Aug. 10, 2022 — When she begins her senior year in the Fall, Performing Arts student Madison “Maddy” Hitchcock will be among the very first Dance Studies majors at CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI). Hitchcock declared her major in Dance Studies in late Spring, as soon as she learned the Performing Arts program was offering the new major beginning in Fall 2022.  

“I’m really, really excited about it,” Hitchcock said. “This is what I always wanted to study. I think so many dancers would benefit from being a part of this program because it isn’t specific to any age, body type or experience level.” 

Previously, the University offered a Performing Arts major with a Dance emphasis, but this is the first Dance Studies major ever offered at CSUCI. And it won’t be your typical college Dance Studies major, according to Associate Professor of Performing Arts Heather Castillo, who has been a champion for the program along with Performing Arts/Dance Lecturers MiRi Park and Bonnie Lavin-Hughes. 

“The degree is a global look at dance and how dance has always been a way to communicate and pass down our culture from generation to generation with the stories in our bodies,” Castillo said. 

The CSUCI Dance Studies major will be comprehensive as it will provide dancers with the athletic training and technique necessary for dance performance, but will also provide a broader look at how dance is integral to the human experience.  

“Our new Dance Studies degree is a humanities degree instead of a traditional (dance) conservatory-style degree,” Castillo said. “If you want to take your body to the level of an athlete-artist, we will do that, but we will also foster a broad range of goals such as dance educator, therapist, social worker, talent agent and more.”

Whereas the majority of university dance programs are built on a model from the early to mid-20th century, the CSUCI Dance Studies degree has a 21st century approach. Initially the program will center on dance forms like jazz, hip hop, contemporary dance and technology considering the cultural, social, and economic forces that have shaped dance.  

“The dances we want to honor in our program all have developed in North America,” Castillo said. “For example, we have jazz because of the African people forced to migrate here. When you look at migration, forced migration along with the oppression of first nations people through the lens of dance, it creates an empathetic connection to our history.”

The program is also open to everyone of all abilities. It doesn’t matter if you are self-taught on YouTube, had your dances passed on to you from your grandparents, or have training from a school or studio. “To dance is to be human, we all do it. We created a program to study all aspects of dance as a function of history, social structures, and heritage,” said Castillo. 

That’s exactly why Hitchcock—who can execute a flawless grande jeté—is so excited about it.  

“I grew up in the competition dance world,” she said. “We all had to look relatively the same. When you grow up in a studio like that, you tend to grow up with tunnel vision. This program at CSUCI has totally expanded what I can do with dance.” 

Park has danced or taught or choreographed in all kinds of settings from a Broadway show to dance schools to expensive private dance studios, but her heart is in hip hop, which has no barriers to entry for anybody who wants to dance.  

“I have a background as a b-girl and a hip hop dancer,” Park said. “I learned for free in the park in Brooklyn. It’s just as vigorous as any other dance style, and it has shifted my perspective from ‘you got to pay to play’ to ‘if you want to get in it, you gotta get down’.” 

Newbury Park High School dance teacher and dance team head coach Cameo Carolan is elated about the CSUCI dance major because many of her most talented students do not come from wealth, so pursuing dance in college was out of reach until now.  

“I have had kids who are not going to college because they can’t afford it unless they stay local,” Carolan said. “Some of my really, really talented kids who want to go to college as a dance major have to consider far off schools like Chapman University. Channel Islands with its new dance major opens up so many opportunities for those kids who can’t afford to travel for a school. I’m getting tingles just talking about it!” 

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