Dance Studies at Yale

Building on the foundation of occasional dance courses offered at Yale since the early 1980s, since 2006 Theater and Performance  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 and Performance 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 and Performance Studies majors each year propose senior projects in dance.

The Yale Dance Lab is a major co-curricular initiative that supports cross-disciplinary research, experimentation, and advocacy through dance. The Dance Lab augments and extends the work of the dance studies courses and works in partnership with programs and departments across the university. 

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 2020-2021

The dance courses are open to students of all levels and physical abilities. The majority of the courses welcome but do not require prior dance training. We aim to create inclusive class environments in which each student strengthens their movement practice and artistry, no matter where they begin. Given the high demand, an application or an audition may be required for a course. Be sure to consult the Yale Course Search for more information on schedule and enrollment procedures, and email the professor if you have specific questions about a course.

All Fall 2020  dance courses will be taught online. The format for spring 2021 studio courses remains TBD, pending the university’s decision regarding spring teaching.

For additional questions about the dance studies curriculum, contact Professor Emily Coates:

FALL 2020

HSAR 018 / THST 089  Twentieth Century Dance from Africa and the Diaspora   Cécile Feza Bushidi

Through an admixture of materials and methodologies used by historians, dance scholars, artists and anthropologists, students will explore the emergence of dance styles, traditions, movements and festivals in sub-Saharan Africa and the African Diaspora. We’ll think about the social, cultural, and political contexts in which dance emerged in twentieth century Africa, western Europe and the Americas. We’ll talk about how the works and lives of dance scholars, practitioners and pioneers have shaped a connected history of black performance. From the rise of the East African phenomenon dansi and British black dance to the voguing modern house dance in the late 1980s Harlem and western European taste for contemporary dancers for Africa, we’ll explore a wide range of dance expressions in global black performance. 

THST 097 Anatomy in Motion  Bronwen MacArthur

The connection between advances in human anatomy and kinesiology—the science of human movement—and dance practices from the early 1900s to the present. Study of seminal texts and practical exercises that drove the research of Frederick M. Alexander, Mabel Elsworth Todd, Barbara Clark, and Lulu Sweigard and the application of their ideas in contemporary movement practices today. Topics include the synthesis of dance and science; the reeducation of alignment, posture and balance; the use of imagery; and the unification of mind and body. No prior dance experience required. Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-year Seminar Program.   HU

THST 099 / FILM 045 Dance on Film  Emily Coates

An examination of dance on film from c. 1920 to the present, including early Hollywood pictures, the rise of Bollywood, avant-garde films of the postwar period, translations of stage choreography to screen, music videos, and dance film festivals. The impact of industry, circulation and audience, aesthetic lineages, and craft in the union of the two mediums. Students develop an original short film for a final class project. No prior dance or filmmaking experience necessary. Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-year Seminar Program. WR, HU

THST 319 / AFAM 313 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.  HU

THST 380 / AMST 370 The History of Dance  Brian Seibert

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.  WR, HU

THST 427 / AMST 349 Technologies of Movement Research  Emily Coates

An interdisciplinary survey of creative and critical methods for researching human movement. Humans move to communicate, to express emotions, to commune, to protest, to reflect and embody the natural world. Drawing on an array of artistic projects and scholarship (in dance and performance studies, art, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, cognitive science, and the history of science), we will consider case studies that take up movement as both the object and method of inquiry. Class time and assignments will include moving, reading, and watching. Movement exercises will be adaptable to the remote environment. All physical capabilities are welcome; no prior experience in dance required.


THST 092 / AFST 092 African Rhythm in Motion   Lacina Coulibaly

A studio seminar that traces the transnational migration of the polyrhythms in West African dance.  Based in movement practice, the course considers the transformation of rhythm through time and space, moving from traditional West African dances of the 20th century into the work of contemporary African artists and far-flung hybrid dance forms such as samba and tango. Part dance history, part introduction to the art of dance, the course is open to movers of all backgrounds and physical abilities. Enrollment limited to first-year students. Preregistration required; see under First-year Seminar Program.

THST 215 / ENGL 434 Writing Dance  Brian Seibert

The esteemed choreographer Merce Cunningham once compared writing about dance to trying to nail Jello-O to the wall. This seminar and workshop takes on the challenge. Taught by a dance critic for the New York Times, the course uses a close reading of exemplary dance writing to introduce approaches that students then try themselves, in response to filmed dance and live performances in New York City, in the widest possible variety of genres. No previous knowledge of dance is required.  WR, HU

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. Admission by audition during the first class meeting.  HU  RP

THST 340 Ballet Now  Daniel Ulbricht

A practical investigation of seminal ballets in the repertory of New York City Ballet. Tracing a sweeping history of artistic innovation from the early twentieth century to the present, this course covers the technique and aesthetic details that constitute New York City Ballet’s style and follow the ways that these stylistic strengths are applied and transformed in the contemporary ballets of the 21st century. Repertory excerpts move through foundational works by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins to ballets created in the past fifteen years by some of the most prominent ballet choreographers working today. Prior dance training required. Admission is by audition.  HU

THST 387 Choreography in Practice and Theory   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 402 / ART 386 Experimental Writing and Performance   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. 

HSAR 525 Visual Histories of Dance in Africa, 1800s-today   Cécile Feza Bushidi

This is a course about the visual representation of dance in sub-Saharan Africa and Africans. We’ll mostly engage with a wide range of primary sources ranging from films, postcards, stamps and engravings to photography, video and related popular media.  Visual images of dance from the continent have been important in creating lasting representations of African embodied lifeworlds and in reaching mass audiences. Studying images of dance from Africa and Africans dancing illuminate processes of imperial exploration, ethnographic record and African self-fashioning and expression. The topics to be covered are broad ranging and include dance in San rock art paintings, missionary visual sources, Hollywood films, national celebrations, photographs of nightlife, and contemporary Hip Hop videos.

For more information on course meeting times and locations please visit the Yale Course Search.