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The M.F.A. in Dance

The Master of Fine Arts in Choreography and Performance is designed to focus on the art of expressive choreography and meaningful performance. The degree program is much more than a schedule of classes and a thesis. It is an opportunity to secure two years for concentration on choreographic study and development. Much of the exploration happens in the formal classroom, but resources abound in the talents, energies and minds of peers, the Five College dance faculty and the academic and creative communities in the Pioneer Valley.

Dance at Smith

Program Highlights

  • Two-year coed program. 
  • Accepted students are awarded a teaching fellowship (tuition waiver and competitive stipend).  
  • Specialization in choreography, creative process, performance, improvisation, pedagogy and theory. 
  • Additional courses on dance film, dance science, music in choreography and contemporary aesthetics.
  • Elective courses in the arts, humanities and social sciences from the rich liberal-arts curriculum of Smith College and the Five Colleges.

The Master of Fine Arts in Choreography and Performance is designed to focus on the art of expressive choreography and meaningful performance. It is the belief of the department that thoughtful choreography and engaging movement are vital parts of our society and culture. Dance should contribute to an understanding of the issues that face our diverse population.

The M.F.A. is offered through the Smith College Department of Dance and the core theory courses are taught on Smith's campus. The dance program at Smith, however, is part of the Five College Dance Department and most Five College dance faculty members participate in the teaching and advising of graduate students. The M.F.A. in Dance is a two-year residence program; we do not accept transfer credit.

The master's program is designed for students who prefer to work in an intimate environment with a small group of peers in order to maximize the growth and development of their interests and potential. Unique to the Smith M.F.A. program is that all students are teaching fellows: all M.F.A. students teach the equivalent of three studio courses per year. Thus we are interested in students that have some teaching experience or skill. 

As teaching fellows, M.F.A. students receive full tuition waivers and are paid a monthly stipend during their two years in the program.

It is strongly recommended that all dancers come to Smith for an audition in order to see the college and facilities and to meet the faculty. Dancers who request a teaching fellowship must audition at Smith and meet the faculty.

Apply to the Program

Five College Dance  combines the programs of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The faculty operates as a consortium, coordinating curricula, performances and services.

The department, formed for the mutual benefit of all member institutions, supports a variety of philosophical approaches to dance and provides students an opportunity to experience a wide spectrum of performance styles and techniques. The faculty operates as one department, unifying its educational mission to include a well-balanced curriculum emphasizing a broad integration of technical, creative, historical and analytical aspects of dance; a wide variety of philosophical approaches to teaching; diverse course offerings enabling students to experience numerous performance styles, techniques and theoretical perspectives; and shared resources that provide a rich artistic and scholarly environment.

The collaborative structure of the department provides a large and diverse community of colleagues with whom to share pedagogic as well as artistic perspectives. Students may take a dance course on any of the five campuses and receive credit at their home institution, and course offerings are coordinated among the campuses to facilitate registration, interchange and student travel. Five College Dance is a nationally recognized model for excellence in dance in higher education.


The mission of the MFA program is to foster the study of choreography and performance from a critical perspective that holds dance as a mode of research, means of expression, tool for interpretation of the human experience and practice of engagement with the world.

The program promotes the acquisition of choreographic tools, performance techniques, creative process methods, dance production skills and teaching methods informed by theories about dance, the body, aesthetics, design, creativity and pedagogy. The curriculum positions choreography and performance as forms of critical inquiry.

The program nurtures pluralist aesthetics by supporting students in the exploration of their own artistic interests and the development of an original voice in choreography. It prompts students to articulate their artistic identity as much in their choreographic production as in the analysis and self-assessment of their work in speech and writing.

It offers technique training in modern and postmodern dance, improvisation and contemporary ballet. Moreover, it comprises specialists in choreographic methods, creative process research, design thinking, music/sound for dance, dancefilm and digital technology, theatrical production, kinesiology and somatic science, dance pedagogy, dance history, cultural studies, writing and qualitative research methods.

