Saturday, August 24, 2013

Where did the dance students go??

Hi Everyone,

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. 


  1. Well said Beth. We are having the same issue at FCC in the Arts. Music lost more than seven sections to low enrollment, Dance is struggling, and Theatre has taken some big cuts but has been proactive in creating new TMC classes. But both music and theatre offer more opportunities after graduation than dance, which, as you say, is causing huge issues for students. I hope we can all hang in there and work to improve the situation.
    Stay strong. Even Hip-Hop has a place in the world!

  2. Excellent ideas Beth, thank you. I have a few thoughts to add. I too had two courses on the chopping block even though our registration system crashed for 3 days before the first day of class. Does anyone know the genesis of the rule to drop classes before the start date and before the end of the late add period? No one on my campus could answer that pivotal question.

    Additions to your post:
    -On my campus students receiving financial aid cannot stray from the accepted ed.plan and cannot pay out of pocket for dance classes. All or NOTHING - they will loose the financial aid.
    -Previous administration on my campus was not allowing the pursuit of AA degrees unless it was an AFT. New administration is more open to certifications, so the credential program is a great idea.
    -While new legislation allowed families and levels of a dance genre, there is no more funding for additional sections, so how many ballet levels can exist in one section?
    thank you.

    1. Kelly, these are great thoughts!

      I didn't know about the ed.plan limit. But, that seems congruent with everything else.

      For clarification (for me and those reading) when you say AFT you mean Associates For Transfer, yes? Many schools are referring to them as TMC (Transfer Model Curriculum) or AAT (Associate of Arts for Transfer).

      My effort this week will be creating a possible dance TMC for vetting in the community, so when our time comes we are ready. I figure, if we need it, why wait for them to tell us it is our turn!

      The leveling issue is huge. It is inevitably going to change the face of how we teach classes. And, we need to find answers together (share what works/ what doesn't) and stay somewhat consistent as a field so our standards our met for the discipline.

  3. I couldn't be a student at Moorpark these days! My gosh. I transferred with over 100 units, ~6 units shy of my AA in Dance, and repeated classes up to 4 times! I (luckily) had a fairly easy time fitting dance into my science class schedule, but when I was on my way out, things were changing. I honestly think my community college experience would have sucked a lot if I wasn't able to take as many dance classes as I did -- we need a balance.

  4. Gina,
    You are the perfect example of someone who benefited hugely from the dance experience but transferred in another area an therefore was never "counted" as a dance major (completor). PS. what classes are you missing for your AA? If it is Dance History, you can still take it online! haha!

  5. Great article!!! I left being a classroom teacher to study dance at City College of San Francisco 23 years ago. I went on after this fantastic experience where I got to take modern dance, afro-haitian, ballet, tap and choreography to pursue and MFA and graduate with an MFA in Dance Performance and Choreography. I now am one of the directors at Luna Dance Institute and a past president of CDEA. I strongly feel we need to KEEP a large offering of community college dance classes. My time at CCSF helped me change my career to something I am passionate about that is not a frill. And, there can be a direct path to a career as a dance educator - case in point. A dance teaching credential will make the pathway more viable.

  6. Hi,
    We, at San Diego City College are struggling too. We have not closed any sections, but the numbers are low. I am interested in the dance teaching credential to add as a component to our degree. Maybe we can collaborate on curriculum etc.
    Hang in there all and keep dancing, we know the answer, we just have to keep educating.
    Terry Wilson
    Associate Professor, SD City College
    Lecturer, UCSD

  7. Hi,

    We at IVC are very interested in the dance teaching credential also. Classes at IVC are also lower than normal and we had to really push hard for our administration to understand where we are in terms of a long range plan to address repeatability. Many of the low enrolled courses are due to the reasons you state and a couple of new glitches in the interpretation of the new repeatability laws.

    I believe working at the state level is key. Remember dance did get new TOPS code designations approved via the State Academic Senate. The next step there is for the State Academic Senate to push to get the Chancellor's office to adopt new code designations.

    I am hoping for new designations in the areas of Dance History, Movement Science, Dance and Technology , and Performances, as these relate most to the four year degrees. Though there are many variances in what is expected in the Dance technique areas I do believe we can get TMC and perhaps AA-T's in the first three new areas. The courses under those areas, which can be separated from needing a certain specific technical dance level can also be standardized more easily into transfer model curriculum.

    Also we need to talk again to counselors, and our administrators, to get them to understand dance is a degree students can transfer into and that all students still can use dance courses to fulfill Fine Arts credit for GE transfer requirements.

    In addition, we are addressing multiple interpretations of the repeatability issues and are so busy trying to plug the holes by writing many courses we have little time to be marketing and recruiting for new students. This seems to be a new and critical "must do" in this climate.

    Our budgets are often smaller, we have less lobbying, less visibility when compared to other Fine Arts areas. We need to learn from them on how to be better organized locally and state-wide, and visible to students on our campuses, so they want to continue in our degrees and certificates.

    Kathryn Milostan-Egus
    Professor, Irvine Valley College

  8. I agree - students are changing the way they look at the value of a unit and experimentation. We have a problem with payment, too:

    In the San Mateo Community College District, we implemented a new "rolling drop" system; students who haven't paid for their classes are now dropped every two weeks or 24 hours until the semester begins. (There are loopholes, such as spending $40 to open a payment plan, and/or applying for financial aid.)

    Most of my students were not using these loopholes, and instead they enrolled in their impacted classes as they could afford to, and delayed enrolling in dance classes until school began. Probably 70% of my dance students didn't enroll in my class until classes started, so that they wouldn't lose their place in a G.E. course.

    I was lucky to have a dean who agreed to delay cutting classes until we had begun, but it seems to me that this is all a serious encumbrance to our ability to plan and budget for our programs.