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Westminster dancers hone unique skills in unconventional classes

Mikenzie Hendricks stretches at a handrail in Jewett Center for the Performing Arts and Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory (Jewett) in spring 2018. The photo is a product of the digital media class required by the dance program in which dancers learn how to use adobe software. (Photo courtesy Bailey Sill, Mikenzie Hendricks)

Unknown to many at Westminster College, the dance program involves more than students dancing all day. In fact, the major requires many out-of-the-box and non-movement classes.

The program was designed three years ago. Faculty wanted to create a unique program that would benefit all dance majors and develop a variety of skills, according to Nina Vought, former department head and faculty member in the dance and theatre departments.

“[We wanted] to graduate students with a holistic background and to give students a whole look at things in the dance world that they would and could be using for their futures,” Vought said.

Dancing is the most significant piece of the major, according to dance students, but there are unexpected courses that dancers must complete to fulfill their degree requirements. A few of those courses include digital media, production, world dance, anatomy and kinesiology, dance for the camera/web and dance pedagogy.

Pedagogy, which is the theory of teaching, changes form every year. Mikenzie Hendricks, a senior dance major and physician’s assistant minor, worked with elementary schools around the Sugar House area during the class.

“We worked with a lady from Tanner Dance up at the University of Utah,” Hendricks said. “We learned the techniques of incorporating educational tactics. For example, if the kids are learning about the solar system, ‘how can you create a dance class focused on the solar system and teach them vicariously through movement about the solar system?’”

Dancers Kate Abbott and Mikenzie Hendricks dancing in the basement of Payne Gymnasium on Sept. 6. Dance students say dancing is the most significant piece of the major but other requirements include digital media, anatomy and kinesiology and pedagogy. (Photo by Oakley Matthews)

Katelynn Killian, a junior dance major, said the world dance course benefited her greatly, but was challenging on top of her already busy course load.

The world dance course brings in dancers and choreographers who are trained in different cultural dances to teach a master class every week. Students are also required to complete an in-depth research project at the end of the semester.

“You have to go take classes, interview the instructor, do your own research and write a full- length research paper about a cultural dance style,” Killian said. “Not only are you dancing for eight hours a day at school, you’re also going to other dance classes […]. Then after you finish dancing, you’re staying up late and doing homework and researching.”

Along with all the required courses, dancers in the program put in extra time outside of school. They have to rehearse on their own time, work on homework for their classes and maintain a decent sleep schedule so they can wake up and do it all again.

“It’s satisfying and rewarding being an academic dancer, but also very demanding,” Killian said. “Dancers often become exhausted and burnt out from balancing their regular coursework, dancing and everyday life.”

Along with the physical demands that dancers have to face, there are mental and emotional demands that are happening simultaneously.

“Dancing is a very vulnerable act,” Hendricks said. “In a dance class, when you do something wrong, you have to fix it on the spot and sometimes there are days where I’m not in a state to handle that on top of everything else I’m doing for my major.”

Despite how much work goes into the dance major, Killian and Hendricks said the program is extremely gratifying. They said they are able to witness their own growth not only physically but also mentally and are able to challenge themselves in a way that other majors don’t.

“I believe in this program and know that regardless of what I end up doing, I will be supported by the skills I’ve learned, both on and off the dance floor,” said Killian.

*Forum staff reporter Oakley Matthews was formerly a student in the dance program.

*An earlier version incorrectly identified the location of the photo. Mickenzie Hendricks was stretching at a handrail in Jewett Center for the Performing Arts and Emma Eccles Jones Conservatory (Jewett), not at a ballet barre.


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Oakley is a senior communication major who someday soon hopes to work in the fashion and beauty industry. Currently, she is interning with Michelle Leo Events gaining experience to lead her into the industry. When she has five minutes, she likes to catch up on the latest trends, play with her dogs and try to be a yogi aficionado.

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