Dance Studies at Yale

Dance Studies at Yale

Building on the foundation of occasional dance courses offered at Yale since the early 1980s, since 2006 Theater Studies has supported a wide-ranging program in dance studies. The curriculum consists of studio and seminar courses that cover the history, theory, and practice of dance forms spanning time and geography, from contemporary West African dance to The Twist.

The dance studies curriculum emphasizes the study of movement as a window into larger cultural processes and historical frameworks. In keeping with the mission of Theater Studies, the courses combine practical and theoretical approaches to deepening students’ understanding. In the studio courses, practical execution in the form of mastering diverse dance techniques, canonical repertory and choreographic methods is treated as an invaluable component of research and writing. The curriculum further investigates the fluid and fraught relationship between movement and language. Students develop a shared critical vocabulary for reading, interpreting and writing about dance, even as many of them learn to communicate their ideas through the creation of original dance compositions.

Courses vary in format and prerequisites, from sit-down seminars open to all interested students to studio courses designed to challenge those with prior dance training. Students who have enrolled in one or more dance courses may choose to do independent research projects in dance studies. A small number of Theater Studies majors each year propose senior projects in dance.

Yale Dance Theater (description below) is a major co-curricular initiative that augments and extends the work being done in the courses. Additional projects are undertaken in partnership with programs and departments across the university.

The dance studies curriculum complements the activities of the Alliance for Dance at Yale and the extracurricular dance groups it represents.

Cross-listed with a number of other departments—including Art, African Studies, African American Studies, American Studies, Film Studies, and Physics–Dance Studies at Yale promotes the interdisciplinary study of dance as an integral and vital element of human societies.

Dance Studies Courses 2016-2017

Fall 2016

THST 244 / ENGL 257 Writing About Movement

Brian Seibert

A seminar and workshop in writing about the human body in motion, with a focus on the art of dance. Close reading of exemplary dance writing from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The challenges and possibilities of writing artfully about nonverbal expression. Students use a variety of approaches to write about dance and other performance genres.

THST 319 Embodying Story

Renee Robinson

The intersection of storytelling and movement as seen through historical case studies, cross-disciplinary inquiry, and studio practice. Drawing on eclectic source materials from different artistic disciplines, ranging from the repertory of Alvin Ailey to journalism, architectural studies, cartoon animation, and creative processes, students develop the critical, creative, and technical skills through which to tell their own stories in movement. No prior dance experience necessary.

THST 380 / AMST 370 The History of Dance

Jessica Berson

An examination of major movements in the history of concert and social dance from the late nineteenth century to the present, including ballet, tap, jazz, modern, musical theater, and different cultural forms. Topics include tradition versus innovation, the influence of the African diaspora, and interculturalism. Exercises are used to illuminate analysis of the body in motion.

THST 448 Dancing Desires

Jessica Berson

Exploration of how contemporary embodied performances construct and reflect gendered and sexual identities. Students work with a broad definition of embodied performance that includes examples from social, popular, and concert dance; performance art; music videos; film and television; and devised performance.

Spring 2017

THST 307 / AFAM 303/ MUSI 348 Orisa Worship and Afro-Cuban Folkloric Dance

Maya Berry

Study of Afrodescendants in Cuba and how sacred forms of Orisa worship were practiced, studied, interpreted, and represented on stage. Understanding blackness, collective black-lived experiences, and the black dancing body in Cuba. Readings drawn from art history, ethnomusicology, anthropology, dance studies, religious studies, theology, history, and black studies, providing close study of concepts of religion, deity, folklore, nation, blackness, and dance. Concepts illustrated through readings, movement practice (dance classes), and spectatorship.

THST 335 / AFST 435 West African Dance: Traditional to Contemporary

Lacina Coulibaly

A practical and theoretical study of the traditional dances of Africa, focusing on those of Burkina Faso and their contemporary manifestations. Emphasis on rhythm, kinesthetic form, and gestural expression. The fusion of modern European dance and traditional African dance.

THST 387 Advanced Dance Composition

Iréne Hultman

A seminar and workshop in dance-theater composition. Focus on the history of dance composition, tools for generating and interpreting movement, basic choreographic devices, and dance in dialogue with media, music, and other art forms. Choreographic projects developed over the course of the term are presented in a final performance.

THST 404 / AMST 349 Technologies of Movement Research

Emily Coates

Movement in time and space is central to human existence, yet remains too often ignored in humanistic inquiry. Using dance as our focal point, this course surveys technologies of research that frame, mine, and represent the sophisticated cultural knowledges that exist in human movement. Marshaling both artistic and academic methods, we will examine technologies that traverse disciplinary boundaries, including but not limited to: somatic practices that emphasize internal sense perception; choreographic notation; dance dramaturgy; digital motion capture; the intersection of cognitive science and dance; and ethnographies that draw strategies from the arts to probe social problems.

For information on course meeting times and locations visit OCI


Founded in 2011, Yale Dance Theater (YDT) is a faculty-led extracurricular initiative that enables Yale students to work with professional artists on the reconstruction of existing choreography and/or development of new work. YDT is conceived as a practice-based research initiative that allows students to investigate choreographic ideas and their historical context through a rigorous, semester-long rehearsal process, resulting in a final public performance. As part of the research, YDT dancers regularly post blog entries about their experience. YDT’s mission is to track and contribute to current discourses in dance through an inquiry distinctly grounded in physical experience.

To date we have undertaken projects in coordination with the companies of Twyla Tharp (2011), Merce Cunningham (2012), Reggie Wilson (2013), Akram Khan (2013),  Trisha Brown (2014), Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (2015), and Gaga USA/LeeSaar The Company (2016).

Sponsored by the Arts Discretionary Fund in Yale College in cooperation with the Dance Studies curriculum, Theater Studies, and Alliance for Dance at Yale.

Faculty director: Emily Coates

Student Coordinators: Naomi Roselaar ‘17 and Holly Taylor ‘17

Click here for more information and to read the YDT Blog.