Alabama State University made history during its 295th Commencement Exercises, as the first BFA in Dance degrees were presented.
The BFA in Dance degree program is unique in that it is the only one offered at a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).
“This marks the first time that a group of students at any HBCU has done this,” said Professor Michael Medcalf, who is the head of ASU’s BFA Dance Program and an assistant professor of dance. “ASU is one of only two dance programs in the state of Alabama to offer a BFA degree in dance and is the only HBCU that offers the degree. Only Howard University comes close by offering a BFA degree in Theatre Arts with a dance concentration.”
The program is part of the Theatre Arts Department within the College of Visual and Performing Arts (COVPA).
COVPA dean, Dr. Tommie Stewart, said several years ago, the dance program at ASU was in danger of “demise,” when two students, Tim Ware and Ruth Spencer, started the Dramatic Guild Eclectic Dance Company.
“At the time only a few dance classes were offered through Physical Education at ASU,” said Stewart.“When the dance professor retired, the hope for dance to continue was in a downward spiral. I approached the university’s vice president and presented the need of dance for Theatre students, as well as training for poise and grace for all students. The vice president appreciated my enthusiasm for dance and agreed to transfer the concentration to Theatre Arts. Dance Professor Brian Vernon joined our faculty and found a special competency in our dance students. He then penned the proposal for a BFA in dance. Once the Alabama Council of Higher Education approved the proposal, we learned that ASU made history by becoming the first BFA program in Dance for a Historically Black College.”
Stewart praised Medcalf and other dance faculty, James Atkinson and Kavin Grant, and department chairperson, Dr. Wendy Coleman, for their work in preparing the University’s inaugural BFA in Dance graduates.
“As dean and visionary for this program, I can only express pride and gratitude,” said Stewart. “I think that it is highly appropriate that this class is graduating during ASU’s sesquicentennial.”
Anthony Spivey is one of 13 graduates to receive ASU’s first BFA in Fine Arts degree.
“I am a firm believer in divine appointment; I have faith that this day was already done and meant to be,” said Spivey. “Over half of this nation is not able to say they are pioneers or innovators; but as the first class of any HBCU to receive this degree, we are able to claim this historical moment. This was a very tough journey, but more fulfilling than any experience I’ve had thus far in my lifetime. So, there are no better words to describe how I feel other than humble, honored, and above all, grateful.”
Spivey gives his professors and the degree program high marks.
“Our instructors (have) knowledge, experience, and networks on both sides of the spectrum, the concert realm, as well as the commercial world. I feel more than prepared to take on any genre of dance whether it be ballet, modern, jazz, hip-hop or African. And even if I have not trained yet in a certain style, ASU has still given me the confidence and foundation to learn and master them all. This is a phenomenal program for those looking to grow and prosper as strong, powerful artists,” Spivey added.
Medcalf said the program’s first graduating class has additional significance for COVPA and ASU in terms of being able to seek accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD).
“Once the process is complete and we have successfully achieved accreditation, ASU will be the only HBCU in the world to have a nationally accredited dance program that offers a professional degree in dance which is the BFA,” Medcalf added.
Medcalf said earning the BFA in Dance degree gives students a competitive edge when seeking jobs in the entertainment industry and allows them to pursue graduate-level studies. He also said that with additional certification, graduates can teach in private and public educational institutions.