Composition, Creative Process and Dance Production. With choreography as its focus, students take four courses that foster the acquisition of thorough skills in creative process. Additionally, in their first year students give two public presentations of their choreography (the fall and spring grad events). In their second year, they work from summer to spring in the creation of an ambitious thesis project, leading to the presentation of the choreography in our state-of-the-art Theatre 14, with production support of professional level for lights, multimedia, sound, costumes, publicity and recording.

Performance. Live performance is at the heart of the MFA in dance and all graduate students in dance are expected to present mastery as performance artists. As performers, graduate students are cast in the choreography of faculty from Smith and the Five Colleges, having the opportunity to collaborate with their professors in the development of new work. The production of new choreography is a research-based, collaborative endeavor in which faculty and students work as creative partners.

Dance Pedagogy. Graduate students teach three technique courses per year, while receiving instruction in dance pedagogy in two required courses: Scientific Principles in the Teaching of Dance and The Pedagogy of Dance Technique. This combination of hands-on experience, coursework and mentoring is highly desirable in an master's program, as the MFA is a terminable degree in dance and many students pursue it with the goal of leading careers in academia.

Research and Theory. The program's emphasis is on dance research, theory and writing. Two required courses bolster this element of the curriculum: History and Literature of Dance: Research Methods and Landmarks and New Trends in Contemporary Dance. Additionally, two of the thesis’ components, Second Year Summer Research and Second Year Thesis: Production and Analysis, foreground research and writing through the completion of two in-depth papers that, combined, amount to 60 pages.

Prerequisite Undergraduate Courses

The following courses must be completed before the master’s degree is granted:

  • 1 course in human anatomy, kinesiology, somatics or scientific foundations of dance.
  • 1 course in theatrical design, lighting, stage, costume, or dance production or acceptable documented equivalent experience. This prerequisite may be satisfied at Smith by the student completing two crew assignments (in addition to the first-year stage management requirement).
  • 1 course in dance history (comprehensive survey).
  • 1 course in the following fields: history, anthropology, cultural studies, research methods, criticism, or aesthetics of dance, theater, music or performance.
  • 2 courses in choreography or equivalent experience.

Students must be at an advanced level in one form of dance technique.

Required Graduate Courses

4 first-year technique courses (intermediate to advanced), 2 each semester / 8 credits

4 second-year technique courses (intermediate to advanced), 2 each semester / 8 credits 
A student may request to replace one technique class with an undergraduate theory class in a field that is vital to her creative or scholarly interests. One such substitution is allowed each year. A request for this substitution must be made the semester before the class is offered (or the first two weeks of a first year’s first semester). The request should be emailed to the graduate adviser, copying in the full-time faculty. This course may not be used to fulfill a prerequisite requirement. 

Students may also substitute a 2-credit repertory course for one of the technique courses as long as they are also enrolled in two technique courses. Interterm repertory projects count toward this substitution only if the workload is equivalent to 40 contact hours or more.

Students must take at least one technique course per year from a Smith dance faculty member and they may take one (but not more than one) technique class per semester from a fellow MFA student.

Students are required to travel at least once to another FCDD campus for a technique class during their first year and are encouraged to travel both semesters if possible.

DAN 505 First Year Performance / 2 credits
First-year students must perform in at least one dance that is choreographed by a Five College faculty member or Master of Fine Arts student. 

DAN 507 Production and Management / 2 credits
First-year students must complete a major production and management project assigned by the faculty (usually stage managing a dance concert). 

DAN 515 Creative Process and Choreography I / 3 credits
First-year students accrue independent study credit for their grad event choreography through this course in the semester when their grad event piece is not produced in a choreography course (DAN 521 or DAN 553).

DAN 500 Graduate Seminar: Topics in Dance Theory / 3 credits each

  • Seminar in Music and Sound
  • Contemporary Trends in Dance
  • The Pedagogy of Dance Technique
  • Dance, Video and the Camera

DAN 521 Choreography as a Creative Process / 5 credits

DAN 553 Choreography by Design / 5 credits

DAN 540 History and Literature of Dance: Research Methods / 4 credits

DAN 560 Scientific Principles in the Teaching of Dance / 4 credits

DAN 570 Second Year Summer Research / 2 credits

DAN 590 Second Year Thesis: Process and Design / 4 credits

DAN 591 Second Year Thesis: Production and Analysis / 4 credits

A concert presentation of dances is required for the degree. There should be approximately but no more than 20 minutes of choreography, with accompanying light and costume designs. Two papers in support of the thesis are also required. The degree candidate will be responsible for the organization of all production aspects of the performance.


