Program Spotlight

Raising the barre: Teaching dance at OSU

Dance has been Leslie J. Miller’s passion from a very young age.

“I got really serious about dance when I was about 7 years old,” she said. Originally from south central Pennsylvania, she began her training at the Hanover School of Ballet and has had opportunities to perform throughout Europe, China and several venues in the U.S.

Before joining the faculty at OSU, Miller lived in Manhattan as the Education Programs and Dance China NY Manager; an adjunct instructor of dance at Nassau Community College; and a dance teacher throughout the Tri-State area.

“I saw the job offer here at Oklahoma State University as the director for their new dance program, and I was immediately intrigued,” Miller remembered. “So I came down here to check out the proposed program and tour the campus.”

Needless to say, moving from Manhattan, New York, to Stillwater, Oklahoma, represented a slight change for Miller.

“Some people could be turned off by the transition from big city to small town,” the Pennsylvania native said, “but I was looking for a change from the Manhattan life. The chance to be the director of a brand-new dance program appealed to me. So I decided to make the change and I took a chance.”

MillerNow, two years later, the first dance minors from OSU are preparing to graduate at the end of the spring semester.

“I have loved this job,” Miller said, smiling broadly. “It was an opportunity to be a part of a new program: to figure things out, to shape and sculpt the program the way I wanted.”

But being the first dance faculty at the Department of Theatre brought its own challenges.

“It was just me doing all the classes, and I can only do so much,” Miller said.

Miller has hired a new dance adjunct instructor, Cylene Walker-Willis, who is teaching Dance Composition this semester.

“Another challenge of a brand-new program is recruitment,” Miller said, “and making people aware that OSU offers a dance minor.”

However, Miller says that the best part of the program has been the people with which she works every day.

“I am a big fan of the environment here at OSU,” she said. “It’s really nice to be a part of a larger department. I feel like I can go to my colleagues and ask them for advice, direction, whatever I need, and there’s always somebody there.”

On top of her extraordinary colleagues, Miller also loves the students who come through the door of her dance studio, located in the Colvin Recreation Center.

“We have varying degrees of experience, often in the same class. For many (dance minors), it’s an opportunity to satisfy their passion for something that they have been doing most of their lives,” she explained. “For others, dance is a great form of expression to balance out the rest of their academic lives.”

The minor in dance is a 16-hour program with nine required credits earned in theory and technique courses and seven credits which can be taken as electives from any course with the prefix DANC.

“The workload is certainly manageable,” Miller explained. “It’s something that, for many of my students, keeps them sane from the rest of their studies. The studio is their ‘feel-better place’ on campus.”

The dance minor offers fundamental grounding in the theory and history of dance as well as various dance techniques. This program is designed to serve students who have a background in dance and desire to continue, or students who wish to expand and express their creativity.

“I give each and every one of my students the same advice,” Miller said. “Do not be afraid to make mistakes, on and off the dance floor. Failures are only opportunities to learn which way to move forward. You have to let go of the barre in order to test your balance.”