Before the 2018-2019 academic school year, the fine arts at the University of St. Thomas comprised music, studio arts, voice, and drama. A main piece–dance–was missing, until Chair of Fine Arts and Drama Claire McDonald advocated to establish a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance degree at UST.
UST approved the degree plan for fall 2019. It includes specializations in contemporary dance, global and urban dance, and ballet. The University also approved a minor in dance.
In the past year alone, the program has grown from two students to 10, and added a new ballet professor, Benjamin Delony.
UST’s first dance professor Jennifer Mabus says the program “can represent the University in a way that breaks barriers — speaking to the deepest human emotions and longings and excitement and joys.”
Mabus said having small class sizes allows her to connect with students and help each one find his or her voice as a performer, choreographer, dance maker, teacher, or leader in the arts.
Sophomore Emily Shimmel was UST’s first declared dance major.
Shimmel began dancing at 5 years old and has stuck with it ever since. By the age of 14, she was teaching children ages 3 to 8 with a semi-professional company. She said she already has certifications to teach ballet, jazz, hip-hop, tap, acrobatics, and contemporary dance.
In addition to being a dance major, Shimmel is an education major, work-study student and serves as the captain of the UST Cheer Squad.
Mabus said Shimmel has helped her to build UST’s dance program, going to recruitment events and guiding students who lack experience.
Shimmel said that with such a hectic schedule, she feels relief being able to step into her dance classes where there’s so much positivity in the studio.
Shimmel also said she hopes to teach a high school drill team and open her own dance studio one day to help create an environment for students to become better people through art.
Mabus said the program is about “building a home for dance.” That idea includes “what it means to have a home within your own body, a spiritual home, physical home, familial home, our home in the world,” she said.