- Mills College
Save Mills Dance Major
The oldest, continuously running Dance program in the United States is being threatened. In an effort to make Mills College curriculum more contemporary and competitive, the President of Mills College sent out a memorandum that suggests, among other proposed changes, “phasing out” the Dance Department’s Major over the next five years. The Mills College Dance program is one of the college’s most well known programs; the Dance Major specifically has contributed to the education of famous alumni and the Dance program continues to draw students from around the world. The purpose of this petition is to outline the impact the Mills College Dance Major has in students lives, in the culture of the college and in the broader Bay Area community.
At the level of the individual student, The Mills Dance Major is crucial for how it advances a view of dance as an accepting, accessible field that all bodies and minds can participate in. The Mills Dance Major accepts students of all abilities and backgrounds, welcoming students from diverse disciplines on campus. In this way, the Mills Dance Major critiques the singular vision of what a dancer should be by actively questioning the boundaries delimiting who can dance and what dance can be.
The Mills Dance Major requires its students to hone their abilities in both dance technique and academic theory, enacting a balance of theory and practice that is frequently pointed out as lacking in academic settings. Cutting the Dance Major would stunt this understanding that dance participates in higher education as a method of research for how theory is practiced within academic institutions and out in the world. This loss of self-reflexive practice risks actively deterring dancers from considering the possibilities of post-secondary education in dance. As well, eliminating the Dance Major symbolically undermines the value of dance and arts in the liberal “arts,” rendering it non-essential and expendable.
In addition to symbolically stunting the role of “arts” in a liberal arts education, phasing out the Dance Major will negatively impact Mills’ College Dance Masters Degree program. The Dance graduate students and majors share core classes, collaborate in each others’ choreographic pieces and together, make up the Mills Repertory Dance Company. Phasing out the major would reduce the classes graduates could participate in, lessen the opportunities for collaboration relied upon within the program and across departments, and dissolve the dance company for lack of viable participants.
Dance students who earn Mills College B.A. in Dance are equipped to pursue a profession as a working arts and across disciplines because of how the program encourages students to think critically and engage with social, political and economic issues of our time as they refine their individual dance technique and craft. Notable alumni from the Bachelor’s program include Molissa Fenley, who was a Guggenheim fellow in 2008 and Trisha Brown who was the first female to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in the field of choreography. Additional alumni who have benefited Dance Department include Patricia Reedy, renowned author and one of the co-founders of Luna Dance Institute and choreographer/dancer Nora Chipaumire, recipient of 3 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Awards.
The Mills Dance Major advances dance as a form of critical thinking and practice beneficial to undergraduates, graduate students, alumni and the broader community. To this effect, what the Mills Dance Major has long equipped dancers to be and do aligns entirely with desires laid out by the college’s mission statement as the Dance Major educates dancers to “think critically and communicate responsibly and effectively, to accept the challenges of their creative visions, and to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to effect thoughtful changes in a global multi-cultural society.” It is with a fierce love of dance and an understanding of its place in higher education then that we present this petition. We ask Mills College to not simply recognize but actively support dance as a field that enables critical thinking and and thoughtful change at the level of embodied practice, through a decision to retain the Dance Department’s Dance Major.