Podcast Episode Number One
Featuring Kalan Birnie, Julianna King, and Shelbi Harrison
As my first year of college ends, I am hit with waves of nostalgia that most often turns into inner reflection on my time as a Performing Arts and Social Justice dance major. The lengthy (and rather self-explanatory) title of the major cannot evade the constant questioning when I casually mention “I’m a PASJ dance major with a minor in business administration”. As people who try to strike up a casual conversation ask this unsuspecting loaded question, I often ask myself, what does PASJ and being a PASJ major mean? Kalan Birnie, Julianna King, and Shelbi Harrison – three other freshman PASJ majors – and I all sat down one night and talked about PASJ, musical theatre, commercialism, and the program. This podcast fully illustrated to me how much previous training and our backgrounds play into the way we experience the PASJ department.
I started dancing when I was two, taking combination tap and ballet classes, prancing around in a tutu and taping my way through the pink walls of the dance studio. I grew up moving around from small Texas town to smaller Texas towns dancing on the competitive circuit. I did this until I turned 18, when I then started teaching and co-coaching a team of young people at the dance studio I danced at. In addition to being a dancer, I trained as a classical pianist and competed on the south Texas music circuit from ages 6 to 15. When I was 13 and entering middle school, I took my first theatre class and was absolutely hooked. As a huge fan of musical theatre and jazz dance, I worked on and choreographed musicals in my community and in my high school before coming to USF.
My choice for college was largely a gut feeling, as someone coming from a poor community, I knew almost no one besides my friends and I who were going to try to study performing arts in college, and had no clue about how to choose a department. Through this blog post, I hope to shed a bit of light on elements to consider when choosing a dance program that is right for you. I chose to come to USF largely due to the large and generous financial aid package I was offered, and due to the fact that I loved “the vibes” of San Francisco.
USF, PASJ, and Learning What to Expect As my fellow PASJ majors and I discussed in our podcast, there seems to be a lot of mystery and uncertainty surrounding our department about what “PASJ art” is. “There can be a way to create art that is just for enjoyment as a political statement.”, Julianna King is quoted on saying in our podcast. A dancer with a more commercial style background and a passion for jazz dance, I truly did not realize how much my training and my passions affected what I wanted from a dance department. When I have asked teachers and faculty why there is not a jazz/Musical theatre style jazz class offered at USF, I am often met with a plethora of excuses about lack of faculty, lack of funding, or “that’s what College Players is for”. I did realize before college the differences between a BFA and a BA program, how faculty influences the style that is produced, or how looking at what different classes are offered can give a student a good idea of what is offered at the university.
My art making process in the PASJ department has been largely influenced by the outside activities I have engaged in outside of class time. The “academic” classes I have taken in the PASJ department are Dance and Social History, Body in Performance: Labanotion, and Production and Design. The “technique” classes I have taken are intermediate ballet, beginning contemporary, intermediate contemporary, intermediate/advanced hip-hop, and ballroom dance. While I have throughly enjoyed what has been taught to me, I worry constantly about my employability. In the PASJ dance department, there are no specific discipline choreography classes, no tap classes (which is a shame because there is SO MUCH interest), or any classes on auditioning, finding jobs as a dancer, or resume building. I have learned about more things that will make me employable outside of class, with my experiences in the PASJ Dance Ensemble, Dance Generators, and the College Players.
Advice from a College Dance Major: A List of What to Consider Before Choosing Your School
- A B.A. Program or a B.F.A?
- There is a significant difference in the programs that are offered when receiving a BFA versus a BA. B.F.A. programs may require entrance auditions, but they focus more on filling your degree with conservatory like classes and working to make sure you can get work as a dancer. B.A. programs often are great if you’re not completely set on trying to pursue dance as a career, because you get to study plenty of other material at the university.
- What styles of dance does the department teach?
- USF is a largely modern dance based programs, and as an incoming student, I did not know about this distinction. There are schools that offer different strengths, so read up on the department or try to speak to someone who works there.
- Are you located in a place where you can get outside training?
- An option that faculty has always told me about when I request a more diverse selection of jazz and musical theatre classes is that I can go into the city for more training. While this is true for San Francisco, if you are attending a smaller university not located in a city, consider if there are many places to train outside.
- What else does the school offer?
- As a PASJ major, I can take acting classes, singing lessons, and many theory based classes.
- Research the faculty and staff
- Familiarize yourself with the work and passion projects of the faculty. This will give you insight into what styles may be taught.
- Are there classes that you are excited about taking?
Overall, my year in PASJ and a department that I am quite sure it is the right fit has truly educated me on what I want to do. I want to be a musical theatre performer and choreographer, and without the somewhat wrong fit of the PASJ department, I couldn’t have figured that out. If I can offer one piece of advice, it is that you must closely look into what you would like in a dance department.