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Everything under the sun: studying dance at UCLA.

The stomping rhythm of a tap combination. The drumbeats of a Ghanaian dance class. Voices yelling out impromptu dance combinations. A cacophony of rhythms and sounds stream through the studio walls and flood the air. Welcome to WAC--the Department of World Arts and Cultures at University of California, Los Angeles.

Walking along the central hall of the Kinross building, the temporary home to the department, one is exposed to a smorgasbord of dance traditions. However, to take the department at the face value of its name that is to consider it a place to study world dance is to miss out on the broader aspect of its mission. WAC takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding movement.

I applied to WAC's graduate program in choreography because of its unique approach. It challenges dancers to see, feel, and think about dance in a way that goes beyond the study of Western dance techniques. Learning other dance traditions is certainly part of that approach, but the larger picture focuses on the thinking and ideas that come together in movement practice.

In 1995, UCLA's Department of Dance, founded in 1962 by modern dance education pioneer Alma Hawkins, merged with World Arts and Cultures to create a new department, blending several disciplines from an interdepartmental program of the same name. With approximately 250 students, the department now offers a Bachelor of Arts degree, a Master of Fine Arts degree in dance with a focus on choreography, and a MA/Ph.D. program. WAC also hosts a research program, the Center For Intercultural Performance (CIP).

At just before 9 AM, students begin to fill the hallways. You might think you can identify a particular study focus by the way a student is dressed: baggy sweats for postmodern technique class, long fluid skirts for flamenco, or regular street clothes and weighted backpacks for a Cultural Studies seminar. But throughout the day each student will weave between different classrooms and studios, exploring a number of diverse cultural practices and approaches to movement.

Students best suited for WAC, according to faculty member Maria Gillespie, are those who want to reach beyond the study of Western dance, and to explore the written and verbal side of body-based performance. During their time at WAC, students work with a rich array of artists and scholars whose expertise ranges from folklore and anthropology to dance history, choreography, and political science. Faculty members include acclaimed theater artist Peter Sellars, dance improvisation master Simone Forti, teacher of classic Indian dance Viji Prakash, choreographer Victoria Marks, dance scholar Susan Foster, and recent Guggenheim recipient and choreographer David Rousseve, who chairs the department.

WAC cultivates a dynamic relationship with the larger Los Angeles artistic community, and graduates and faculty contribute to L.A.'s vital and growing noncommercial dance scene. Their work can be seen regularly at venues like Highways Performance Space, the Electric Lodge, and the new REDCAT performance space. One of my most valuable experiences last year was performing in group works by postmodern pioneer Yvonne Rainer at L.A.'s Getty Center. This winter, the department moves back into its permanent home, the newly renovated Glorya Kaufman Hall, (see related story in "Dance Matters," page 15) which will open up additional on-campus space for performance.

Degree requirements for the BA and MFA programs are a rigorous blend of cultural theory and movement. This brings up one of the biggest challenges for a WAC dance student: how to manage it all. After a year of juggling papers, dense theory, choreography projects, technique classes, and performances, it felt like a tsunami had ripped through my body!

This balancing act can be particularly difficult for undergraduate students whose degree--a BA, not a BFA--requires they spend as much time hitting the books as they do hitting the marley. Performance works, as well as technique classes, might not always satisfy core degree requirements, so for undergrads who want to dance, choreograph, and perform on a regular basis, mental agility is key to avoid getting overwhelmed.

The greater Los Angeles area is a hotbed for university dance, including UC Irvine, UC Riverside, CSU Long Beach, CALARTS and Loyola Marymount University. For those looking for a more traditional dance department--rigorously aligned requirements in technique, choreography, specific training in ballet, modern and jazz-these are the places to study.

WAC is pointedly off the university dance template. Functioning more like a laboratory for dance artists, WAC trains movers who are artists and thinkers as well. Its progressive scope offers tools that enable dancers to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world, where nothing, including dance, exists in a bubble.

Taisha Paggett is a second-year WAC MFA student.
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Title Annotation:Education Matters
Author:Paggett, Taisha
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
Words:773
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