Friday, February 11, 2011

No More Dance Accompanists at Cornell

Some sad news out of Cornell University: the Dance faculty at the Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance will be reduced to three and all staff accompanists will be let go at the end of the semester, coming on the heels of a recent budget reduction of $1 million in the department. Max Buckholtz writes in the Cornell Sun of the loss that will be felt primarily by the students:
The dance accompanists are the software for the courses. They are flexible to change and respond instantly to whatever will provide the best supportive material and tempo for the dancers. They can also adapt to change if something is not working. We save the instructor time and attention from fooling around with an iPod, instead allowing them to continue to focus on the students.

When playing with other musicians at the yearly American College Dance Festival Association (ACDFA) conferences, I realized that Allen Fogelsanger is clearly the best accompanist I have ever played with. Cornell is losing a good man, both in skill, professionalism and heart. He was the face of the department and also served as the Director of Undergraduate Dance Studies. I will always remember him showing prospective new students and their families around the facilities, with a gleaming smile on his face and a strong sense of sincerity. We will all surely miss Allen’s compositions, electro-acoustical innovations and tireless work given for the yearly March Dance Concerts, as well as his contributions as a lecturer.
One supposes that the basic content of a dance class can still be taught without an accompanist in the room. However, the classes might run slower than usual (since the instructor is also the DJ) and the dancers' experience of rhythm will be a bit more canned, less collaborative. Dance pianists: is this assessment of a musician-less dance class correct? What is the impact of having no live musicians in the Cornell dance curriculum?


  1. Your assessment is correct. The experience will be less collaborative. When a live accompanist is in the room, a teacher is free to demonstrate any combination with accents wherever he/she deems appropriate. A skilled accompanist then chooses appropriate music to support the movement. When a teacher is using a CD, he/she ends up choreographing to the music that is available. Essentially, this approach is backward and does not necessarily provide the experience that the dancers or teachers require.

    Further, when dancers are used to hearing recorded music they listen less. They assume that this song will be exactly the same every time they hear it. These dancers will have difficulty making adjustments if they ever have an opportunity to work with a live orchestra- the human element of music will now be mostly unknown to them.

  2. Thanks Rhonda. I'm totally in awe of the work that dance accompanists do, and the importance that their work holds in the development of dancers.