Studying DanceDavid Mead looks at a new book by Karen Schupp that aims to demystify the university dance experience.

It’s fair to say that most students who study dance at university do so because they like to dance. They like to be in the studio, moving. But dance in university programmes, especially away from conservatoires where the focus is on producing professional performers for major companies, is often a very different world from dance students previously experienced in local studios. The academic, multifaceted approach in higher education often comes as quite a shock.

Karen Schupp’s “Studying Dance: A Guide for Campus and Beyond” aims to prepare students for that change and is an informative guide for those considering or entering their first year at university. It provides a very important bridge and is packed with useful tips and information, not least the so correct observation that, as much as students might like to ‘just dance’, the more they embrace other aspects, including academic aspects, the greater are their chances of working successfully in the art form after graduating.

Part I (“Your Dance Education Journey”) gives information about the sorts of courses one might encounter within the program, and areas of interest that one might like to explore, including dance therapy, education and arts administration. Many dance graduates do not become full-time professional dancers; a fact that needs to be accepted from the very beginning. Subsequent chapters aim at orienting the student to life in the campus dance department, including giving some useful study tips.

Part II (“Dance as a discipline”) starts by covering briefly some of the dance forms the student may encounter. Not unnaturally, the usual ballet and modern dance come first, but Schupp does then go on to cover jazz, tap and, notably, urban dance forms, which are finding an increasingly important place in university programs and the professional theatre. The section then goes on the look at dance and education, dance and culture and reflective practice.

Part III (“Dance on Campus”) deals with the seemingly endless range of types of course one might come across, highlighting different teaching and feedback approaches the student may encounter. Part IV (“Your Dance Future”) lays the foundations for life after university, touching briefly on the various life and business skills today’s dance artist needs.

Schupp writes in a hugely accessible, reader-friendly way. Each of the 15 chapters is short and to the point. The book is well laid out, with the liberal use of subheadings making it easy to find one’s way around. While it could easily be argued that more detail would be welcomed on some aspects, the book’s aim is to provide a very useful starting point, and it does that well. It’s also worth saying that, although understandably written from an American perspective, there is much here that students in Europe and elsewhere will find useful.

Particularly engaging are the 49 short (usually a page maximum) ‘Engaging with Dance’ features where present and recent dance students talk first-hand about their own experiences. Less convincing is the brief summary, review questions and glossary with which each chapter concludes. The summary is so short as to be often pointless and the questions add little. The glossaries are useful, but would have been better as a single entity at the end. The same goes for the bibliographies – far better to have one comprehensive one that many scattered through the book. The index is, however, excellent; not always the case.

Karen Schupp is an assistant professor of dance in the Herberger Institute School of Film, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University.

Studying Dance: A Guide for Campus and Beyond
Karen Schupp
Human Kinetics, 2015 (website)
182 pages
ISBN-13: 9781450437165