SRU’s dance program was named second best in Pennsylvania and among the top 25 nationally on Dance-Colleges.com’s 2014 national and state dance schools ranking report.
The website provides an online ranking for students considering majoring in dance in college, as well as contact information, major availability, and diploma selection. SRU was ranked second in PA, fifth in the Northeast, and sixteenth in the nation. SRU scored 4.5 stars overall and 5 stars in curriculum on the site’s five-star rating system.
“One of the things the website prides themselves on is that they are not affiliated with any school or college group, which allows them to make an unbiased assessment of dance programs,” Ursula Payne, professor and chair of the dance department, said.
Payne said SRU made the list for several reasons; excellent faculty, innovative curriculum, performance opportunities and the success of graduates. The faculty has national and international recognition in the field of dance. The curriculum for dance majors is unique at SRU because they train in performance, choreography and teaching. The program also offers dual degree programming with Adapted Physical Activity and extra-curricular programming with three dance companies; Rock Dance, Afro Columbian Dance Ensemble and SRU Dance Theater.
Jennifer Keller, professor of dance, specializes in instruction of all levels of modern technique, as well as dance technology, wellness for dancers, and dance improvisation. Keller believes one of the program’s strengths is using dance as a platform for a lot of career choices.
“A BA degree gets students a really solid foundation that they can pursue in many different areas,” Keller said. “We really look at the individual students and strive to customize their program of study to their career interest.”
Ballet specialist, Nola Nolen Holland, has accompanied dance students on international trips to Chennai, India, Paris, France and Rome, Italy. She believes the international component to the dance program enhances the curriculum and definitely distinguishes SRU.
“SRU is a nationally accredited program and for 25 years we’ve been working toward being one of the best,” Nolen Holland said.
Payne and 18 SRU students recently attended the East Central American College Dance Association (ACDA) Regional Festival hosted by Ohio University from Feb. 28 to March 2. The ACDA’s primary focus is to support and promote the wealth of talent and creativity that is prominent throughout college and university dance departments. There were 390 participants in this year’s festival from about 30 colleges and universities. Payne was elected by the ACDA membership to the National Board. SRU has had students present at the festival every year.
“The festival has always been important to us, even in the early stages of our program,” Payne said. “Now we have a really known presence there.”
The conference also provides the unique opportunity for students and faculty to have their dance works adjudicated by a panel of nationally recognized dance professionals in an open and constructive forum. SRU adjudicated two dances choreographed by senior Ryan McMullen and Samantha Wesler. McMullen’s solo was selected for the GALA concert. Senior Abigail Hewitt’s choreography was performed in the informal concert. The students viewed 64 dance performances over the three days, and were also given the opportunity to take dance classes and attend lectures from faculty at different institutions.
Payne will be traveling to Atlanta in May for the national meeting, where policy and procedures are discussed for the association. McMullen was accepted into the Master of Fine Arts in Dance program at Florida State University and Wesler was accepted into the Master of Fine Arts in Dance program at University of Colorado at Boulder.
The dance department is also eager to start on the renovations of the West Gym complex, Keller said. Eventually the plan is that they will have renovated studios in West Gym and Miller Auditorium.
“With dance, you’re blending both your intellectual learning with creative and physical learning,” Payne said. “All of those things come together when you are engaged in some type of creative project. As somebody who is a dance teacher and once a dance major, being able to say that I’ve been able to live my life around those things has been extremely rewarding.”