrative Associate to the Chair of the Department of Performing Arts Emily Enters-Dake to register for dance classes instead of a Dance Department head .

The update simplified the department chair role, making the position obsolete, Enters-Dake said. 

Colby said the performing arts staff examined several areas of the dance curriculum and decided to incorporate the dance program into the musical theatre program to alleviate past issues, including student difficulties finding out about and joining the minor. Additionally, the college had not been offering some of the required courses within the minor due to low enrollment, according to Colby. 

The college decided to limit the number of musical theatre students who could take dance classes so there would be room in the classes for dance minors, Colby said. Additionally, by expanding the availability of the classes and eliminating the audition process, the college hopes to remove the separation between skill levels in dance classes.

McClain said the new changes to the dance program were not well-communicated to students. The first and only time she heard about the adjustments was in an October email from Enters-Dake. McClain said she wished the dance program staff would directly lay out all of the changes that have been made to the program 

“I can assure you that there has been no [formal] communication between the students and the staff,” McClain said. “I care about dance so much at Emerson—I’m in a dance org at Emerson, trying to do dance as much as I can—and I have heard nothing about it, which is frustrating. There is no direct communication with the students.”

McClain explained that dance is just as important as any other department within the performing arts major, and not having a Dance Department head is negatively impacting the student body. McClain said she believes students who are passionate about dance are not being given the opportunity to fully embrace the opportunities that Emerson has to offer because they do not have someone to talk to or to represent the students’ needs. 

“Emerson likes to pride ourselves on having a good performing arts program that’s singing, dancing, and acting,” she said. “That is three things that encompass all performing arts, so that means that you need someone in charge of the acting department, someone in charge of voice, and you need someone in charge of dance.” 

Weilminster stated that, while she does see the benefit of adding new dance classes, she still sees room for improvement. 

“They’re just now adding in some [new classes], but you go to other colleges and they have hundreds of dance classes that students are allowed to take, and here we’re fighting for 12 spots in eight to nine classes, and it’s really hard.” 

Additionally, Weilminster said that she has not received any communication from the performing arts staff regarding the changes that have been made to the dance program. 

Colby said he hopes students’ frustration will be eliminated once they understand the new policies for the dance program and the benefits that come along with it.

“I recognize that whenever there’s a sense of change there’s a panic about ‘Wait a minute, there was a head of dance and now she’s still teaching here but she’s not the head of dance—what does that mean?’” Colby said. “But in this case, we looked for another way to address some long-standing problems and expand the dance offerings both to minors and to musical theatre students.” 

Enters-Dake graduated from Emerson in 2014 and joined the performing arts staff at Emerson in 2017. As a student and a member of the staff, she said she felt the previous dance program requirements were confusing and forced students to jump through too many hoops. She said the new changes have made the application process simpler.

However, Student Government Association Performing Arts Senator Connor McNinch said many students are still unaware of the changes to the dance program, or what those changes mean in regards to signing up for classes. 

“There’s a form we’re supposed to fill out, and then we were supposed to go to the head, but there’s no longer a head, so, like, do we talk to a teacher?” McNinch said in an interview. “It’s just very confusing for us.”  

As a senator in SGA, McNinch serves as a bridge between students and faculty at the college, which he said is difficult without a director. He explained that he became the contact for most students when they have questions or need help signing up for classes.

“I feel like the task of getting this done is falling on me,” McNinch said. “It’s really not under my jurisdiction whatsoever to get [students] into dance classes, but they don’t have an advocate for them because we don’t have a head of the department to go and get to know and get to speak with.”

McNinch said he believes the dance program needs someone in charge who has experience with how the program runs in order to meet students’ needs.

Enters-Dake told The Beacon she understands students’ concerns, but the performing arts staff ensured that the changes will be ultimately beneficial. 

“This is the sixth semester that I’m helping register students for dance classes, and this fall semester was the first semester that not one dance class was cancelled, which signals to me that we’re on the right path here,” Enters-Dake said. “We’ve identified the problems, and we are working very hard to come up with solutions to them.” 

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