Wagner College introduces Dance Education major

This Fall, Wagner College will begin offering a new major in Dance Education, building on the strength of its nationally renowned Wagner College Theatre program, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“The new major will cultivate dance artists of the highest caliber, who will be multidimensional in their scope of dance studies and pedagogy, who will work toward building a diverse and inclusive dance community,” says the description of the new major in the Wagner College Catalog. “The Dance Program at Wagner College works to foster excellence in dance and the best values of the citizen-artist.”

For many years, dance instruction has been a major part of Wagner College’s theater performance major. The department already offers a dance minor.

“Currently, there are over 300 students enrolled in dance classes at Wagner College,” said Rusty Curcio, head of dance for the Wagner College Theatre program and guiding light for the new Dance Education major.

Several WCT graduates have been dance captains for some well-known Broadway shows, including Renee Marino at “Pretty Woman,” Katie O’Toole at “Jersey Boys,” Olivia Puckett at “Dear Evan Hansen,” according to Wagner College Theatre head Felicia Ruff.

“Alums Monette McKay and Bret Shuford have also been in multiple Broadway shows featured as dancers in the ensemble,” Ruff said. “I would add that their various levels of success demonstrate the excellence of dance and dance training at Wagner.

“While Dance Education will develop a broader set of skills, these are still people who expect to meet other high-caliber dancers and dance instructors. So even if they don’t plan to proceed into the more rarified world of professional dance — and some do — they will find a warm-hearted community of people for whom dance is a life-long passion.”

Ruff said that several Wagner College Theatre graduates have already entered the field of Dance Education, including: 2007 graduate Jessica Margolis VanHerwynen, who pursued her masters in dance education from NYU and now teaches dance at the Gateway School in midtown Manhattan; 2011 graduate Danielle Materese Peyton, owner of her own studio in Cliffside Park, N.J.; and 2013 alumna Kara Krichman, director of the performing arts program at Monmouth Regional High School.

With a Dance Education major, Wagner College will be able to better prepare more students even more effectively for careers in this developing field.

“There’s a push for professionalizing training for K-12 dance teachers,” Curcio said. “There’s so much going on, developmentally, during that period of life.”

Curcio, who first joined the WCT faculty in 1997, has dedicated much of the past decade to developing his own professional skills as a dance educator.

“I’ve been a member of the National Dance Education Organization for 10 years,” Curcio said. “It focuses on professional development, and it’s pursuing a program for accrediting dance educators.

“Another support organization, the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association, provides a lot of high-level training — over 800 hours of training, and a lot of one-on-one work. It took me 10 years to earn ISMETA certification.”

Three brand-new courses in dance pedagogy — primary, intermediate and advanced — will be offered as part of the new Dance Education major, beginning this fall. Besides those three courses, Wagner College has had all of the courses for the new major on its roster for some time, so it was well prepared for the push to offer this new degree.

“We do need a little additional space for the Dance Education program,” Curcio added, “but we’ve found it. We’ve entered into an agreement with St. John’s–Staten Island, whose campus is less than a mile from ours, to use their black-box theater space in exchange for allowing some of their students to enroll in Wagner classes.”

The space at St. John’s will supplement the multiple dance studios already in use at Wagner College in Main Hall and the Spiro Sports Center.

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