At the end of both semesters of the first year, each student will meet with the Smith dance faculty to discuss course work, choreography, technique, and preliminary plans for the MFA presentation. Faculty concerns dealing with artistic or academic progress will be discussed at this time. Students are notified if they have successfully completed all of the first year graduate requirements.

The application deadline for September 2024 admission is January 3, 2024, for all applicants (both U.S. and international).

Audition Schedule: Friday, February 9, 2024

8:30 a.m.: Scott Dance Studio available for warm up (located in the Scott Gymnasium complex behind the Mendenhall Center for Performing Arts, 122 Green Street, Northampton)

Ballet, contemporary and improvisation class
9:00 – 10:30 a.m. 

Candidates' Choreographic Showings
 (The audition should be at least 3 minutes and no longer than 5 minutes.)
10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. 

Information session in the Green Room
Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts. Lunch provided.
12:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. 

Panel interviews; brief tour of the performing arts facilities
Crew House Studio, Josten Library, theaters, Berenson Studios
2:30 – 6:00 p.m.  

Candidates are free to explore downtown Northampton
6:00 p.m.

Candidates are invited to attend the MFA Dance Concert in Theatre 14
Mendenhall Center for the Performing Arts Email for 2 tickets.
7:30 p.m. 

Please contact Angie Hauser, Director of the MFA in Dance, when you submit your application to the Smith College Office of Graduate Study.

Dance in Performance

Opportunities are plentiful for students—whether majors, non-majors or graduate students—to perform or present their own choreography, either through concerts at Smith or performance opportunities at the other four colleges.

Performance Calendar


Chris Aiken


Professor of Dance & Chair of the Department of Dance

Chris Aiken

Angie Hauser


Professor of Dance & Director of the MFA Program in Dance

Angie Hauser

Teaching Fellows & Lecturers


Susan Kay Waltner
Professor Emerita of Dance (2011)

Yvonne Daniel
Professor Emerita of Dance and Afro-American Studies (2004)

Additional Department Members

Balinda Craig-Quijada
Research Associate

Martha Potyrala
Administrative Assistant

Five College Dance Production

Matthew Adelson
Five College Dance Production Manager

Carlie Nieman
Five College Dance Assistant Production Manager

Hayden Gadd
Five College Dance Technical Director

Smith College Dance Production

Shelley Latham
Publicity Manager

Nikki Beck
Publicity and Production Assistant

Emily Justice Dunn
Dance Costume Designer

Tilly Adams
Assistant Costume Shop Director

Amy Putnam
Technical Director

Cel Humphries
Assistant Technical Director

David Wiggall
Lighting and Sound Supervisor

In the Studio

Alumni Spotlight

For more than 40 years, the remarkable dance artists pursuing an MFA have enhanced the creative energy of Smith and the Five College Dance Department. Smith alumni have gone on in the dance world to perform and choreograph on national and regional levels. Some have established their own dance companies, and many have become artist-educators in secondary schools and colleges and universities all over the world.

“At Smith, I gained a thoughtful approach to dance—taking nothing for granted. Always addressing the intent and meaning behind movement has made me a better artist and teacher. I learned to work with integrity and with an openness to new ideas and concepts about dance.”
-Tom Vacanti ’04

Tom Vacanti

“More than anything, the Smith MFA program gave me a community of other artists to closely engage with and to be challenged and inspired by. I built lifelong relationships with the other students and faculty that are at the foundation of my current creative life.”
-Vanessa Anspaugh ’08

Vanessa Anspaugh

“My time at Smith in the MFA program was a crucial time of transition—from my previous training as a scientist to becoming a choreographer. The program gave me the time, space, peers, teachers and resources to explore my artistic voice, and it challenged how I engaged with the world around me.”
-Joyce Lim ’97

Joyce Lim

Contact Department of Dance

47 Belmont Avenue

Smith College

Northampton, MA 01063