A new course coming to Penn next spring will allow — and encourage — students to dance in class.
The new course, Theater Arts 215, will focus on everything from dance theory to practice and will involve a substantial amount of in-class experiential learning through movement and sensory experience. This is one of the first dance courses for academic credit that has been offered at Penn.
Nicole Bindler, a professor at the University of the Arts who specializes in somatics, the study of movement that emphasizes self-perception, will be teaching the course. For Bindler, dance is both an art form and a science. She hopes to bridge those two perspectives by approaching dance through her field in somatics.
“What I teach is science based material — embodied anatomy ... in somatic practice we look at anatomical structures, but instead of just relating that material to a book, we try to embody that,” Bindler said. “So if we’re studying a muscle group, instead of just learning about the muscle, we’re going to palpate, touch ourselves and each other and see how it feels. In this way we can notice what it looks like in your own body and in others, and relate that to how it moves through space.”
There has been considerable demand for new dance courses at Penn, as well as for an expansion of dance group’s presences on campus. College sophomore Nicole Frazzini and College junior Ramita Ravi sent out a survey in October to the Penn community to gauge interest in a large dance program at Penn, and they’re happy with the results.
“We’ve gotten about 200 responses on the survey and they were all really positive,” Ravi said. “We talked to the head of the theatre arts department, we’ve talked to around 10 professors related to dance to try to build the program from the ground up.”
The new dance course precisely aligns with what Frazzini and Ravi had hoped for when they sent out the survey, although Ravi said that they were surprised by the announcement of the course. Since its announcement, they’ve been in contact with Bindler to discuss what the course will entail.
“This class just kind of popped up, and we’re like whoa, this is weirdly in line with what we’re doing,” Frazzini said. “It’s going to be a microcosm of what an academic dance curriculum is. It should be a lot of fun, and it’s something that Penn didn’t really have before.”
Frazzini said that the class would be approachable to anyone, and did not necessarily require any prior dance knowledge.
“I think something that’s really cool about this class is that anyone can take it. It’s not really assuming that you have any prior knowledge or skills,” she said. “That’s not to say that we won’t end up doing interesting things. Through projects, we can take it anywhere we want.”
For everyone involved, the hope is that this is only the beginning.
“My idea was that I wanted to offer a kind of tasting of a lot of different things that matter to me and that I value in the field. It’s my hope that as dance builds at Penn that we can dive in deep into the topics we study in class,” Bindler said.
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