Advising Dance Organizations

Recently, Nicolette Zuzanna Pawlowski completed a dissertation reviewing the experiences of students participating in three campus organizations focused on dance: hip-hop, ballroom, and salsa. Pawlowski’s findings may offer considerations for those advising dance organizations. 

  • Structures can perpetuate homogeneity of membership. The setting of Pawlowski’s study was a large, public, Midwestern, research university where more than 75% of the undergraduate student body is white. Registered student organizations are required to be composed of at least 75% students. Both the hip-hop and ballroom dancing organizations were primarily white spaces and led by veteran members. However, the salsa organization drew members from outside the university and allowed any student attendee to volunteer as administrators, making its population more diverse.  
  • Students often do not understand the cultural roots of the dance forms. For instance, salsa dancers said they perceived the dance form as cosmopolitan and helpful in their future globally oriented careers, but they did not realize the many forms of salsa dancing and the historical context of the version they performed. 
  • Negative body image is a concern. Positive wellness could be better stressed among dance organization participants to combat social norms about dancers’ bodies. For example, the ballroom dancers at times felt uncomfortable about the costumes they wore but performed in them anyway. 
  • Participants may not become professional dancers. In fact, while salsa dancers expected to continue to dance recreationally after college, hip-hop dancers associated their own dance form as youth-oriented “and thus inappropriate to continue after college,” Pawkowski wrote. 
  • Dance organizations may formalize cisgender, heterosexual traditions. For instance, many of the ballroom dancers in the study were cisgender couples who joined to further their romantic connection and women were expected to “follow” their dance partner. Similarly, the hip-hop group was majority women, and they commented that the chest-popping and butt-shaking choreography they performed was more sexual than the one male dancer’s more “masculine” and athletic stunts.   

Given the wide range of dance styles and unique populations on each college campus, Pawlowski’s conclusions might not be entirely transferable. However, discussion of these considerations with dance organization members can be a positive step in increasing students’ awareness of potential concerns and making their participation a growth experience. 

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