Mentorship and Advisement

MFA in Dance: Embodied Interdisciplinary Praxis  
Duke Dance Program Mentoring – Statement of Expectations


Information on Graduate Advising from Trinity College of Arts & Sciences is viewable here.

A student’s relationship with their advisors is central to their success throughout their academic career. The mentorship process is a two-way process that requires active participation by faculty and students alike. The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) remains the regular faculty member answerable to all graduate students at any point in their admission, matriculation, and progression to degree. Mentorship in the Duke Dance Program begins with prospective student outreach in any form (email, phone, in-person visit) to the Duke Dance Program and/or Graduate Program Director or DGS Assistant.
When a letter of interest arrives to the DGS from a potential student, an important first step of mentoring is having a conversation with the prospective candidate. This enables a series of early mentorship activities:

  • The student and DGS have a direct conversation student about the prospective applicant’s research interests and promise in relationship to the program’s interdisciplinary emphasis 
  • The DGS discusses the tailored character of the MFA/EIP and offers examples of how current and past graduates collaborate across the campus, both formally and informally
  • The student learns about Program expectations related to academic skilling, practical motivation, creative process, and production
  • The student learns about faculty or affiliated faculty research areas that align with their interests 
  • The DGS discusses the different relevant centers, institutes, and labs that might support proposed research actions
  • The DGS discusses Duke institutional resources including funding, Duke facilities, the library system, available certificates, and professional development resources.
  • The DGS fields questions on the MFA curriculum, timeline-to-degree, committee formation, and thesis design and enactment required to obtain the MFA credential
Mentorship Upon Matriculation

As soon as a prospective student accepts an offer to join the incoming MFA cohort in the Dance/EIP Program, the Director and DGS Assistant open communication in advance of the formal “orientation” period established by the University. Such communication largely happens remotely (over email, phone, or ZOOM), but is tailored to address students’ questions about joining the Duke campus community in the late summer/pre-semester months.

Mentorship related to Graduate Assistantships

Academic mentoring that supports Graduate Teaching, Research, Production, Marketing, or Administrative Assistantships is handled by the assigned faculty or staff supervisor at the time of any such employment contract. To enable ease of transition to Duke and to Durham, first year graduate students generally do not receive Teaching Apprenticeship appointments. The MFA Handbook outlines in detail the duties involved in teach of the above assistantships, which fluctuate based on the Dance Program curricular, production, and faculty research demands.

Mentoring into the future

Both during a student’s time as a Graduate in Dance and after leaving Duke, Dance Program faculty continue to provide mentorship associated with each student’s long-term artistic and career plan. Support can include letters of recommendation for job applications, residency applications, and other professional opportunities where past experience with the student-artist is valued. MFA Alumni receive invitations to join Dance Program events, including summer dance research incubators, alongside our community partners at the American Dance Festival, where they can meet a wide range of professionals in the dance field.

MFA  Inaugural Class (2021) Brochure

Duke Dance Program Orientation for Graduate students generally occurs on the Thursday of Duke Graduate Orientation week (the week before the start of fall semester).  Prior to their arrival in Durham, all incoming and returning students receive a welcome letter describing the orientation activities, as well as a copy of the Dance Program Graduate Handbook, which outlines policies, formal processes, contact information, and resources. One-on-one meetings (virtual or face-to-face) with the Director of Graduate Studies supplement this information, and additional check-in meetings are scheduled throughout the academic year. The most up-to-date handbook is available on the MFA Sakai Resource Site, to which all enrolled graduate students and core faculty in Dance are granted access.

Note on informal faculty advisement at MFA orientation: Unless it is determined by students and faculty that a provisional faculty ally will stay involved as either a primary or secondary MFA committee member, faculty and students will not continue with regular convenings outside of coursework.  Every incoming student is required to identify a main advisor and select a chair of their graduate committee at the beginning of the spring semester of their first year in residence. The Director of Graduate Studies and student-selected primary advisors will discuss relevant classes to take in subsequent semesters throughout the student’s full arc of graduate study.  

The role of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Committee Members as Advisors

Each student should meet with potential advisors early in the first year and then consult with their primary advisor regularly throughout their career at Duke and beyond. 

Each student’s academic advisor is the faculty member with whom they interact most closely at Duke.  Students consult them for academic and non-academic concerns, including coursework, non-dance research fields, research and creative process strategies, and writing strategies.

In addition to their primary advisor, MFA students can consult with the members of their MFA advisory committee. This committee consists of the primary advisor, one core faculty member in Dance, and an outside faculty member whose field of study aligns with the student’s research. With the approval of the primary faculty advisor, Director of Graduate Studies, and Duke Graduate School, students may also have non-Duke faculty members serve on their advisory committees.

