By Emily Bowers
As Choreographic Works 2001 lights up the Ryerson theatre this week, dance students are making the crucial decision between staying in school to earn their degree or hitting the streets in search of professional gigs.
Third-year dance students are in a unique spot as the Ryerson dance program is in transition—from a diploma to a degree program, where students earn a bachelor of the arts. Because of this, students this year have a choice to leave Ryerson with their diploma or stay and cram in enough academic courses to earn a university degree which means another two years in school for those who choose to stay.
Even for students who stay in school, landing professional work is important because students can use that experience to earn course credit need to get their degrees.
Students are making the decision to stay or leave Ryerson in the mdist of putting on their biggest show of the year, a compilation of student-produced dance and choreography designed to give them a taste of the professional world.
Third-year student Shannon Litzenberger designed a duet she also performs in.
Last Dance is based on a painting that features a couple dancing on a beach. Litzenberger brings the couple to life with tango music.
“It’s more dramatic, classic,” she says. “The audience may take it any way they want.”
She is also performing in two other pieces in the show. While she sits in the dressing room in West Kerr Hall, a few hours before the opening performance, Litzenberger can’t help but look to the next few months, and next September.
She is one of the lucky students who has been able to land some professional work for the summer. She will perform in the Guelph Dance Festival in April and at the Premier Dance Theatre at Harbourfront at the end of that month. While that only takes up part of the summer, Litzenberger has a part-time job that will take up the rest of her time.
Third-year student Sarah Johnson has choreographed three pieces for the show: a duet and two group dances. She uses all female dancers and a “pedestrian” dance style, meaning people with no dance training could perform in one of her pieces.
“It’s modern-based, but there’s no real technique,” she says. “Anyone can walk in off the street and do it.”
One of her pieces, Solo, features dancers covered head-to-toe in a stretchy bag.
“They move within the constraints of the bag, I just thought it would look beautiful.”
While Johnson is also performing in the show, she hopes to find professional work as a choreographer. She also wants to continue at Ryerson to get her degree—which means two more years of school.
“One year for the academic and another to challenge for credit, write papers, whatever I have to do.”
For students like Litzenberger and Johnson who want their degrees, a bachelor of fine arts, the professional work they land outside of school is even more important. They use that experience to challenge for course credit, enabling them to get the required number of credits they need to graduate. As well, they have to write essays to their instructors explaining what they did and what they learned.
Even though landing a professional job is key, students in the diploma program get little help from the school, other than recommendations from their instructors.
Johnson says students need help in understanding how to get started in the business, including where to get funding to stage a show. Some diploma students recently took part in a seminar at the Premier Dance Theatre that addressed those issues, but they say they couldn’t get that kind of professional advice at Ryerson.
“Things like how to develop your resume … and if I want to go into choreography, where do I get my funding?” asks Johnson. A course answering those questions is an option for students in the degree program in their and fourth years.