From Chassé to Sashay: A swing through Stanford’s dance minor

When Vivian Shay ’24 M.S. ’25 took her first dance class at Stanford, she did not know how important the program would become to her academic journey. “I’m a better scientist because I also study dance,” said Shay, an Earth Systems student and peer advisor for the TAPS minor with a concentration in dance. 

“I see connections between the two subjects that I would not have realized otherwise, and believe that diversity in our academic experience is really valuable when it comes to the real world,” Shay said.  

With an array of 65 different technique, academic and exploratory courses, the TAPS dance minor has something for everyone who is curious about movement. While Stanford’s Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) program does not offer a dance major, it does provide undergraduates a lively minor with a concentration in dance consisting of 30 units of flexible course work. Students can choose from three foci within the minor: dance studies, performance and technique. 

Shay highlighted the playful nature of the courses, and says that the department is a “fun outlet to be creative at a university where we’re so often stressed and in our heads.”

One of her favorite classes is the experimental course DANCE 123: Choreography: Hot Mess & Deliberate Failure as Practice, taught by Alex Ketley. The class explores “bad dancing” as a way to embrace fear and practice being lost. Shay said that it is important for prospective dance students to “trust that it’s okay to be a beginner because you will be welcomed and helped by the faculty,” who she said are encouraging to students with all levels of abilities. 

David Fox ’26, another Peer Advisor for the TAPS dance minor, said that he appreciates how the dance department is “extremely communicative” with their students. “They take feedback very seriously and take actual change towards what students want,” Fox said.

In response to requests for more student-choreographed work, for instance, the TAPS department recently completed their inaugural Young Choreographers Festival on April 19, where students had the opportunity to showcase original pieces. 

There was also recently an expansion of the popular DANCE 46: Social Dance, a course where students are introduced to the waltz, tango, swing, salsa and other dance forms. According to Fox ’26, alumni of the class often continue dancing with each other at campus events including open mic nights and pop up social gatherings. 

In addition to offering courses, the TAPS program prioritizes hosting professional guest artists, fostering community by connecting students to the greater Bay Area. The department recently hosted the Bay Area Dance Exchange – featuring workshops, networking events and a student choreography showcase – on April 6. According to their website, the event is “designed to support and nurture the next generation of choreographers” through a consortium of 13 university and college dance programs. 

The current director of the dance minor program, Aleta Hayes, said that the “dancers transform themselves throughout the process” of participating in dance courses. According to Fox, this is partially due to the collaborative nature of the classes.

“Aleta Hayes has a unique and special way of creating her dances which I’ve never experienced before,” Fox said. “Every piece was collaborative and had intense student involvement. It felt as though I was both a dancer and choreographer.” 

The minor is made up of a combination of theory-based and practicum classes, which Shay said helped her appreciate dance as an intellectual field.

“The built in theory courses really improve my experience of the practicum classes because I’m trained to look at movement as something that carries meaning,” Shay said.

According to Fox, one of the most rewarding aspects of the dance minor is its welcoming community. He said that, compared to other dance communities, the department is “incredibly inclusive while also pushing everyone’s boundaries, whether you have years of experience or are just starting.” 

When asked what he was most excited about with the program, Fox said that he looks forward to getting students who are really committed to Stanford’s dance clubs to be more open to taking classes.

“I love seeing how many new faces dance classes bring into the studios,” Shay said. “I think everyone should be a dance minor!”