For more than a quarter of a century, Hofstra’s Dance Program has been preparing students for successful careers in the performing arts, education and dance and physical therapy. Graduates are living their dreams, performing with the world’s most prestigious dance companies, launching their own dance companies, teaching new generations of dancers, and working in the administrations of major performing arts organizations and in the growing field of dance therapy. In 2008, the program expanded to include a B.S. in dance education – the first degree program of its kind on Long Island.
When dance officially became a major at Hofstra in 1984, it did so with only four students and a dance studio with a ceiling so low, that it posed problems for taller students, says Associate Professor Stormy Brandenberger, who has been with the program since the beginning. Nonetheless, she says, “dance classes were always popular and very full. And the students were also very active within the department and within the social organization of the University.”
As the popularity of the program grew, so did the diversity of the classes. Initially, only modern dance classes were offered, but soon ballet, jazz and choreography at all different levels were added.
The faculty is a major draw of the program. Professor Brandenberger adds, “The faculty hail from diverse backgrounds and talents – they are not all cut from the same mold. Outside of Hofstra, they continue to choreograph and run their own dance companies. Our students are learning from professionals – some may enter the program with more training than others, but they are all performing at the same level by the time they graduate.”
A major turning point for dance at Hofstra came in 1988, when the program presented its first major concert at Dempster Hall. Now the Dance Program presents a concert every semester at the John Cranford Adams Playhouse, featuring original choreography by faculty and students, recreations of famous dances, period pieces and work by visiting artists. In 2006, the fall dance concert was highlighted by the Jean Erdman Dance Notation Project. Jean Erdman is considered one of the pioneers of modern dance. In spring 2007, Martha Clarke, a celebrated choreographer known for her production Garden of Earthly Delights and other groundbreaking, visually inspired musical theater pieces, joined the dance faculty as a visiting. In spring 2009, Keith Thompson, a former member of the renowned Trisha Brown Company, worked with students on recreating Brown’s choreography for a piece titled Canto/Pianto, an abstract retelling of the Orpheus myth.
Even with today’s shaken economy, Professor Brandenberger and her fellow professors have high hopes for the marketability of dance alumni and students. “There are so many doors that are open to students of dance. They have to be creative, know rhythm, have a great eye and an understanding of the physics of movement. These are skills that have applications in a number of different areas.” Because so many of the dance faculty have their own dance companies and are strongly connected to other companies and artists, there are many opportunities available for students who want to perform. Many of the program’s graduates have gone on to careers behind the scenes in writing, arts administration and grant writing.
As for the future of dance at Hofstra, Professor Brandenberger says to watch how studies will continue to extend to other programs within the University, like African Studies, Irish Studies, History and other cultural studies.
“Dance is a very special art form,” she says. “It is demonstrated and physically shared from one generation to the next. I feel very blessed that my life has been about dance, and I hope our students graduate with the confidence to follow their dreams.”