Lang’s ‘Best-Kept Secret’ Takes Center Stage
In dance major Sophie Bromberg’s freshman year at Eugene Lang college, the studio she and her fellow dancers were rehearsing in was robbed. The group was so engrossed in running their piece that they didn’t even notice. Bromberg can recall many equally enjoyable moments in her career as a dancer at Lang: Practicing classical ballet combinations to the pop songs of Lady Gaga and Beyonce. Finding encouragement as modern dance instructor Joao Carvalho shouts the familiar refrain, “easy, breezy, beautiful, Covergirl” during difficult exercises. These are the moments that make her proud to be a part of this program.
Lang’s dance department is a far cry from the conservatory model employed by traditional dance schools. This program uses more progressive methods. “This program uniquely engages each student in their individuality and artistic voice,” said senior dance major Jillene Johnson. “You won’t see any cookie cut-out senior dancers here. I can guarantee that.”
Lang’s s dance department integration of both dance training and academics is vastly different from a traditional dance conservatory. “One problem with trying to go to a conservatory is that it’s incredibly hard to get in,” said Bromberg. “But apart from that, I really value a liberal arts education. The goal is to create dancers who are educated about their art form. This is the heart of why Lang’s dance program is special. We have dance classes in a studio and academic classes in which we study dance in relation to philosophy and history.”
Lang’s dance program uses an interdisciplinary framework. “We’re articulating an emphasis on research and experimentation that values varied modes of discourse,” said dance department chair Neil Greenberg. “I hope I facilitate students to be able to engage in a discourse regarding dance, the arts, and the world, a discourse that is verbal, textual and — importantly — corporeal.”
Despite the program’s recent establishment, it has a rich academic history. In the 1930s, prolific New York Times dance critic John Martin organized a series of lectures at the school, inviting trailblazing, legendary figures like Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman and Hanya Holm — a few of the most important dancers and choreographers of the 20th century — to speak and teach at The New School.
However, Carvalho believes the department is a victim of circumstance. “The program is going through lots of changes, away from technique and towards experimental, pedestrian and somatics,” he said. “Campus physical conditions make the program hard to integrate into the school [and] we teach in different places off-campus, which makes it hard to get a sense of the dance community.”
Freshman dance photographer Greg Weintraub considers the program to be The New School’s best-kept secret. He lamented the fact that 11 freshmen entered the program this semester. “I think it’s a shame that it isn’t a bigger program, or more well known in the Lang community,” he said. “Granted, it’s a small school, but that’s still a ridiculously small group.”
Those involved in the program remain optimistic. “Yes, it is only a few years old, but I think the work that is coming out of our dance program is extremely eye-catching,” said Johnson. “It won’t be a secret for too much longer.”
Greenberg echoed Johnson’s sentiment. “I truly believe we’re developing a program and approach to dance pedagogy that’s truly unique in the field and doesn’t duplicate other programs in the U.S. I see signs that we are poised to receive much greater exposure, both locally and nationally. For those students for whom the ethos of the department is attractive — students who want rigorous and adventurous practice and performance opportunities coupled with a rigorous liberal arts education — we are poised to become a destination program.”
The dance program puts on a main stage concert in December at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue.