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Dance major debuts at NMSU

Helen Myers, NMSU dance program coordinator, foreground, leads a modern dance technique class in a studio with a specially designed "sprung" dance floor. Christopher Ramirez, left, and Leslie Johnson, right are among the hundreds of NMSU students who enroll in dance clases each year and now can major in dance.


(NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan)



New Mexico State University has added dance to its major areas of study.

Beginning this semester, students can pursue a bachelor of arts degree in dance through the College of Education's Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The existing dance minor will continue to be offered as well.

"We train students from absolute beginners to advanced dancers," said Helen Myers, dance program coordinator. "That sets NMSU apart from some other programs. Our program is also about training creative thinkers. We're training their bodies, but we also have courses that train their minds."

Many students aspire to become professional dancers, teachers or dance studio owners, Myers said.

Herbie Crosby, an NMSU student from New York, said he is excited about the dance major. "There are a lot of opportunities at this university because the program is new."

Krystal Hamilton of Las Cruces said she chose to combine a major in dance with a minor in business. "I want to have my own dance studio," she said.

About 750 students take dance classes each year at NMSU, not counting aerobics classes. NMSU aims to increase that number to 1,000, Myers said, with 25 students minoring in dance and 16 majors graduating each year. The dance major meets the National Association of Dance Schools standards.

NMSU offers a wide range of dance classes: ballet, modern, jazz, tap, multicultural, ballet folklorico, western, Latin social and swing. Students who major in dance also study improvisation, performance and production, notation/movement analysis and dance history. They also take classes in acting, music and anatomy.

Myers joined NMSU in 1996. She teaches, choreographs and performs as a free-lance artist. This school year, a second full-time dance instructor, Ruben Ornelas, was hired. Five other faculty members teach dance part time.

"A lot of people start dancing at the university, especially men," Ornelas said. "I trained as a kid in ballet but I learned one thing. At the university I learned about aesthetics, about art."

To prepare for the dance major, a "sprung" dance floor was installed in a studio in the James B. Delamater Activity Center. The specially constructed floor flexes in response to dancers' movements, reducing wear and tear on their bodies, Myers said.

The dance program enriches the Las Cruces community through performances and other events, Myers said. For example, 25 NMSU dancers will perform in the "Fresh Tracks" dance and percussion ensemble concert March 12 and 13. Myers and Fred Bugbee, the percussion instructor in the NMSU music department, are the show's artistic directors. Performances are set for 8 p.m. in NMSU's Music Center Recital Hall. Tickets, at $4 for students, seniors and children, and $5 general admission, are available at the Pan American Center ticket office at (505) 646-1420, or at the door.

A Summer Dance Institute for children ages 7-18 will be offered June 14-15, taught by NMSU dance faculty and community dance professionals. Children's scholarships are available through a grant from the McCune Charitable Foundation, Myers said. Scholarship applications must be submitted to the physical education, recreation and dance department by April 30.

More information on the children's institute or NMSU's dance program can be obtained through the department at (505) 646-2215.

Rita A. Popp