Texas Tech University

Low Residency, High Quality: Introducing the New MA Dance Studies Program

Rachel Phillips

October 26, 2020

Students interested in pursuing graduate studies in dance can now add the Texas Tech School of Theatre and Dance to their application lists thanks to a unique new low-residency master's degree program. During their time in two-year Master of Arts in Dance Studies program, one of only three of its type in the nation, students spend just two five-week summer sessions on the Texas Tech campus; the rest of their coursework is completed online.

The program's structure allows students to continue working full-time while they complete their degree. Associate professor of dance, Dr. Ali Duffy, who co-developed the program, teaches courses in it, and serves as the students' graduate advisor, says she believes the program can serve students like herself; she pursued her doctorate degree in a low-residency program while also working as a professor.

duffy"If that option hadn't been available, I wouldn't have been able to pursue earning my degree," Dr. Duffy says of earning her PhD from a low-residency program. "So, I think we're serving a similar population of students. I also feel that because many jobs in the arts pay less than others in STEM fields, for instance, it's really important that once dance professionals secure a job, they're able to remain steadily employed in it."

With some of Texas Tech's classes moving online during the spring of 2020, the initial cohort of four students, who started in the program this past summer, saw the first of the program's in-person summer sessions shift to a virtual modality. While Dr. Duffy notes that it was disappointing to lose some of the limited in-person time with students, it also opened the door to opportunities such as bringing in a guest instructor to teach the program's anatomy course and allowing the dance graduate students to work with some of the theatre graduate students.

Despite this unexpected shift in the summer session's modality, Dr. Duffy is pleased with how the program is going. That does not mean, however, that this mostly online program doesn't bring about some of the challenges that come from working in a digital space. Dr. Duffy notes in particular the many additional chances for communication errors on online platforms due to missed gestures, bodily postures, technological issues, and more.

"There are all these opportunities that may present snafus in communication," she says. "So, it just requires a lot more work for faculty to ensure that what you intend to present in your content is actually what the students are receiving."

In Dr. Duffy's opinion, however, these challenges are manageable.

"I think with any perceived weaknesses of online programs, there are definitely ways to bypass those," she says.

To overcome the difficulties of fostering connections among students and professors in this mostly online setting, the faculty schedules additional online meetings that aren't focused on coursework. For example, before classes started this summer, the students and four of the dance faculty members met on Zoom to get to know one another and exchange contact information, and Dr. Duffy says the students seem to have connected already. As the graduate advisor, she also schedules regular individual meetings with the students to discuss topics such as their courses, research, and career trajectory.

According to Dr. Duffy, the training the students in this program receive is unique because of the comprehensive nature of the course content; students study qualitative research, advocacy, choreography, pedagogy, anatomy, somatics, history, and more throughout their time in the program.

"It ideally empowers students to pursue or deepen their investment in any area of dance after graduation," Dr. Duffy says.

With the development of this graduate degree, the dance program also helps further Texas Tech's overall mission as a Tier One research institution that values strong graduate education.

"Having a graduate degree associated with our dance program better aligns us with the mission and the values of the larger university including our institutional goal of creating a rigorous graduate experience," Dr. Duffy says. "It solidifies us as a Tier One research dance program."

Dr. Duffy says she hopes the school will be able to expand the program to accept students every year rather than every other year since potential students have already expressed interest in joining the next cohort and taking advantage of this low-residency opportunity for expansive and rigorous graduate education in dance.

Learn more about the MA Dance Studies Fall 2020 cohort.