Students are also encouraged to reach out to any faculty members, whether or not they enroll in class or independent study with them. All Duke Dance Program core faculty work with graduate students as a key aspect of their job.

At the end of each semester, professors who have worked with MFA students in a course, independent study or Teaching or Graduate Research Assistant produce an evaluation that is sent to the student and shared with the DGS. In addition to this formal documentation, all students should receive substantial, constructive oral and written feedback on their work throughout the semester.

New MFA/Dance EIP students should enroll in a course or an Independent Study with the regular-rank Dance faculty member whose research and practice best align with the student’s research during the first semester (potentially being named as chair of their committee in the spring). If a student is able to take a relevant class taught by this faculty member, they are advised to schedule extra meetings to discuss their research trajectory and progress apart from course expectations. MFA students can take up to 2 full credits in Dance independent study (891) over the 2 years that they spend in the program. These independent courses are designed to aid in the selection of other committee members.

 When a DANCE891 Independent Study enrollment is requested and implemented, the following mentoring takes place:

  • Initially, the Independent Study is outlined by the student in consultation with the professor, and permission to enroll under core faculty supervision is obtained to enable the student to receive credit.
  • Expectations are discussed, and a work plan crafted, in collaboration with the professor.
  • The student meets with the professor every other week for between one and two hours.
  • Initial reading lists, viewing lists, archival or field resource list, or practical explorations are discussed and committed in writing by the professor and the student.
  • Relevant classes in and outside of dance and the arts that relate to the student’s interests are discussed, as are relevant collaborators in Durham and the Triangle. The potential of seeking out leading international off-campus researchers as mentors is also discussed.
  • Relevant field collaborators whose interests or approach intersect with students’ work are discussed, and potential future mentors identified

The independent study culminates in a series of practical, visual, written, or hybrid works generated by the student that generally support their proposal for MFA research action.

Attendance at gatherings outside of dance and the arts is highly encouraged to build up an interdisciplinary roster of mentors and a cohort of students from other departments and research areas . Graduate arts research includes Art, Art, History & Visual Studies (which houses Master of Arts degrees in Digital Art History and Computational Media, PhD degrees in Computational Media, Arts and Cultures and Art History & Visual Culture as well as an MFA in Experimental & Documentary Arts), and Music (PhD in Music Composition, Musicology, and Ethnomusicology). Students are encouraged to connect and potentially collaborate with research labs affiliated with the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute. In addition professors from the Program in Literature, Theatre Studies, Philosophy, Cultural Anthropology and Area Studies Programs and Departments including, in particular, the Department of African/African American Studies and the Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies Program) have served as advisors on MFA thesis projects in the past.

Duke Libraries host events and exhibits that dovetail with arts research. Duke Engage is one of several units that provides graduate support to enable outreach into the Durham and Triangle community. Arts and culture allies that produce campus programming with an emphasis on community and non-academic publics also include The Nasher Museum of Art, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Duke Campus Farm,  Center for Documentary Studies,

Duke Arts is the umbrella entity that supports student exhibitions, screenings and musical performances; dance events, theatre events, lectures by artists, arts advocates, and arts curators; invited lecturers by arts professionals are often also tied to the Franklin Humanities Institute and invited lecturers in Literature. Art-historical lectures are also held frequently. Although Duke Arts has a vast array of undergraduate arts resources and opportunities on its website, support for graduate arts research is also on the rise, and such avenues should be a topic of ongoing discussion with the DGS in the Duke Dance Program.

• Students are occasionally selected by the Director, DGS, or Core Dance Faculty to serve as a graduate research, production, or teaching assistant. Such opportunities are contingent on Program resources, identifiable need, student skill set, and in the case of research assistantships, external funding.

• Students are encouraged to pursue assistantships open to Duke Graduate students at research labs via the Franklin Humanities Institute and programs at the Kenan Institute of Ethics, where interdisciplinary research is ongoing.

• Students are encouraged to join focused reading groups in allied areas of study and/or to work across disciplines to pursue Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) funding through Duke Interdisciplinary Studies to forge intellectual communities and collaboration with graduate students from different disciplines (such proposals require a lead faculty sponsor).

* Students are also regularly made aware by the DGS and core faculty members of opportunities to attend and apply to present work at conferences, symposia and institutes beyond the Duke campus. Faculty frequently steer students toward dance research networks allied with their own professional connections and notify graduate cohorts of upcoming opportunities for funding and residency programs and venues to present their work.