- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 8, 2003

One-two, one-two, step and turn to a new degree.

Students at Fairmont State Community and Technical College in Fairmont, W.Va., can waltz their way through school this fall toward a new, unorthodox graduation certificate: ballroom dancing.

The school will offer a two-year degree — the first of its kind nationwide — and become only the second U.S. college to offer ballroom-dancing lessons as an academic program.

“It goes beyond just lessons and looks into the culture, art, music and emotion of ballroom dancing,” said Michael Fulda, the program’s administrator and a political science professor at Fairmont State. “A lot of colleges offer ballroom dancing, but not in an academic field.”

The program, which teaches not only the right moves but the history and etiquette behind them, requires 11 classes for a total of 20 credit hours — a two-year, $2,300 commitment for West Virginia residents pursuing the degree. Nonresidents will pay about $5,500.

“A number” of students already have requested more information about the ballroom-dancing option, said Rich McCormick, the assistant provost of the school that offers more than 40 majors from administrative assistants to food-service management.

“There’s a need for these people out in the work force,” he said. “They’re needed to teach, to be … judges in competition. … There are a number of possible careers.”

Ballroom dancing at the college began three years ago as a student organization with 20 to 30 members who met weekly to learn the steps from Mr. Fulda and dance videotapes. The school’s physical education department then started offering classes for credit.

Mr. Fulda, deciding to pitch the activity to the college as a certificate program, began searching for schools that offered such degrees.

“To my amazement, I found that nobody did it,” he said. One possible exception, Brigham Young University in Utah, offers a bachelor’s degree in dance with a ballroom concentration, but no free-standing diploma.

So Mr. Fulda secured a deal with the London-based Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, a 100-year-old fine arts organization with 10,000 members worldwide, to test and certify Fairmont Community College students as professional dance instructors. The idea passed through various curriculum boards and Fairmont’s faculty assembly — “our baptism by fire, so to speak” — and was approved last spring, Mr. Fulda said.

The result is a program Mr. Fulda hopes will revive “classic civility,” in dance, which he says died when baby boomers switched to rock ‘n’ roll and pop tunes.

“There’s quite a long way to go, but it certainly has resurged,” said Mr. Fulda, a self-proclaimed refugee from an age when couples tangoed and waltzed their way through the weekend. “I’d say it has all the ingredients to come back.”

But first, Mr. Fulda may need to find some more men. Women outnumber men roughly 4-to-1 in the courses currently offered, although last year several male rugby players signed on to improve their balance and grace, he said.

The courses, which four-year students at the college can take as electives, are broken into three groups. Beginners learn the basics in classes such as “Ballroom Dancing Culture and Behavior”; performance courses prepare students for amateur medal tests; and competition and instruction courses teach ballroom-dancing-team management, especially at the high school level.

In “Ballroom Dancing Stagecraft,” for instance, students learn about proper facial expression, body language, makeup and hair in a given dance style. “Ballroom Dancing Competitive Experience” makes students participate in regional competitions in an effort to raise their skills.

Students typically enjoy faster dances like the cha-cha, and dances such as the jive in class, making practice sessions “very energetic, to put it mildly,” Mr. Fulda said. Occasionally, they want slow numbers like the fox trot or rumba.

Mr. Fulda himself prefers the Argentine tango from the country where he was raised, a slow number that relies heavily on body language and is “downright erotic, if you ask me.”

Adding a certificate option to the current ballroom-dancing program will benefit students as “something new” that could increase cultural awareness, said Tracy Carpenter, a Fairmont State graduate who headed the ballroom-dancing organization when it first formed.

“It’s a good activity because it’s something different,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think of it as a sport, and really it is.”

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