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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 2014-2015


THST 235/ART 235a Dance Theater

Emily Coates

A practical and theoretical survey of dance theater history. Introduction to movement vocabularies, physical techniques, and repertoire from post-1950 modern and postmodern dance theater. This seminar celebrates the full interdisciplinary reach of dance in dialogue with theater, visual art, music, and media. Culminates in the creation of original dance theater works that students design and develop over the course of the semester. 


THST 335/AFST 435a 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 402/ART 386a Experimental Writing and Performance

Dominika Laster and Emily Coates

A seminar that investigates some of the most pressing issues at the nexus of writing and performance. These include the position of the writer vis à vis the object of analysis; various documentation, archiving, and counter-archiving practices; the relationship between the archive and the repertoire; and diverse modalities such as critical, experimental, and performative writing. The course also explores digital platforms for the synthesis of visual, audio, and textual material.


THST 380/AMST 370b History of Dance 

Emily Coates

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. Exercises are used to illuminate analysis of the body in motion. 

THST 395b/ART 389b Postmodern Dance

Emily Coates

A studio-based inquiry into the epochal shift in choreographic aesthetics known as postmodern dance. Through reconstructions of key dances from the 1960s and 70s, the course will consider the social and historical context in which the work emerged, as well as the evolution of postmodern dance aesthetics into the present day.

THST 406/AFAM 428/AMST335b Dance and Black Popular Culture

Constance Valis Hill

Approaches to theorizing performance, in particular dance performance of a black diaspora. Uncovering methodologies pertinent to the discovery and analysis of dance performance, intersections of black popular culture, and concepts of the corporeal.


THST 446b Dance, Commerce, and Capital

Jessica Berson

Dance as a force in the global marketplace. The use of dance to embody unspoken relationships between production and pleasure, consumption and desire. Examination of such relationships through theoretical models drawn from dance and performance studies, cultural studies, marketing, business, and consumer culture studies. How dancing bodies generate a particular performance economy that engages specific strategies of representation, substitution, and identification.


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), and Trisha Brown (2014).

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 coordinator: Karlanna Lewis LW/SOM ‘15



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