Curtain closing on UMSL dance curriculum | St. Louis Public Radio

Curtain closing on UMSL dance curriculum

Apr 29, 2016

This weekend is the last time those studying dance at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will put on a performance.

After this semester both UMSL dance professor Ronderrick Mitchell and the students who want to make dance into a career will be gone.

“It was devastating to me (to find out the classes were ending) because even though UMSL was not my first choice, I grew to love UMSL so much, and when I found out that they had my program I loved it even more,” said sophomore Michelle Hughes, who is pursuing a Theater degree in the dance "track."

To complete her degree, Hughes is transferring to Lindenwood University, where she will have to repeat her sophomore year and pay almost twice as much for tuition.

“That’s a lot of wasted money. A lot of wasted time. I mean, yes you do get the training and you do get the experience. But that’s a lot of wasted money,” said Hughes, who wants to teach at a dance studio.

Junior psychology major Joshua Harshaw is dropping his dance emphasis in order to graduate on time. He wants to incorporate dance into therapy.

UMSL junior Joshua Harshaw stretches before the dress rehearsal of the final UMSL dance program concert Wed. April 27, 2016.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“I’m still not sure what I’m going to do for a minor, if I do one, because dance is gone,” Harshaw said, adding that he feels dance is under-rated as a career.

“People don’t know how inspiring dance is in American culture in so many ways,” said Harshaw. “So much you see on TV, the Super Bowl, one of the biggest things of America, the halftime show — that’s huge. All the dancers, all the entertainers, that’s the arts.”

Michelle Hughes performs Wednesday during the dress rehearsal for the UMSL dance program.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“Even though we may not know it, there’s a lot of things in dances that we can see going on politically, in the climate, and everything,” said Hughes. “You can see so much from watching dance. And it’s not just a hobby for us. This is our life.”

According to university spokesperson Bob Samples, UMSL’s dance emphasis being eliminated due to low enrollment. (Technically, it’s a theater degree with a dance emphasis).

As part of the university-wide effort to cut costs, Samples said UMSL is reducing the number of dance classes it offers to the number needed for a BA in Theatre Arts.

“Logically it does make sense,” said dance professor Mitchell, who took over running the dance program last fall. “Philosophically and theoretically, no. It hurts. It hurts me, it hurts the students and it hurts the surrounding community.”

Mitchell said that given time he could have built up the dance curriculum.

UMSL dance professor Ronderrick Mitchell on Wednesday corrects his students during a run through of one of the final dance concert's pieces.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

“I had a huge vision. I want to bring in guest choreographers, nationally and internationally. I wanted to revamp the curriculum,” Mitchell said. “One thing I wanted to bring in definitely was hip-hop. There is really no hip-hop on a dance curriculum in a lot of universities …  a lot of students expressed to me, you know I don’t want to dance in a dance  company. I want to go to Los Angeles. I want to dance backup for Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.”

Ten students are performing in the UMSL dance group’s final concert.

Hughes said the piece “Be grateful” echoes her feelings about the end of the dance track.

“I’m grateful for the time that I was able to spend with all these amazing people, these such amazing dancers and this professor who knows his stuff,” said Hughes. “Just being grateful for the little things, the small victories that you do have in the process of this huge storm.”

The dance group's final two performances are Friday and Saturday night at the Touhill.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.