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Dearborn is ecstatic about the results. Though adjudication is by no means the only measure of success, she recognizes the importance of having her students’ work seen by professionals from across the country. “To be selected for the Gala Concert for three consecutive years and the National Festival for two consecutive years is absolutely phenomenal,” she says.
Dearborn is quick to give credit where credit is due. She has had the continuing support of the College’s administration and theatre and dance department head Charles Richter; she has attractive new studios and theatres in which to work and perform; she has an enthusiastic admission department that helps identify and recruit talented dancers; and she has a gifted pool of faculty, adjunct and guest teachers and choreographers who work closely together to provide an intellectually rigorous and artistically challenging atmosphere in which her young dancers may flourish. But most importantly, she has found a way to attract students who are both technically gifted and intellectually curious.
These students are also incredibly dedicated to the art of dance. Consider that at Muhlenberg creating dance works takes place outside the classroom. Students begin each choreographic project by submitting a written proposal and an oral argument to a panel of three faculty members. Faculty provide feedback on the proposal and then select the appropriate venue for the work, as the dance program has hierarchal tiers of performance venues to support choreographers at different points in their artistic development. After this selection process, faculty continue to mentor works throughout the semester, both informally in rehearsals and meetings as well as in three formal required showings. All of this is done for no academic credit; students do the work voluntarily and faculty also volunteer their time and talent to the process.
“There is a long history of romanticizing artistic creativity as something one is simply born with, or that artistic inspiration is a magic that springs from the imagination and lands, fully formed, on a stage,” says Dearborn. “This is simply not true. To be an artist and to achieve excellence, as Mary and Julie have done, is the result of countless hours of rehearsal, as well as years of study, dedication and practice – and not just in dance, but in life study. I truly believe that the reason Muhlenberg has achieved these recent honors by the ACDFA is because of our liberal arts education – our students are smart and they make smart works.
“Many schools feature enormous dance programs that produce dancers with look-alike technical abilities,” she continues. “At Muhlenberg, however, we prize individuality and independent critical thinking. Where we excel in this competitive venue is intellectually; we simply make sophisticated dances and dancers.”