BACKSTAGE: “A New College Program Trains Dancers to Work in Popular Entertainment”

According to Rhonda Miller, when she approached Pace with the idea of starting a commercial dance program, the administration was extremely excited because her concept dovetailed with the university’s mission to provide students with the kind of education that helps them to make a living.

Until recently, Oklahoma City University offered the only college dance program focusing on American vernacular dance forms, preparing students for work in the commercial dance industry—theme parks, cruise ships, Las Vegas shows, Broadway musicals, films, music videos, rock concert tours, and television. Now, OCU has company. In September, Pace University, in Lower Manhattan, kicked off a new degree program: a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts with a specialized track in commercial dance.
 
The program is the brainchild of the university’s director of dance, Rhonda Miller, founder and former co-owner of the Edge, one of Los Angeles’ leading commercial dance megastudios. Miller earned a BFA in ballet from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in musical theater from OCU, where she also served on the faculty.
 
“I was inspired years ago by Jo Rowan at Oklahoma City University, and now I want to bring a very current, up-to-the-minute, inclusive approach to the study of dance in college,” Miller explains in an article in BACKSTAGE. “In my 20 years of choreographing and teaching at dance conventions all over the country, I noticed that so many young dancers are exposed to the world of commercial dance growing up, and they aspire to dance behind pop stars, or perform on Broadway and in Vegas. Most universities, however, have only begun to even consider adding jazz and hip-hop and contemporary styles to their curriculum, much less the kinds of courses that would help students transition from their dance studio training into the commercial dance industry.”
 
According to Miller, when she approached Pace with the idea of starting a commercial dance program, the administration was extremely excited because her concept dovetailed with the university’s mission to provide students with the kind of education that helps them to make a living. “Originally, Pace was a business school,” Miller says. “And in our program, the students will be given a lot of commercial dance industry inside tips. They will be given information that is current, and they will know how to navigate themselves into the commercial industry when they graduate. They will be given exposure to and will be integrated into the professional dance scenes in both New York and Los Angeles through our faculty members, all of whom are working professionals.”
 
The program’s roster of regular faculty members represents the diversity of styles demanded of commercial dancers today and includes Radio City Music Hall Rockette Lauren Gaul; Broadway veteran Melissa Rae Mahon, who has danced in “The Producers” and “Cats” and is currently appearing in “Chicago” popular New York City Dance Alliance tap teacher Mike Schulster; aerialist Joshua Dean; hip-hop choreographer Alisa Paradowski; musical theater choreographer Jen Littlefield; and ballet textbook author Janice Barringer. In addition, though the university is in New York, Miller has wide-ranging connections in the professional dance community in L.A. and has arranged for many West Coast instructors to come and work as guest artists.
 
The program’s curriculum includes course work in acting, voice and movement, the technical aspects of theater (including lighting, sound, and acoustics), and the history of dance and American musical theater, in addition to classes in a variety of dance techniques and styles.
 
“The dance classes will include traditional training as well as exposure to all the fresh movements you see on television these days and behind all of the singing stars. Also, the business of dance will be very well covered,” Miller says. “What I say to dancers is, if you’re looking for career longevity, this is the program for you. It will give you the knowledge you need to transition through different phases of your career—from performance to choreography to, say, casting assistant or director. It provides a broad view of the industry that will give you a basis from which to build a long and sustained career in the commercial entertainment world.” In addition to a seminar course in which they will explore all aspects of the dance business, students will be encouraged to take advantage of Pace’s numerous business classes.
 
Miller sums up the program’s goal as “providing an understanding of the dance performing world as well as the business of entertainment.” The university’s performing arts department, under which this program falls, recently appointed a new chair. “His approach is industry-based—not just acting, not just singing, not just dancing,” says Miller with enthusiasm. “He wants our students to understand the whole industry, and that’s particularly important for dancers, whose performing careers are so short. That expanded knowledge base is what will give them career longevity.”
 
