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University of Houston Launches New Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance

First cohort of B.F.A. dance graduates showcase diversity of the field.

Decked out in caps and gowns, Joel Aguilera, Heather Rodriguez and Bethany Garcia will be the first University of Houston students to cross the stage at graduation with a B.F.A. in dance.

The UH School of Theatre & Dance was thrilled to announce the B.F.A. in the fall of 2018, elevating the University’s dance program by offering a degree designed to emphasize the creative act of choreography, supported by rigorous dance technique training and academic study in production, pedagogy, arts business and more. Students have the chance to network with renowned professional artists, intern in the local professional dance community and gain hands-on experience producing shows.

“The launch of our B.F.A. in dance this year brings a new, relevant and exciting curriculum that targets students interested in pursuing a dance career in choreography, performance and arts leadership,” says Karen Stokes, director of the UH dance program. “The new degree places UH at the forefront of innovative arts and dance curriculum regionally and nationally. Our two degree programs — both the B.F.A. and B.A. — provide an encompassing undergraduate dance program that matches the diversity and entrepreneurial spirit of the great city of Houston.”

Dance students already enrolled in the B.A. degree program like Aguilera, Rodriguez and Garcia had the chance to switch gears and pursue the B.F.A. Changing degree plans meant adding additional classes to their course load during their senior year, but it was worth it.

For Aguilera, an aspiring dance teacher who will be performing a solo during the graduation ceremony, the decision was a no-brainer. “I really had to pack on a lot of classes this semester, but I wanted to make sure I got the B.F.A.,” he says. “Luckily it worked out!”

Aguilera’s experience at UH helped him further develop the tools to teach dance. Though he has always gravitated toward teaching, the program helped him fine-tune his skills and prepared him to pursue his two long-term goals: serving as an assistant director for a Houston-area high school dance program and returning to school to earn an M.F.A. in dance.

Both of these goals allow him to return to his roots — his own high school program ignited his passion for dance that he carries with him today — and find a way to pay it forward.

“I want to focus on bringing more males to dance, because it was really great for me and all my friends that I danced with. We’re all still dancing today,” he says.

His classmate Heather Rodriguez has always dreamed of being a professional dancer — a dream that’s quickly becoming a reality.

“I am very thankful for the platform the program has given me and all the outside choreographers that they’ve brought in,” she says, reflecting on her UH experience.

After graduation, she will be joining one of those choreographer’s contemporary dance company, Randall Flinn’s Ad Deum 2. Flinn was on campus this spring setting a new work for the Ensemble Dance Works production, but Rodriguez’s connection actually stretches back to her hometown of Corpus Christi.

“It came full circle,” she says. “I’ve known Randall since I was 10, and it’s just crazy how it all worked out.”

Garcia, who came to the UH dance program with an associate’s degree in dance, says the University allowed her to hone her choreography skills and develop a “toolbox” to use movement to communicate in new, dynamic and evocative ways.

“I am so inspired to start making work not just for the stage, but for other locations that I didn’t consider before — like outdoors, in public,” she says.

The program also taught her how to apply for grants, promote events, write press releases and run productions from behind the scenes. “I knew nothing about these things coming into the program, and I was just so excited to learn. My professors gave me that knowledge and I feel very confident now,” she adds.

Armed with that confidence, she is diving headfirst into a summer filled with exciting projects. In June, she will perform during Resilient Sounds, a one-of-a-kind project celebrating Houston’s refugee communities hosted by the Houston Symphony, Interfaith Ministries, UH and Rice University; she’s in the process of earning her Pilates certification; and, she and a friend are planning to launch a pick-up dance company where local dancers would be invited to participate in one-off or short-run performances.

Is she concerned about juggling so many projects all at once?

No, because she has a support system in place.

“I know I could go to any of my UH professors and ask them for help if I need it, and that’s so great,” she says. “They’re still my mentors and I know they will be there to support their alumni.”

The Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts Spring 2019 Commencement ceremony takes place Wednesday, May 8 at the Fertitta Center, followed by a reception in the Lyndall Finley Wortham Theatre lobby.