Pitt dance minor faces uncertain future

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Image courtesy of Allen Howard

A scene from Pitt Dance Ensemble’s fall 2019 in-person performance.

By Jessica McKenzie, Senior Staff Writer

Kelsey Halloran, a senior rehabilitation sciences and pathokinesiology major, has used dancing as a form of creative expression for most of her life.

She joined the Pitt Dance Ensemble, a student organization open to all interested in practicing dance, during her first year of college. She said she found a close-knit community that shared her passion for dance.

“I feel like I might have transferred my freshman year if it wasn’t for the dance program,” Halloran, PDE’s president, said. “Dancing was the one thing that I could look forward to every week because it was where I found a community before I was able to make friends.”

In an email sent this summer to current dance minors, associate professor Elizabeth Nagle said the Health, Physical Activity and Exercise department may no longer offer dance courses after the 2021-22 academic year. As a result, the dance minor might be terminated, leading to concerns from students who are committed to the program.

The dance minor is an 18-credit program that provides classes in dance choreography, history, production, pedagogy and more. Currently, there are more than 100 active members in PDE, many who are also enrolled in these courses. There are around 30 students with dance minors, and most of them are PDE members.

“Due to budget and administrative issues, it is possible that dance courses will no longer be offered by the HPA department after this school year, and current and future applications for the dance minor have been suspended,” Nagle said in the email. “Therefore, it is important to do your best to enroll in your remaining dance courses for this upcoming 2021/2022 academic year.”

University spokesperson David Seldin said the School of Education has made no official decision on the fate of the dance minor.

“We value the input we have received from students and appreciate the passion they have for the dance minor, and the School of Education is evaluating the best way to move forward,” Seldin said.

Seldin added that current dance minors may still have time to earn the degree by the end of this year.

“There will be 12 courses offered in fall 2021 and 10 more in spring 2022,” Seldin said. “Current students were assigned a new dance minor faculty advisor and were provided a plan of study on what classes they still need to complete the minor.”

Halloran said the program is a creative outlet for many students, and it is crucial to a healthy social life.

“There are people at Pitt who are very passionate about dance — it’s a huge aspect of our lives and we don’t want it to be taken away,” Halloran said. “I know so many people who applied to Pitt just because of the uniqueness of the dance program and if you take that away, you’re losing students.”

The dance program’s founding faculty adviser, Susan Gillis Kruman, built the minor from the ground up. She retired last spring after 43 years at the University. Halloran and other PDE members recently posted a petition and open letter to Pitt asking it to keep the minor despite Kruman’s retirement. As of Monday evening, the petition collected more than 1,460 signatures.

Kruman said department chair Thomas Farmer told her about the minor’s possible removal during her June exit interview and that Pitt was not currently searching for her replacement.

Seldin did not directly respond to a question about whether Pitt is looking for additional faculty for the minor.

Kruman wrote a letter over the summer to Kenyon Bonner, vice provost of student affairs, requesting to meet about the fate of the dance minor. She said she either wanted her adjuncts to replace her or the theater program to take over the dance minor, but she received no response from Bonner.

Seldin said the University had no comment regarding Kruman’s letter.

Kruman began her time at Pitt in 1978 as a professional dancer and choreographer teaching introductory classes. Kruman said the large turnout in the classes inspired her to create the dance minor. She said students showed an immense passion for the many aspects of dance.

“When we first started with the dance classes, we had over 100 kids. I couldn’t even see the floor in the dance studio,” Kruman said. “I wanted to continue their dance education as an outlet for physical activity, creative expression, art, and so I thought well, we should have the minor for them.”

According to Kruman, many students in the minor pursue fields other than dance. Many of her former students continue their dance careers through teaching, performance and even physical therapy. Some alumni have even been inspired to open their own dance studios after their time at Pitt.

“One of the things about dance is that we are kind of our own sorority. Students have found their friends their freshman year because of all the productions, choreography, rehearsals and classes,” Kruman said. “I’ve had the best students — they’re so smart and talented because they could spend a lot of time dancing yet still do their major.”

Emily Schultz, a junior biological sciences major and dance minor, danced since she was three years old. She is so passionate about PDE that she started a dance club at Pitt last year called Movement Exchange. She said she couldn’t picture her life as a college student without access to Pitt’s dance classes.

“I was actually on vacation with my family when I got the email about the dance minor being removed and I started freaking out,” Schultz said. “The dance classes are very therapeutic for me and there’s so much about dance that I never would have learned if it weren’t for this minor.”

Schultz said no matter what happens with the dance minor, PDE will still try to organize events and rehearsals, though she said reserving studio time on campus would be more difficult if the dance minor’s classes are terminated. During her time at Pitt, Schultz said Kruman always advocated for the group to get the resources they needed.

“When Susan retired, it was all very rocky. We were worried because we didn’t know what was going to happen to the program,” Schultz said. “She was always the one fighting for it and planning things and getting things set up — now we need a replacement.”

Schultz said the dance minor’s possible removal goes well beyond the concern of her and her classmates. She said the dance minor sets Pitt apart from other universities because it improves students’ physical and mental health.

“The dance community at Pitt is really special and I can’t imagine my Pitt experience without it next year,” Schultz said. “But it’s also about future students 一 it’s just really upsetting that they might not get the opportunity to experience what an awesome program we have and the big role that it can play in their lives.”

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