The program prepares dancers to work not just onstage but in all entertainment mediums, and while it is currently performance-oriented, in the future Miller plans to add training for commercial choreographers. In addition, the program’s students have permission to work professionally off-campus, pursue internships, and gain as much real-world experience as possible.
 
In selecting dancers for the program, which currently has 24 students, Miller is looking for performers who have had a minimum of five years of dance training in ballet or jazz. “They must be intermediate-level dancers, not beginners,” she says. “At the audition, they will be asked to do ballet, jazz, and possibly tap or hip-hop.” Dancers interested in applying to the program can find information about auditions (which will begin in January) at www.pace.edu.

DanceTeacher: “Keeping Pace with the Commercial World”

According to International Choreographer Rhonda Miller, who is spearheading Dyson’s new BA in Theater/Commercial Dance, “Being in New York City is a very important factor of our program — EVERY teacher on the faculty is currently working in the business.”

Starting this fall, Pace University is offering a program that caters exclusively to commercial dancers, providing specialized training for dance careers on the stage or silver screen, reports the September issue of DanceTeacher.  The BA in Theater/Commercial Dance program is the first of its kind in the nation, says Rhonda Miller, founder of L.A. dance studio The Edge, who is spearheading the audition-only program. “Pace is known for being a business school, so this blends right in with its philosophy,” she says.  Miller has been a full-time dance lecturer at Pace since 2008 and has been working with the university to create this degree for the past year. “The program teaches students how to make a living for themselves and how to develop themselves as a product,” she adds.

Classes include ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop and dance history, focusing on keeping students both diverse and current. “Being in New York City is a very important factor of our program—every teacher on the faculty is currently working in the business,” says Miller, who will teach jazz, choreography, theater dance and tap. Other faculty include Mike Schulster (tap), Janice Barringer (ballet), Lauren Gaul (contemporary and jazz) and Joshua Dean (modern dance and ballet). 

Why should commercial dancers choose to pursue a college degree? “The key word is longevity,” says Miller. “The best way to sustain a career in dance for your whole life is to educate yourself.” 

Click here to learn more about performing arts at Pace.

BroadwayWorld: “Pace University Announces COMMERCIAL DANCE Program; Applications Accepted Now”

One of the most sought-after choreographers and dance lecturers from coast to coast, Rhonda Miller (pictured), has been tapped to spearhead Pace University’s new Commercial Dance program, the first of its kind in the country.

Pace’s new Commercial Dance program – featured prominently in a two-page article on BroadwayWorld.com  – will provide specialized training for dance careers in stage, television, and commercials in a wide range of styles and forms including ballet, jazz, tap, and hip hop, to name a few. 

For further information on How to Apply and Audition, visit www.pace.edu/performingarts or call 212-346-1352.

NEWS RELEASE: “Pace Announces Nation’s New University-Based COMMERCIAL DANCE Program; Applications Being Accepted for Fall 2011”

“In talking with young dancers around the U.S., I became aware that the one thing that was missing from university dance programs was training in commercially-viable dance styles that would bridge the gap between classical training and the real world of commercial dance,” said International Choreographer Rhonda Miller. “I became excited at the possibility of creating such a program right here in one of the entertainment capitals of the world, New York City. How exciting for all dancers who attend Pace! I truly look forward to the continual growth in excitement for dance at Pace University.”

Pace Media Relations Contact: Samuella Becker, sbecker2@pace.edu, 212-346-1637 or 917-734-5172

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pace University Offers COMMERCIAL DANCE Program, Spearheaded by World-Renowned Choreographer Rhonda Miller

NEW YORK, NY, June 21, 2011 — One of the most sought-after choreographers and dance lecturers from coast to coast, Rhonda Miller, has been tapped to spearhead Pace University’s new Commercial Dance program.

The program provides specialized training for dance careers in stage, television, and commercials in a wide range of styles and forms including ballet, jazz, tap, and hip hop, to name a few. The program will also include two required dance history courses. It was developed in response to both student and industry demand and will be offered starting Fall 2011. 

“As far as we know it is the only state-approved, university-based commercial dance training program in the country, which means that we are training students for all media, not just the stage,” said Grant Kretchik, Director of the university’s BFA Acting program. 

