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Getting a Foot in the Door of the Dance Minor Program

An open house allowed prospective students with an interest in pursuing a Dance minor to put their best foot forward.

“We’re just looking for people who are enthusiastic about dance, who are passionate about dance, want to learn more about dance,” said Vanessa Beyland, a lecturer with the Theatre Department specializing in Dance. “In my view, we’re not necessarily even training dancers, we’re just working with people who love dance as an artform and want it to be a part of their lives.”

Beyland and fellow lecturer Maria Tzianabos, with help from current students, hosted the informational gathering on Thursday, November 4, at Russell Hall in Gorham. Rather than merely explaining what the program offers, the two instructors put the group through its paces on the dance floor.

The lessons found a receptive audience in Lily Bent. She’s a sophomore at Noble High School in North Berwick.

“I just love it [dancing]. I think it’s really good for my mental health,” Bent said. “I love just being in the studio all the time and the connections of friends I make at the studio.”

Bent was three years old when she began taking dance lessons and wants to continue developing her skills. Her brother attends USM, so it was already familiar to her family as an option for higher education.

Between tips on form and footwork, instructors also spoke about what it takes to graduate with a Dance minor. Students must complete at least 18 credits. Two required courses account for four credits, another eight credits are devoted to technique, and electives make up the final six credits. Passing all courses is dependent on achieving a grade no lower than C-.

The Dance minor is part of the Theatre Department. There is no audition to join the program and it’s open to students of all levels. Based on instructors’ evaluations, students who have already mastered basic skills may skip entry-level courses and begin taking more advanced courses right away.

“If they [students] choose to go on and use dance in a way that furthers their career, that’s great,” Beyland said. “If they want just to have a greater enjoyment of dance, if they’re someone who takes dance their whole life and becomes a patron of the arts, or even somebody who goes on to become a senator or a congressperson and fights for more funding for the arts, all of those things are important.”

Junior Ciara Harriman is supplementing her studies in Health Sciences with a Dance minor. She sees both disciplines as beneficial to her goal of becoming a nurse.

“Your body health is super important in dance, so nursing and that kind of go two-in-two,” Harriman said. “Dance is very therapeutic for me. I use it as an escape to do anything. If I’m having a rough day, taking a dance class really takes my mind off everything and helps me relax.”

Along with the long-term career benefits, Beyland also stressed how dance can yield positive results right away. The endorphins produced through physical activity are an antidote to the hours spent sitting in front of a glowing screen.

“I see more joy and happiness at the end of class,” Beyland said. “Even if you don’t have the best class of your life, you still feel like, ‘I did something with that hour, hour and 15 minutes. I’m feeling my body and I’m feeling good about it.’”

True to Beyland’s description, that was how the open house ended with dancers winded from the workout but also smiling from the feeling it gave them.