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Sunday September 25th

Dancing Barefoot

While UNC-CH Supports the Arts Community, the School Lacks A Dance Program Comparable to Others Within the UNC System

Just ask Fred Mueller, chairman of the Department of Exercise and Sports Science, and he'll tell you it's right where it belongs. "We've had dance in this department as long as I can remember," he said.

The traditional link between a sports-oriented department and dance focuses more on its physical aspects than artistic qualities. "We look at it as a physical activity, good for fitness, good for lifetime activity," Mueller said.

Susan W. Stinson, head of the Dance Department at UNC-Greensboro, agrees. But she added that it's not that simple. "The word dance means many different things," she said. "Physical activity is one of the things it is -- but it is also an art form. We very much approach dance as an art form."

Other faculty at UNC-G concur that the situation facing UNC-CH dance is not uncommon. "The old academic idea still considers (dance) more of a sport than an art form," said Jan E. Van Dyke, professor of dance at UNC-G and coordinator of the annual N.C. Dance Festival.

While being part of the exercise and sports science department, UNC-CH faculty member Marian Hopkins, the University's primary dance instructor, must keep in mind the mission of her fitness-oriented department. But she said she also works very hard to provide her students with an appreciation for dance's artistry.

"I think, artistically, dance would fit better in music or drama, but the facilities are here, and that's one of the drawbacks," Hopkins said. "If the other departments could present space we could use, that would be great, but it's very complicated money-wise and space-wise."

To compensate for a lack of arts-oriented attention, Hopkins and dancers at UNC-CH keep the University on its toes with their dance group, the ModernExtension Dance Company. "ModernExtension is there to allow students an outlet for performing dance," she said.

One of many dance clubs forced to work outside the realm of an official department, ModernExtension works year-round to put together a performance every spring. But leotards don't buy themselves, so the group obtains funding from the student-run Sports Club Council.

Funding from the Sports Club Council goes toward costumes, a trip to the Regional College Dance Festival and financing the use of Memorial Hall for their performances.

Even though UNC-CH has no department, major or minor option for dancers, Hopkins stresses how gifted her students are. "There's enough talent here for (a dance major)," she said. "I have several former students in professional companies, some on Broadway, some in major companies all over the world."

But while former UNC-CH dancers are in numerable spotlights, dance at UNC-CH is still lost somewhere in the shadows, leaving student dancers in the dark. "I think awareness of dance could grow," Hopkins said.

With an excellent reputation for arts appreciation, dance has comparatively been underrepresented at UNC-CH. Campuses across the state have varying programs, including schools of dance like at the N.C. School of the Arts and courses within the Department of Art and Theatre at UNC-Wilmington.

UNC-G, a liberal arts campus like UNC-CH, boasts a premiere Department of Dance. But it was not too long ago that UNC-G dance was also misplaced. Gay Cheney, former professor of dance at UNC-G, recalled the work that led up to dance receiving its own department in 1980.

"That's the way it was when I came to UNC-G," she said. "When I was the (chairwoman) of the department, I worked very hard to get (physical education) to let go of dance. We had a long struggle convincing them that dance has its own history and aesthetic elements.

"But it's still within the School of Health and Human Performance," she added. "As a chairwoman, I wanted to get dance out of that school. It was still not conducive to the kind of environment we want to work in."

Changes might occur within the UNC-G structure, Cheney said. The new dean of the School of Music has plans to expand his office to the dean of the School of Arts, bringing dance, music, theater and other arts under one roof.

Acknowledging the disparities between UNC-CH's dance program and comparable universities' programs, Mueller said it is a matter of resources.

"There are universities around the country with departments in dance. But they are fairly large departments and have more than one person teaching dance," he said.

Even the Arts Carolina Web site, a resource for finding arts programs and performances at UNC-CH, has only one link relating to dance at the University -- the UNC Ballroom Dance Club.

"Dance is kind of like a stepchild that goes here to there to somewhere else," said Dorothy Berhea Silver, Chapel Hill resident and former dancer with the prestigious Martha Graham Dance Company in New York.

While still a resident of Chapel Hill, Silver commuted 110 miles a day to serve on the faculty of dance at UNC-G until she retired in 1987. As a resident and occasional guest artist, she has been entrenched in the evolution of dance at UNC-CH for more than 25 years. "It's come a long way, but it could come a lot further," she said.

Van Dyke agrees that the incorporation of dance into arts on campus is essential, both in the UNC system and across the nation.

"Over the years, dancers have really made the effort to move from being considered a sport to being considered an art," she said. "Most dancers feel that dance is an art and think it would do better next to a theater or other arts department. There would be more support and more interaction. We feel we have more kindred souls in the arts."

But as the system stands, UNC-CH dancers will have to make do with their limited resources, even though there is a demand for an expanded dance program. "There are so many students here wanting to further pursue dance within their course load," Hopkins said.

The Department of Exercise and Sports Science only has so much room for dancing within its course directory. "It's not just up to an institution what majors they have," Stinson said. "The (UNC-system Board of Governors) does not support a new program unless there is a high demand."

But demand is not what is standing in the way of a dance option here at UNC-CH, Hopkins said. "There's enough talent here, and there's enough interest here for it."

Until then ModernExtension and other extracurricular campus groups are left to make wine out of the murky waters of dance on their own. "It's an extracurricular activity; they don't get academic credit, so it's really out of love -- love for dance," Hopkins said.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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