“It really complements our programs in musical theater, acting, technical theater and directing,” said Nira Herrmann, Dean of Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, which houses the Performing Arts Department at Pace. “Additionally it represents our continued growth and innovation in developing arts programs in Downtown New York.” 

Professor Miller has been teaching dance classes at Pace University for three years as a lecturer and created the successful showcase, “Dance Out Loud!” which just wrapped its second year. 

“I love working with her. She is unarguably a great addition to this department and program. What is amazing about her is that she is tough; she demands a lot from her students – and they respond to her. She really inspires them not just to have great technical form but also to believe in themselves as dancers. She just wants to constantly raise the bar and they respond. … The dance program is hot right now,” said Kretchik. 

Miller became a full-time dance lecturer at Pace University in 2008. 

“In talking with young dancers around the U.S., I became aware that the one thing that was missing from university dance programs was training in commercially-viable dance styles that would bridge the gap between classical training and the real world of commercial dance,” said Miller. “I became excited at the possibility of creating such a program right here in one of the entertainment capitals of the world, New York City. How exciting for all dancers who attend Pace! I truly look forward to the continual growth in excitement for dance at Pace University.” 

For information on how to Apply and Audition for Pace’s new Commercial Dance program, visit www.pace.edu/performingarts  or call 212-346-1352.

About Rhonda Miller

Rhonda Miller was a founder and co-owner of L.A.’s premiere dance studio, The Edge, and was the leader of its convention business, L.A. DanceForce, for many years. She has been one of the most sought-after choreographer/dance instructors in the U.S. dance convention industry, teaching for New York City Dance Alliance, Tremaine, Dance Masters of America, Dance Makers and individual studios around the U.S. and Canada. 

Miller holds a BFA from the University of Utah and an MPA from Oklahoma City University. She has been a guest lecture/master teacher and choreographer for Dean College, Cornish College, Bellevue College and Oklahoma City University. Her professional choreography credits cover all aspects of dance on Broadway, Television and Film.  After relocating to New York, Rhonda’s work caught the eye of Broadway director-choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who included her on his team for the renowned Broadway Bares. Stage credits are Nothing Like A Dame at the Marquis Theater in New York City, ABC Daytime Salutes at Town Hall; All Shook Up, CHICAGO, City of Angels, RENT, A Christmas Carol and The Wild Party. Off Broadway credits include Have a Nice Life, Austentatious, Gemini, The Musical and Common Grounds for which she won a NYMF Outstanding Choreography Award. Television credits include General Hospital, The Boys for HBO; It’s Garry Shandling’s Show for HBO. Rhonda’s work has also been seen in commercials and industrials for such Fortune 500 companies as Chrysler, Toys R Us, Warner Brothers, Exxon-Mobil Apple Computers. Recently she was stage director for NICKELODEON UPFRONTS, and worked with CATHERINE ZETA JONES on the AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE Awards. She is also in development for a new Broadway Dance Project, Eve’s Turn. 

About Performing Arts at Pace University

Pace University’s Dyson College of Arts and Sciences offers Bachelor of Fine Arts Degrees in Acting and Musical Theater and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theater Arts with specialized focuses in Acting, Commercial Dance, Directing or Design/Technical Theater.  For more information, visit www.pace.edu/dyson/performingarts 

At the graduate level, Dyson College is also home to The Actors Studio Drama School offering the only MFA theater program officially sanctioned by The Actors Studio. The entire faculty is chosen and approved – and the curriculum is designed and supervised – jointly by the leadership of The Actors Studio through its Curriculum Advisory Committee, including the Presidents of The Actors Studio, Ellen Burstyn, Harvey Keitel and Al Pacino and Dyson College. All students — actors, directors, playwrights – train side-by-side as actors.  All students participate in the Craft Seminars known to the world as the Bravo Network television series, “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted by James Lipton.  For further information about the program, go to www.pace.edu/actorsstudiomfa 

About Pace University

For 105 years, Pace University has produced thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems.

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