Do you shy away from public displays of random dancing?
Do you hide in the corner when dance music comes up in a party?
Do you happen to be two feet tall and covered in fur?
Well then, you might just be my toy panda, Mikey.
And, even more shockingly, you may not like to dance.
If you are my panda, then I am very disappointed in you. Dance is an amazing way to exercise and can be lots of fun when done with the right people. Sure, pandas might be notorious for having a lack of rhythm and, sure, you may just be an inanimate object incapable of movement, but that shouldn’t stop you from becoming the next animal dancing sensation!
So, today, we’re going to the Schwartz Center so you can enroll in a dance class.
The Schwartz Center is on the edge between Collegetown and Cornell University’s main campus. It’s home to Cornell’s Performing and Media Arts Department and hosts numerous classes in acting, film, stage production, and dance. On occasion, the Schwartz Center also hosts its own stage productions and offers rehearsal space to Cornell’s numerous dance troupes. Today, we’re going downstairs to the sub-basement to visit the students of PMA 2300: Introduction to Dance Composition.
PMA 2300 teaches students different techniques for creating dance choreography. It combines students from all levels of the course (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced levels) into one section, and there is usually a wide variety of styles and skills among the participating students each semester. The instructors also alternate between semesters, so students who continue the course into their later years can expect to be continuously challenged by different teaching styles and new assignments.
Now don’t get nervous by that guy doing pirouettes in the corner. You don’t need any previous dance experience to join the class or to do well in it. Grades are determined by one’s own class participation and level of improvement throughout the semester. Weekly dance assignments may demand that you use certain techniques for creating your piece, but they remain mostly broad and applicable to many styles and levels of dance technique. Moreover, your professor and peers will generate constructive criticism for you in class with your unique level of performance technique in mind. In fact, some of your assignments may even require that you create pieces that are performed by other dancers, instead of yourself. So, in essence, you’ll be graded on how well you followed the assignment and how much effort you put into your choreography.
Another great benefit of this class is that you get to meet so many interesting people. Once you overcome your initial nervousness of performing in front of others, it can be a lot of fun to talk with your classmates about why you liked or didn’t like certain dances or whether you prefer certain dance styles over others. With classmates spanning across Cornell’s various majors and class years, you’re bound to find someone with an interesting new perspective on dance or a unique way for explaining why we react to human movement the way we do.
Before and after class, you have the opportunity to bond with your peers on a less academic level. You can talk about events happening on campus or share stories about surviving killer midterms through excessive cramming. Vent about your day with a fellow student or talk about deeper issues and ambitions you have for when you leave Cornell. Don’t forget to talk to the professor, too! Most PMA professors have years of experience in their field and have tons of interesting stories to tell. For example, my current instructor shared with us a wonderful story about how her first and only stuffed animal as a little girl was….a panda!
I took the introductory course last semester with essentially no dance training whatsoever. I enjoyed the class so much that I immediately signed up for the intermediate level this semester. Having taken the class a total of 1 ½ times, I do have a few tips for aspiring pandas who want to enroll and do well in PMA 2300:
- Don’t worry over how your dance experience compares with other students. Remember, you’re graded individually, not on a curve. Focus on improving your own skill instead of trying to keep up with others.
- Don’t underestimate the workload. PMA classes are not free passes or GPA boosters. PMA 2300 is a 3-credit class, so expect to put in a few hours a week into each assignment if you want to create a quality piece.
- Reserve a room, immediately. Each student of PMA 2300 gets to reserve rehearsal space at the Schwartz Center for a few hours a week. The earlier you reserve your space, the more time slot options you have to choose from and the less likely you will struggle with making time for rehearsals against your other classes. If you can’t find a space in Schwartz or need more time, ask your classmates and professor for other options on campus (like Helen Newman).
- Be friendly and social. It’s easier to perform in front of people you already know than complete strangers. Talking to your classmates before and after class (not during!!!) can make the atmosphere more comfortable and relaxed for when you have to dance together. It also helps to build relationships for when you need other people to dance in your pieces.
- Be concise and constructive. When it’s your turn to respond to someone else’s piece, make sure you keep your comments short so others have time to comment as well. It helps to think about what you want to say as you watch the performance, so you don’t have to come up with something on the spot and resort to rambling whenever the professor calls on you. Give constructive criticism. Although it’s always nice to hear that someone enjoyed your piece, it can also hurt you if you only hear praises and miss out on learning how you can improve your technique for next time. On the other hand, criticizing a piece without giving specific and clear reasons for why you disliked it is also damaging to one’s morale. Try to name specific moments that felt lackluster to you and focus on giving suggestions for improvement, not on emphasizing what went wrong.
- Talk to your professor. If you don’t understand an assignment or you want more personalized feedback on your choreography, schedule a meeting with or email your professor. They are usually more than happy to help and the one-on-one time is especially gratifying for confused students. If your question is more specific and direct, you can even try catching the professor at the end of class to have a quick discussion.
At the end of the day, PMA 2300 might be just what you need to overcome your anxiety of dance and to distress from a long day of problem sets. If you’re a panda interested in dance, come on by the Schwartz Center and try it out for yourself.