Sunsetting The Dance Management Program

Members of the YSU Dance Ensemble performed Eunoia, choreographed by Rachel Schmidt. Photo by William Lewis

By Kelcey Norris

Erica Hays, a senior dance management major, described the day she and her friends in the program found out the sad news that their degree was being discontinued at Youngstown State University.  

“It was a very emotional day for all of us,” Hays said. “We all kind of knew that it was coming, but at the same time, it hurt. This was because so many people had been watching this program since they were little kids in the area, they would always go to the dance concerts and everything like that.”

Hays is the president of the YSU Dance Ensemble, and she has danced since the age of nine. Her track has been minimally affected by the sunsetting of her program. 

Stephanie Smith, acting co-director of the school of performing arts, said the dance management program’s end will not affect current students’ graduation track. 

“Essentially, we’ll be teaching out all of the students that are currently in the program and making sure that they get the same experiences,” Smith said. “We don’t want those who are at the end of the program to have their education suffer in any way.” 

According to Smith, the inability to grow resources contributed to the sunsetting of the dance management degree.

“In order to have a degree that focuses on dance, you really need to have both physical facility resources and the faculty resources,” Smith said. “We don’t have, currently, enough resources to support all of our programs sufficiently. We’re down faculty from where the department once was.”

Smith said the dance studio, located in Beeghly Center, has a “fairly low ceiling, it’s smallish in size and it’s really not sufficient.”

“A dance studio is a very specific kind of studio,” Smith said. “They require a raised floor and special flooring, Marley, that overlays on that floor. This is so students don’t get injured. So, putting in those floors is very expensive. Sufficient ceiling height and size is also important.” 

As an advocate for dance, Smith said she is hopeful a proper studio can be built in Bliss Hall one day. 

“Perhaps people think that getting rid of dance means … that we somehow don’t value dance,” she said. “It’s actually just the opposite. We value dance so highly that we need to make sure we’re serving dance properly and serving our students properly. And if we can’t provide programs of excellence, then we really need to think about what we’re doing.”

Despite challenges and lack of key resources, Smith said the faculty in the dance program are dedicated to providing quality educational experiences for the students during the teach-out.  

“We have been doing our best, and, I think, providing students with necessary rigor and value. But as we move forward, we need to make sure that we continue to be able to do that. And with the growth in other programs, it’s going to become increasingly difficult,” she said.

Smith explained the importance of dance to other students in the Cliffe College of Creative Arts.

Members of the YSU Dance Ensemble performed Eunoia, choreographed by Rachel Schmidt. Photo by William Lewis

“Dance is an integral part of the other programs as well, like the BFA in Theatre … and the BA in Theatre Studies,” Smith said. “Movement is really crucial. We can’t survive without continuing to have dance classes. That’s not going to go away just because the degree has been sunsetted.”

The students perform to showcase new skills and choreography, but with COVID-19, Smith is unsure of what this year’s performance will look like, although there will be a dance concert in the spring semester. 

“We’ve always planned to have [our spring dance concert]. I don’t know exactly what form it is going to take,” Smith said. “We’re working on figuring out how to maintain protocols and give the students the opportunity to perform. Performance is an important part of dance curriculum.”

Changes are coming for the dance program.

“If we know that we’re getting to a point where we’re not going to be able moving forward to service a program, the way we want to and need to, then we have to rethink those programs,” Smith said. 

In the meantime, all students currently in the program will be kept on track to graduate with the degree.