When it came to tap shoes, leotards, and pirouettes, Western didn’t have a lot to offer. But all of that has changed. Starting this spring, Western is offering three brand new dance courses, Jazz Dance Technique 1, Beginning Dance, and Beginning Tap Dance. Each course is worth two credit hours and counts toward the dance minor. Before these courses, Beginning Social Dance was the only dance-related course offered at Western.
“The dance minor provides a variety of courses that will enable those working in future artistic fields to communicate with dancers and choreographers, to choreograph dances, and to have a broader education on dance, dance history, and international cultures,” Western dance instructor Suzanne Ryan Strati said. “Additionally, students who took dance at any age and miss it or students who have never had the opportunity to take concert dance classes have an opportunity to do so.”
Ryan Strati started dancing professionally when she was 19 years old. Later, she directed a dance company in Kansas City. She has a Master’s of Fine Arts in Dance Choreography from the University of Iowa. Before she came to Western, she taught for three years at the University of Iowa in Iowa City and for four years at the Kansas City Ballet School. Her past in dance and academics makes her a real asset to Missouri Western, because she brings both academic studies and professional dance knowledge.
“Dance brings me great joy from an artistic, creative, and physical aspect. I love seeing the individual development of the artists and the aha moment when a student discovers something for the first time, be it a way to move or a new creative approach,” Ryan Strati said.
One of the best things that Ryan Strati brings to the table is her constant passion for dance. Even though she is now a dance teacher at Western, she has not stopped pursuing her own personal dance goals. Currently, Ryan Strati is working closely with the Parkinson’s Foundation. The foundation invited her to go through a training program out of New York in partnership with the Mark Morris Dance Company. After she completes this training, she will be able to teach dance classes to people that are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“What keeps me passionate about dance is continuing to grow as an artist. I love learning new techniques, doing research on dance around the world, and continuing to work as an artist in the field of choreography,” Ryan Strati said. “I tried to quit twice and after the second time, I was so happy that I never looked back.”
Ryan Strati is not the only one who had a deep enough passion to make dance classes a reality at Western. A survey was conducted at Western and in Saint Joseph to determine if there was enough of a city-wide interest in Western offering a dance minor. The survey yielded an overwhelming amount of positive feedback toward the idea of college credit for new dance courses and the addition of a dance minor at Western.
“The specific courses selected in the minor program were the result of two things, areas of interest indicated by the community and on the university survey and the research of other schools, colleges, and universities that offer a dance minor degree,” music professor Susan Carter said.
The dance courses could be beneficial for students pursuing a number of degree programs. Theatre majors, music majors, and physical education majors might look more desirable to employers with a dance minor on their resumes.
“[The new dance courses] offer a balance to a wide range of degrees. Many of our music majors are planning on careers as high school choral directors,” Carter said. “Social work majors are looking for areas in which to specialize. Dance therapy has a strong future. Physical education majors would add yet another level to their resume by adding a dance minor.”
This spring, students interested in dance can sashay their way into a dance minor. This minor gives students the chance to choreograph their own dance routines, to network with other people who are also pursuing dance, and to harness their dance skills to prepare them for the real world.
“Dance is movement and that within itself provides health benefits. In an academic setting, students perform in front of people, get ongoing feedback, and learn personal responsibility,” Ryan Strati said. “Come dance with us!”