New BFA program in dance includes African, European forms

Hannah Victoria Thomas dancing

This fall the University of Oregon will launch the first Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance to require mastery of both African- and European-based dance forms.

In addition to being a national first, the new program approved by the UO Board of Trustees in April also is the only BFA degree in dance offered in Oregon. Sabrina Madison-Cannon, the Phyllis and Andrew Berwick Dean of the School of Music and Dance, said it reflects years of planning.

“Our dance faculty has spent 10 years dreaming about and creating a BFA worthy of the University of Oregon’s heritage as the first school in the United States to offer an academic dance program,” Madison-Cannon said. “We will immerse our students in a complete program covering everything from ballet to hip-hop, and we look forward with great anticipation to seeing what they create.”

Hannah Victoria ThomasMadison-Cannon said the school has hired hip-hop and urban dance specialist Hannah Victoria Thomas as an assistant professor.

“This is the first step in further diversifying the dance faculty,” she said.

Thomas is a member of Embodied Scholars, an exclusive group created for Black hip-hop teachers at the college level. Trained in many styles, including contemporary dance, jazz, ballet, modern and African, she earned an MFA and teaching certificate in dance from Arizona State University and a bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies from Georgia College.

Gerlinger Annex, home to the dance department, will undergo welcome improvements during the summer.

“As part of a physical refresh, we are renovating the dance department’s student lounge and costume area along with many of the other common spaces in time for fall classes,” Madison-Cannon said. A retirement created the opening for Thomas and a private gift will cover the cost of building improvements.

Brad Garner, an associate professor and head of the University of Oregon’s dance department, said the university will continue its popular liberal arts degree in dance in addition to the new BFA.

“The main differences are the required audition for BFA students, the ratio of liberal arts courses to dance courses and more intensive requirements for performing, choreography and other professional skills,” he said.

An advantage of the BFA is that it prepares students for dance-related careers beyond performing and teaching, such as arts administration, technical fields such as lighting design, and opportunities in health fields involving somatics, which helps heal the body through movement.

Students interested in the program should prepare to perform a solo in their favorite style of dance during audition period, which will be announced soon.

“They can show us what they love to do and think they are best at,” Garner said. “Students can audition more than once if they do not get in on their first try.”

The UO created its dance program, which is more than 100 years old, about 10 years before other schools, Garner said, noting that the university maintains connections with leading dance companies tracing back to Martha Hill, a professor who taught here in the late 1920s.

A co-founder of modern dance and one of the most influential American dance instructors in history, Hill went on to perform with the Martha Graham Dance Company and help launch the dance programs at The Juilliard School, Mills College and Bennington College among others. One of her UO students was the beloved dancer, choreographer and teacher Bessie Schönberg, namesake of the “Bessie,” which is the professional dance world’s equivalent to the Oscar and Grammy.

For more information about the UO’s BFA in dance, students can contact Dana Gorman, dgorman@uoregon.edu or Christian Cherry, cerise@uoregon.edu.

—By Melody Ward Leslie, University Communications