Dance majors balance lab hours, performances


Laura Testino

Choosing a major can be a daunting task, especially when one’s interests may lie in a variety of subjects. Instead of these varying interests translating to an undecided major, some students make the choice to pursue both, no matter how related – or not – they may seem.

The ability to pursue degrees in both dance and biology originally enticed Whitney Thompson and Tiffany Heimbach to attend the University. For Thompson, a junior majoring in dance and biology, the choice to double major was clear, but finding a university with performance schedules that didn’t overlap with science lab times was difficult.

“Even though I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, I knew that I wanted to be a biology major because I loved science. I also knew that I was nowhere near ready to give up dance,” Thompson said.

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Undertaking an involved high school schedule prepared Thompson for the time management aspects required to double major. Gregory Starr, an associate professor and Thompson’s biology advisor, said a smooth scheduling process depends on the student’s involvement. He said often some of the most organized students are the ones who have the most to balance.

Starr also said he believes Thompson’s combination of dance and biology majors offers learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom experiences.

“It also teaches you, I think, to be regimented in certain processes,” Starr said. “You’re practicing for a show and you’re working within a group, and you have to know exactly what you do. By developing those unique skill sets, even though they may be different from the biological sciences, that ability to follow instruction and to perform can aid you across both fields, biology to the arts or the arts to biology.”

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Sarah Barry, an associate professor of dance, worked with Thompson and her class schedule throughout the rehearsal process of ARDT last year. Thompson was unable to attend all of the rehearsals, but because Barry’s piece was double cast, she was able to catch up on missed choreography at other points during the week.

Barry said she believes the curriculum at the University allows students to delve into other academics and improve their marketability as a dancer or a professional in another field while still enjoying multiple performance opportunities.

“The program at UA is kind of a unique BA because we are very much more like a conservatory program, like a BFA, than many other BA programs in the country. In fact, most BFA programs don’t even do as many dance concerts as we do,” Barry said. “So even though the students maybe wouldn’t have the same number of credit hours as a BFA program, the experience is very comparable because of the amount of technique classes that can be taken and the amount of performing opportunities that are available.”

Heimbach has been able to perform in Dance Alabama! every semester, and was able to perform in ARDT the past two semesters. Like Thompson, pursuing both dance and biology was never a question for Heimbach.

“I get to do both things that I enjoy. The reason I picked biology is because it’s something that I actually enjoying doing and I enjoy learning about. And so the fact that I get to take classes that are both so different, it really helps,” Heimbach said. “And it’s kind of weird, but you’d be surprised about much they intertwine with each other – dance-wise and biology-wise – because they both are dealing with the human body for the most part.”

Although scheduling for both majors takes time, Heimbach said she believes every second is completely worth it. Becoming accustomed to the rehearsal processes during her first semester has allowed her to understand how to make a schedule that works well for her while pursuing two subject areas that she loves.

“I’ve been able to schedule my classes at appropriate times so that I’m not so overwhelmed,” Heimbach said. “I tend to push them toward the morning so that I have the rest of the day to finish homework rather than having to worry about it that night when I’ll have rehearsals.”