So, a few things have changed in my dance life since I last wrote a blog post.
First, I have been elected as co-president of the CDEA (California Dance Educator's Organization state affiliate of NDEO). What does this mean? I am honestly not quite sure. What I do know is that dance has a great opportunity for some big changes at the state level regarding a dance credential being offered for dance educators in Primary and Secondary schools. And, I am dedicated to doing what I can to improve the state of dance on a state, legislative level. I will do what I can by facilitating and mobilizing the dance community if every way I can.
Secondly, and what I want to directly address now is the issue of low enrollment in dance classes at my school (Moorpark College). A week before classes started, I got the call. Two of my classes were cancelled due to enrollment, and I was being reassigned to classes that had formerly been scheduled for adjunct faculty members. Whether I liked it or not, I was going to be a Hip Hop instructor and there was nothing I could do about it.
But, aside from my crazy fear about teaching a genre of dance in which I have relatively little training, my questions is Where are all the students?
When I came to Moorpark college 6 years ago, the classes were overflowing with student! It was a breeze to get 3 sections of Jazz I filled with 50 students each. We had multiple sections of Ballet, Modern and Jazz at all levels. Then the state budget crisis came down and we had to make cuts, yet the classes we kept were still full!
Then, this semester came and we were left with nothing but questions marks? What happened? After thinking it through I have come up with some speculations on why the enrollment is so low. These are mere speculations, and I have no evidence for any of it. But, that has never stopped me before, and I hope that you may have some additional ideas so we can do better next semester!
1. TMC: "If it is not on the TMC, you shouldn't take it." Or at least, that is the growing perception I have noticed among the student population. Yes, the TMC (Transfer Model Curriculum) streamlines student transfer, but it is coming in at a cost to the general liberal arts education. Students don't have time to "figure out" what they want to do in life. They will run out of units long before they make a decision. Students need to be driven and focused. And, that translates to no extra Modern Dance classes for the dancer at heart.
2. Unit Max and Priority Registration: Students who have acquired more than 60 units* which is the ideal number of units needed to transfer are now sent to the back of the registration line. Meaning students who mismanage their unit loads in their first semesters may get stuck at the back of the line when they are in most need of their last Math or English class in order to transfer. This is causing students to treat each unit as a precious gold token. They can't spend them frivolously on performing arts credits that can enrich and transform their lives! It is a big decision to give up 2 units of your total transferable units to a Tap dance or Ballet class.
3. Fewer offerings make tighter schedules: Offering are fewer and fewer across the campus, therefore students are have less and less flexibility in how to shape their schedules. Where they used to have 30 options of a GE class on various days and times, they now have only 20, or 15 or fewer! And, that GE class has to take priority over an elective dance class. Students are very limited in what their schedules can be according to the campus wide scheduling and with all the shifts, it is no wonder we have low enrollment in prime times like 8-10am, 10-12pm and 1-3pm.
4. Repeatability: Repeatability for dance courses at community colleges has been the hot topic for a couple years now. At this point dance students cannot repeat any dance course. Therefore, most schools including Moorpark have created 3-5 levels of each genre so the student can continue their training. However, offering all levels of ballet together is virtually impossible to teach, therefore the program has to separate the levels to different classes at different times. Therefore, students who could repeat a Level I offered at a good time are now stuck having to take Level 2 and Level 2 is not offered at a good time in their schedule so they end up taking no ballet at all. They have no other recourse.
5. Dance Majors: being a dance major is a tough decision, because at this point in history it is a choice of the heart and not the head. Dance majors have always been few and far between. Most students who take dance take it because they love it and don't want to live without it. Many dance students are just 3-5 units away from an AA in dance, but don't have the "time" or units available to complete their degree before they transfer as a psychology or chemistry major. So, our number of completors continues to be low. The dance industry is missing out on some incredible dancers, choreographers, dance historians and dance theorists. We are losing them to more employable areas of study.
Which brings me full back to what I first mentioned in this blog: The elusive dance credential, as it has come to be called, could offer a great pathway for dancers to get a transfer degree, then a BA in dance, then a credential to teach dance in the public school system. But, without a strong non-performance based job market out there, dance majors are stuck choosing between what they love and a "practical" degree like Math or Business. Often, Math or Business wins out. Until we change the job climate for dance majors by giving them the state's stamp of approval, dance will continue to be at the bottom of the list. And, we may see dance shrink even more. The performing arts offer a vehicle to understanding ourselves and the world. We must find a way to keep dance alive in the state of California as well as nation wide.
And, we must do it together.
*It may be 72 units, I have heard conflicting numbers.