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NMSU dance program may be in danger of being eliminated

The New Mexico State University dance program is facing a critical shortage in both student enrollment and faculty employment.

The program is housed within the Department of Kinesiology and Dance in the College of Education. The program currently has an enrollment of roughly 20 students and has two faculty members, Program Director Ray Backlund and Assistant Professor Ann Gavit.

NMSU dance students from the contemporary, sports, flamenco and sports companies pose for a group photo during a 2018 High School Dance Day event. (Photo courtesy of NMSU dance program)

Gavit said she will be retiring on July 1, 2021. “We’ve gone from four faculty three years ago down to one full-time faculty member starting in the fall,” Gavit said.

Gavit said she believes the program is in danger of being eliminated. “We have been told multiple times that small programs will be cut — that they will no longer be funded. I think that dance is being considered to be removed from the university,” Gavit said.

Gavit expressed concerns about the future of the department and for the contemporary dance division, in particular.

“The thing that worries me is that we have a cap of how many people have to be in our classes,” Gavit said. “I’m worried that the administration might not know what the difference is and will just [tell students] to finish their degree under Dance Sports, and that does not at all fit with what my dancers have been doing.”

Phillip Post, the interim associate dean for academics in the College of Education, explained the department will look at Gavit’s position once she retires this summer.

“Usually, when we have a retirement like this in the college what we do is we’ll pull whatever openings are in the departments to see what the needs are, the resources we have and we’ll allocate them accordingly,” Post said.

Post said the resources for programs in the department are determined by various aspects of enrollment and overall interest.

“For example, if you have a program with 400 students and the ratio is 1 to 60, and you have another program with a ratio of 1 to 20, those decisions start to become impacted by what are its needs. Clearly, if there’s a growing number of students in one program that requires more resources and help, they get those resources,” Post said.

Gavit said the atmosphere on campus has changed since she first started working at NMSU.

“I’ve been at NMSU for 21 years and let’s just say the morale of faculty from when I started to when I’m leaving is a lot different,” Gavit said. “I used to love working at NMSU, and I love the job that I do in teaching students. Now, with the campus politics and the change in focus from educating students to being a business, I disagree with it.”

NMSU junior Jenna Marcus is the president of the NMSU Dance Council, an unofficial group that is made up of different dance companies on campus including contemporary, flamenco, hip-hop and sports. She said with Gavit retiring, the program can suffer.

“I’m definitely really sad. [Gavit] has been here since I came in. It’s also stressful because without her being here it’s really going to be only one faculty member [Backlund] who’s going to take on all that work and that’s a lot for one person,” Marcus said.

Marcus said there have been attempts from the council to try to get more students interested in the program. However, due to the pandemic and worries about the program’s possible future termination, the council has been advised not to do that.

“We’re told by the dance faculty that maybe we should wait a little bit because we don’t want to tell these high school seniors to come to our program and then have it completely disappear when they get here,” Marcus said.

When asked about the possibility of the dance department shutting down, Post said it is unlikely to happen.

“There are no plans to shut down the dance program currently. Right now, I think we’re trying to assess what is the department’s strength, what’s their goal and what they want their mission to be. It’s not uncommon for several dance programs across the nation to have one director,” Post said.

Gavit said NMSU dance students have gone on to compete and teach dance in multiple places including New York City, Florida, Arizona and Wisconsin.

Marcus said she wants the program to continue in the future with more support from NMSU.

“I hope within the next year or two, the university notices that the dance program does have a lot of talented students and if we just have a little bit more support from them that it can really blossom into something amazing,” Marcus said.

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