Mercyhurst dance program earns national accreditation

The National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD) has awarded accreditation to the dance program at Mercyhurst College. Dance Chair Tauna Hunter, who was on hand at the NASD annual conference Sept. 10-12 in St. Pete Beach, Fla., when the honor was announced, said it represents a “stamp of approval” for the program.

About 75 institutions are accredited by NASD, an organization founded in 1981 that establishes national standards for undergraduate and graduate degrees. Hunter described the accreditation process as the ultimate assessment for a program.

Schools begin by completing self-evaluations. Hunter and her staff spent about 18 months on the self-study, accumulating a two-inch-thick binder full of information. “The process of self study – and the improvements in curriculum, staff, faculty loads and facilities that resulted from it – netted us a higher quality, healthier and happier department,” she said. “I’m very pleased.” 

Following an on-site review by a team of evaluators, the national body voted to approve the Mercyhurst accreditation. “Next to giving birth it was the most painful process I’ve ever experienced and it lasted a lot longer, but it is gratifying and validating,” Hunter noted.
News of the accreditation arrived just as the dance department launched a yearlong celebration of its 35th anniversary. All three major performances this year will be anniversary-themed, beginning on Nov. 7-8 with “35 Years: A Celebration.” This fall concert will include a varied repertoire, highlighted by choreography set by a pair of noted guest artists.

Diego Salterini is in residence on the Mercyhurst campus through Sept. 27. An acclaimed dancer and choreographer who co-founded The Dance Now! Ensemble, he’s helping prepare the students to perform “Terra Mia,” a tribute to his parents set to Italian music. His visit was funded through a Mercyhurst College Diversity Grant.

Salterini will present an informal guest artist chat on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 8:15 p.m. in Zurn 114.
Bill Evans, a visiting professor/guest artist in the Department of Dance at the State University of New York College at Brockport, was in Erie Sept. 18-20 and will return Oct. 18-24 to stage his own work, “Hard Times,” a Depression-era piece set to bluegrass music. Evans will also perform a tap number with Mercyhurst faculty member Mark Santillano. This is his second visit to Mercyhurst.

The Mercyhurst Dancers will present “35 Years: Raw Edges,” showcasing cutting-edge works by emerging choreographers, on Feb. 6-7, and “35 Years: An Anniversary Gala” on May 1-2. Alumni of the dance program will be featured during all three concerts during the anniversary season.

In addition, Mercyhurst will host the Northeast Region American College Dance Festival Feb. 19-22. The festival will draw about 500 dancers from 30 colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While at Mercyhurst, they’ll take classes in a wide range of dance disciplines, as well as presenting works for adjudication. Those deemed best will go on to perform at the national festival at Kennedy Center.

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