Scholarly Research: Ecologies, histories, and legacies: the academic discipline of Dance in the U.S. by Melonie B. Murray

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 @ 12:00pm CST

Dr. Melonie B. Murray
University of Utah, USA

Keywords: Dance, Higher Education, NASD, Academic, Discipline

For many US dance scholars and creative researchers, higher education is the environment in which our collective experience is based. Our existence is bound to academic institutions, beholden to policies born of histories and politics, reliant on institutional support for our discipline and our research. We are situated in an ecology of dependency. Thus, the history, current role, and evolution of Dance as an academic discipline in US higher education bear examination as an ever-evolving ecology.

As an academic discipline in the US, Dance is relatively young. The first dance major was offered in 1927, but not until the 1960s did the discipline organize conferences, and the accrediting body, the National Association of Schools of Dance, was not established until 1981. Thus far, the legacy of Dance as an academic discipline is a Euro-centric perspective established by a white matriarchy of early dance educators who favored the “art” dance genres of modern dance and ballet, thus excluding a plethora of dance styles that have been meaningful parts of our societies and cultures. The historically exclusive philosophies and practices of dance in higher education have had a significant impact on how we understand dance as part of the educational experience and as a distinct educational endeavor that often favors specific “elite” dance forms. Presently, there are hundreds of dance programs across the US, yet the vast majority offer a similar dance curriculum. The history of the discipline, alongside the limitations of accreditation, tends to (even if unintentionally) exclude or marginalize under-represented dance forms and perspectives, resulting in a homogenization of dance in US higher education.

This presentation examines how the development and evolution of Dance as an academic discipline has evolved in a predominantly self-perpetuating manner and explores these questions: Given the current situation, which favors certain perspectives and assumes similarities, how might we maneuver, orient, challenge, and make purposeful change within and through our evolving ecologies by pushing the boundaries of the curriculum and accreditation standards? How might we engage with intersectionality to explore the common ground between multiple perspectives and promote a de-centered approach to inquiry in an effort to open opportunities for the future of the discipline?


Dr. Melonie B. Murray’s research interests lie in exploring the continual evolution of dance as an academic discipline and, and while honoring the past, investigating dance and ballet through a critical theory lens. Her academic writing has been published in peer-reviewed journals, and she continues to explore the arts, dance, and ballet as scholarly pursuits. She is deeply committed to the arts in education and initiatives supporting equity and inclusion. Currently at the University of Utah, Dr. Murray is the Associate Dean for Faculty & Academic Affairs for the College of Fine Arts and an Associate Professor within the School of Dance. She holds an M.F.A. in Dance from the University of California, Irvine and a Ph.D. in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. Professional affiliations include CORPS de Ballet International, Dance Studies Association, and the World Dance Alliance-Americas; She has also served multiple times as an adjudicator for the American College Dance Association.

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