Dance Teams vs. Dance Departments

By Garofoli, Wendy | Dance Spirit, April 2008 | Go to article overview
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Dance Teams vs. Dance Departments

Garofoli, Wendy, Dance Spirit


One sustains the arts while the other supports athletics. On encourages independent expression while the other places the group above the individual. College dance departments and dance teams seem to be at opposite ends of the performance spectrum, and they often butt heads. But do the two entities have more in common than they realize? DS investigates the root of the friction between dance majors and dance teamers, and offers tips on what directors and dancers can do to smooth things over.


Historically, dance departments and dance teams started out fighting similar battles. Universities once placed dance departments with physical education, grouping dancers alongside gym teachers. Though the first college dance class took place at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1917, it took decades for dance to become a respected major. Dance teams, a phenomenon that became popular in the early '90s, are now grappling with a similar identity crisis-they're often passed around from department to department, from "student life" to athletics to dance. Having no clear home, dance teams often struggle to belong. And this outsider perspective can lead directly to friction between teams and other university dancers, especially when the two groups are under one roof.

"To be frank, there are a lot of people who treat my dancers like second-class citizens within the dance department," says Jodi Maxfield, artistic director of the seventime championship-winning Brigham Young University Cougarettes. Brenda Parisi, former coach of Lindenwood University's dance team, has also experienced snubs from her dance department colleagues, though she admits the relationship has improved greatly over the years. "Back when we first formed the dance team, we had our practices in a completely different building and there was a definite distance," she says. "I had absolutely no communication with the dance department unless there was something wrong or somebody needed something from us."

Having a clear sense of purpose helps teams define their place in the university. "We are very proud that we are in the Department of Theatre Arts and the College of Fine Arts and Communication," says Towson University dance team coach Tom Cascella. "This is where our team belongs. We have an artistic focus and mission, and we are overjoyed to work in the same buildings as other artists."

If you are a part of the dance department, but are also heavily involved with athletics, recognize the connection: You are all dancers. "One of the reasons I love being in the dance department is because we can maintain our artistry," says Maxfield. "We put on a concert with the dance department every year and we do lyrical, jazz, contemporary, hip hop-a little bit of everything. It really is a great opportunity for us, and I wonder if we were in athletics if we'd be able to do the same thing."


In the marginalization of dance teams, dance department heads and professors can be the worst offenders. "Even though they claim to have open-minded views on dance, many instructors have closed their minds to anything different from what they want," says Neva Gebelein, co-captain of the University of California, San Diego's dance team. "It's ironic, because the dancers on our team are extremely talented and have wonderful training, but some members of the dance department hold a grudge against us just because we walk into class wearing our team sweatpants.

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