The Sociology of Dance

The challenge was simple.

Perform a graceful leap, a Grand Jete, over a glass of water without knocking it over.

For Furman students learning classical ballet movements for the first time, performing in front of professional dancers may have seemed a bit daunting.

But, not a drop was spilled.

Twelve Furman students donned workout clothes for a ballet class with dancers from the Carolina Ballet Theatre as part of Professor Ken Kolb’s, Ph.D., May Experience course Sociology of Dance.

The three-week course, offered for the second time at Furman, examines class struggles, gender roles, body image issues, history of dance, and the role of dance in popular culture. Students not only received instruction in classical ballet but also modern dance and creative movement with Jan Woodward at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville.

“I hope the course will cultivate students’ interests in sociology,” said Dr. Kolb. “I hope they will be able to see that sociological analysis can be applied to anything.”

For some students, the course was an introduction to sociological concepts. For others, it provided a new perspective on dance and a new respect for the athleticism and grace of professional dancers.

After practicing her first ballet movements at the barre, “it made me wish that I could dance,” said Meg Kennedy ’17 of Kenilworth, Ill. “I really wanted to get all the steps right.”

As students practiced pointing their painted blue toenails or gliding across the floor in athletic socks, Kelsey Crum, the theatre’s coordinator of outreach and community engagement, and principal dancers Sam Chester and Adair Keller provided practical advice on proper techniques.

“Is this just the warm-up?” asked Stefan McManus ’15, who grew up around dance with his mother, a dance teacher.

McManus, a health sciences major from Great Falls, S.C., loved the Sociology 101 course he took in the spring and signed up for Kolb’s May X course to learn more about why people act and think the way they do.

“Dancing is also a great way to exercise,” said McManus, who plans to enroll in a respiratory therapy program after graduation.

While McManus was worried their dance skills may have been a disappointment to their teachers, Crum said that simply wasn’t the case.

“I was truly impressed with the students’ interest in dance and more specifically, the lives of Carolina Ballet Theatre’s professional ballet dancers. The students asked questions that were quite relevant to artistry and showed a respect of classical dancers,” said Crum.

“An experience like this gives Furman students an opportunity to be involved in something unique, classical ballet,” said Crum. “It provides students with a sense of passion, awareness, and exposure for something outside of their everyday lives.”

Greg Conn ’15, a health sciences major from Charlotte, N.C., said the course and its opportunities held immediate appeal for him.

“I feel like I have a better understanding of how dance affected our culture in the past and how it affects us today,” said Conn, who plans a career in physical or occupational therapy. “I have always enjoyed dancing, even though I am not the best at it, and I’m excited to teach others what I’ve learned.”

Check out the May X Gallery for more photos from this and other May Experience classes.