The intersection of dance and community
- David C.Olson
With a decade of teaching dance classes at Beloit under her belt, Associate Professor of Dance Gina T’ai is no stranger to changing her courses with the times.
In spring 2017, T’ai redeveloped an inventive new class: a community-based course called Topics in Dance Entrepreneurship. The revamped class tasked students with creating a collaborative dance company, developing its repertoire, arranging its performances around the state–and doing it all from scratch. T’ai will teach the course again in the spring, but this time she’ll focus on creating a Midwestern dance festival.
This May, Dance Education in Practice published T’ai’s article about the community-based course. The article chronicles the development of the course and its goals for students looking to pursue a career in performance.
Much of the inspiration for the course material took root in T’ai’s early dance career. After touring with a dance company in high school, she learned more about the business from visiting dancers while she was an undergraduate at Hollins University. “Later, I danced for two dance companies–bopi’s black sheep [New York City, NY], and City Ballet Theatre [Milwaukee, Wis.]– but I also did educational outreach, marketing, budgeting, and grant writing,” T’ai says.
From T’ai’s experience, the big dance companies of yesterday have broken up into smaller groups, many of which require artists to collaborate on their own singular project. “To be in dance–or almost any arts field–today means to understand and have experience with arts administration,” she says. “Building something from scratch [in the course] gives them that experience and also the confidence to make things happen.”
Since teaching Topics in Dance Entrepreneurship, T’ai sought out feedback from former students. “I hear from students who took the class years ago who have created their own performance collectives or developed classes they teach in non-dance studio settings,” she says. “They tell me what we did that was helpful and things they are encountering that they weren’t prepared for.”
But what she’s learned from the experience is equally valuable. “I try to be there to help when needed, but they are incredibly motivated and competent,” T’ai says. “I’ve learned to let go and let them take over.”