The University of Oregon dance department is awaiting final approval from the state for its Bachelor of Fine Arts program. The decision will be made public by April and, if approved, the BFA will take in its first-year cohort in fall 2021. This will be the first BFA dance program in the state of Oregon, and the first in the country to have equal emphasis on dance of Eurocentric forms and African Diaspora forms.
Dance Instructor Sarah Ebert said the benefit of a BFA is that students are able to spend the maximum amount of credit hours in a dance program, rather than spread their time across the university in a more general education. The BFA curriculum provides a rigorous technical and theoretical study, and Ebert said it is something that has been on the dance department’s collective mind for years.
“I think that the dance students in Oregon are seeking opportunities to immerse themselves in a degree program that features dance performance, choreography, pedagogy, production and so on,” Ebert said. “I just think our BFA candidates are going to be the ones to reshape the landscape of dance globally after the pandemic. A BFA is the perfect incubator for that process.”
Dance Department Head Brad Garner submitted the program proposal last June, which was vetted and approved by the UO Senate, Curriculum Committee and Board of Trustees.
“There are fine arts degrees across this campus and there are similar equivalences in the sciences, meaning there are more focused undergraduate degrees where students can delve in much deeper. Music has the equivalent of a BFA, arts, theater... dance just never has,” Garner said. “It benefits by attracting students that are more focused on this field and will just spend that much more time in the studio honing their craft.”
Garner and Ebert said there has been an African program in the dance department for decades, but it was something students could take as an elective. With the BFA program, the African classes, such as jazz and hip hop, will be of equal requirement and credit value to the Eurocentric ballet and modern dance classes.
“When I think about the faculty, we have all benefited from the labor of Black dancers, and I see the global influence of Black dancers,” Ebert said. “To ignore that is to perpetuate white privilege in the dance department at the University of Oregon. It means so much to go through this process and to not just honor in words but in our actions.”
Garner said the dance department will begin efforts to recruit students to the program the minute it gets approval from the state. Incoming dance students will be able to interview for the program, and first year students will be able to join as well. But since approval from the state will come only months before the launch, Ebert said the first year will most likely be a “soft rollout.”
“The BFA is activism in bringing underrepresented voices forward, supporting underrepresented students and faculty in curricular changes,” Ebert said. “We’re on the precipice of a lot of things around the world right now, and my hope is that this is a huge leap in a new direction that students both in the state and nationally can get excited about and come experience here in Oregon.”