The swan in the ivory tower: A case study of university dance programs offering ballet-focused degrees

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Across the United States, hundreds of universities house dance programs, and the vast majority of degrees offered through these programs focus on modern dance. Despite the mainstream popularity and cultural esteem of the dance genre of ballet, fewer than fifteen university programs offer ballet-focused degrees. From this relatively small number of ballet-focused programs, this study identifies six that do not self-identify as conservatories. The six academic units included in this study attempt to balance academic rigor with studio practice, rather than focusing exclusively on studio and performance coursework. This qualitative, multi-site case study utilizes methodological practices including observation and interviews. Two-day site visits were completed at each institution, and twenty-eight fulltime faculty members were interviewed. This dissertation begins with a brief history of dance in American higher education, including discussion of the peculiar absence of ballet within this history, before introducing the six programs. The programs are discussed in terms of their unique histories, missions, and philosophies before curricular comparison and analysis is presented. Two major themes that emerged from interviews with faculty members are presented: 1) the ever-present negotiation of balancing the artistic elements of pre-professional ballet training with the academic requirements of institutions of higher education and 2) how the programs strive for connection with the professional realm of ballet in a variety of ways. Each of these themes is multi-faceted, and the complexities are considered and analyzed. This line of inquiry provides information about how ballet exists as a focus of study within the realm of higher education and how ballet and other, even more marginalized, dance forms might be welcomed into the curricula and conversations concerning dance in American higher education.

ballet, higher education, ballet pedagogy, NASD