C/O Wesleyan University

C/O Wesleyan University

The thunder of wooden drums and the trickle of shakers fill the sterile, light gray interior of Wesleyan’s Cross Street dance studio. My sweat pools around me and my breath escapes my grasp—after 90 minutes of strenuous work, the very fact that I am still standing for the final minutes of class is enough to feel proud of myself. 

My West African Dance class last semester was my first time experiencing this rigorous embodied practice that Wesleyan’s renowned dance department specializes in. It was also my first time experiencing the absurd class weighting policies within the dance department.

All of Wesleyan’s dance technique classes meet twice a week for 90 minutes each. Many of these classes involve assigned readings to supplement in-class learning experiences, just like classes in most other departments at the University; my West African dance class, for example, had a 20-40 page article due most Mondays. Some even have writing assignments attached to these readings; my Bharatanatyam class this semester features a 10-page reading and performance response as our final with a 3-page response for the midterm. So far, this probably sounds familiar—though the reading load may seem a little light, many classes at the University have a similar schedule of class meetings, homework, and exams. 

However, most classes come with the award of one credit, while pretty much every technique class in the dance department is only a half credit. Although these classes meet as frequently and for as long as an average academic class, and are often accompanied by homework that is not insignificant, they are treated as though they do not.

Perhaps this is because of the workload; I’ll be the first to admit that my dance classes tend to come with the smallest amount of explicitly assigned homework of the classes in my schedule. But what they lack in reading and writing assignments, they make up for in dance memory exercises and practice expectations. If I did not rehearse my dance pieces outside of class, I would never be able to dance at the level my professors expect of me, or even remember the entirety of the piece or pieces I am expected to masterfully perform at the end of the semester. 

Maybe dance classes are weighted differently because they are less strenuous intellectually, but is this even true? What dance classes may lack in lecture, they make up for in strenuous physicality. While students may be able to take mental breaks in other classes, that is simply impossible in a dance class. Engagement is crucial, and the in-class time is certainly more focused and rigorous than most of the other classes I have taken at Wesleyan. While intense intellectual debates through words may not be a major part of many dance technique classes, the embodiment of questions, ideas, emotions, ruptures, and novel ways of thinking through the interpretation and reproduction of choreography has the same intellectual weight as a good discussion—it just might look different, dare I say more interesting, to an observer. 

Beyond half-credit technique classes, other dance department experiences are weighted incredibly low for their commitment levels. Advanced Dance Practice A and B, two dance courses that designate rehearsal and performance in a department production, feature weighting practices even more absurd than technique classes; 30 hours of commitment, just short of the rough 36 hours of total meeting time utilized by most single credit classes in a semester, is awarded just 0.25 credits, while 60 hours of rehearsal and performance time, almost twice the in-class commitment of an average Wesleyan course, is awarded just 0.5 credits. 

It is evident that the University deems embodied movement and dance practice as inferior to reading and writing, a value that seems to contradict the University’s mission to promote diverse, multidisciplinary courses of study. This prejudice against dance does nothing but discourage students from taking dance classes and diversifying their studies. I am only a dance major because I am able to take more than four classes per semester in order to stay on track to graduate with my technique requirements. However, this is not possible for many students, and makes pursuing a degree in dance, or even just taking a couple of dance classes, very difficult if not impossible. Professors wonder why there are so few dance majors at a school where so many talented dancers matriculate—perhaps these weighting policies are one piece of this puzzle.

So, Wesleyan, I urge you to uphold your mission to support diverse academic and intellectual disciplines and compensate students fairly for the work they put into their movement classes. It appears that dance is not valuable to you, and I implore you to rethink that prejudice and open your mind to seeing dance as an intellectual, artistic, physical, and worthwhile pursuit. 

Akhil Joondeph can be reached at ajoondeph@wesleyan.edu

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