Kansas University's dance program is stepping it up a notch. In addition to offering a bachelor of arts degree, the program will begin offering a bachelor in fine arts degree this fall.
And if Jerel Hilding has his way, a master of fine arts degree will be available in short order.
"The B.F.A. is a performance-oriented degree to groom professionals," said Hilding, director of the division of dance and a former principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet. "This will lead into an M.F.A., which will attract previous professionals to come here."
The only other Kansas university to offer a bachelor of fine arts degree in dance is Wichita State University. No school in Nebraska or Kansas offers an M.F.A. in dance.
A master's degree in fine arts is becoming the standard for teaching dance at the nation's universities, Hilding said. With both bachelor of fine arts and master of fine arts degrees, KU would be able to raise the standards of its performance ensembles.
With the bachelor of fine arts degree comes the eventual establishment of a touring dance company, Hilding said.
"This goes along with the chancellor's dictum to advertise the university," he said. "There's no better way to do that than with the performance arts."
The B.A. in dance requires majors to study ballet, modern, jazz, improvisation, choreography, dance history, world dance, dance science, dance for children, Laban Movement Analysis, Ideokinesis and rhythms and structures of music. Majors also complete a teaching practicum and a senior project in choreography and performance or dance research.
The majors in the B.F.A. program will focus on technique, performance and choreography. Courses will include Renaissance and Baroque dance, introduction of classical East Indian dance, musical theater dance, conditioning and injury prevention for dancers and music for dance.
"The plans are to add additional faculty, and to make part-time faculty full-time," Hilding said. "We will bring in more guest choreographers and teachers. We'd like to have a different one each semester."
Hilding said a Dance USA grant may bring Karole Armitage, a choreographer who grew up in Lawrence, back to town to teach master classes. Armitage has worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project and studied with Merce Cunningham.
"We've talked to the Paul Taylor dance company, too," he said.
Hilding said 40 students have applied to enter the dance program as freshmen this year.
"They can apply for the B.F.A. as freshmen and then they are admitted after the faculty looks at them and determines their suitability for the program," he said. "They have to earn the right to pursue the degree."