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Critical Dance Studies

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Are you passionate about contemporary dance and wish to further explore its theoretical discourses? Does the history of dance pique your interest? Do you understand your own dance practice as a way of thinking and experimenting? Would you like to develop your research skills to work as a dramaturg and curator in the field of dance? Then the Master of Critical Dance Studies is the right program for you. 

Critical Dance Studies at Freie Universität Berlin is an internationally respected program that brings together students from around the globe to study dance within one of the art form’s most important urban centers. The course deals with the history, aesthetics and theory of dance and also explores the methodological potential of corporeality and ephemerality. At heart, the master's degree program is a scholarly approach to dance. This means you will work with academic texts, develop approaches to writing about dance, as well as methods of movement and performance analysis. This theoretical focus is brought into exchange with accompanying practical modules. On the one hand, these modules deal with body techniques and artistic research, and on the other hand, they introduce working methods, curatorial questions, and dramaturgical approaches.

To what extent is theatrical dance conditioned by historical and political preconditions? Does it test these only on stage, or does it practice and reveal other social forms of living and moving together? How does dance produce meaning through choreography and movement? What historical discourses and contemporary theories are negotiated in dance, how does dance contribute to their further development? And how do these theories inform, for example, feminist, queer, and decolonizing practices in dramaturgy and curating? These and other questions are what we address in the program.

Based in the division of Critical Dance Studies of the Institute of Theater Studies at Freie Universität Berlin, the Master's program opens up present transdisciplinary perspectives on dance and choreography to students.

The course focuses on concert dance, and critically rethinks, historicizes, and theorizes its formulation as an art form in the so-called West. Reflecting the extraordinarily international dance community of Berlin itself, the focus of the program is broad and encourages study and research of, for example, contemporary and historical global popular dance, Black and Indigenous dance practices, Queer dance communities, the dances of diaspora, and body-based performance experimentalism worldwide. 

Students benefit from the interdisciplinary framework of the institute, which is home not only to dance studies but also to theater, film, and music studies, as well as the master's program in cultural and media management. The Valeska Gert Visiting Professorship further enables collaboration with contemporary choreographers. Teaching takes place in cooperation with national and international dance institutions. Berlin's diverse and varied dance scene offers an unparalleled cultural environment.

The master's program in dance studies builds on a bachelor's degree, e.g. in theater studies or in another subject. The standard period of study is four semesters. Students complete the program of study with a master's thesis.

All information on the Master's program in Dance Studies (M.A.) can be found in the study and examination guidelines (Studien- und Prüfungsordnung, in German language).


Why Study in Berlin?

With a range of venues including Staatsballett Berlin, Sophiensæle, Volksbühne, HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Dock 11 and Uferstudios, Berlin offers an unparalleled environment for Critical Dance Studies. The city’s vibrant dance scene attracts artists from all over the world and recent productions of both its local and international contributors are discussed in seminars. Collaborations with national and international institutions, such as the Inter-University Center for Dance Berlin, the Staatsballett Berlin, and the Centre national de danse contemporaine in Angers, France, enrich Freie Universität Berlin’s course of study. The Valeska Gert Guest Professorship, filled each semester by a leading figure of the international dance scene, assures a stimulating exchange between theory and practice.

Participants of the master’s degree program in Critical Dance Studies are made up of an international and highly motivated community of dance thinkers with a range of academic, artistic, and curatorial backgrounds. Students benefit from a transdisciplinary exchange with the other programs at the Institute of Theater Studies, including Theater, Music, and Film Studies, as well as Culture and Media Management. Students also have access to local dance archives at the Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), the Media Library for Dance and Theatre of the International Theatre Institute (ITI), and the Tanzforum Berlin. The Institute of Theater Studies at Freie Universität Berlin offers further guest invitations and events. The DanceLab, a movement space in the attic of the Institute of Theater Studies, enables practical research formats. 

Students at the Institute of Theater Studies have access to the extensive dance and theater collections in our library, and to our media department, as well as to the Campus Library (Campusbibliothek) and Philological Library (Philologische Bibliothek, known as "The Berlin Brain"), offering students comprehensive resources for pursuing their study and research aims. The Staatsbibliothek, one of the largest libraries in Europe, and the Kunstbibliothek, one of the largest museum libraries worldwide, are free to access for those living in Berlin and provide unparalleled access to not only secondary literature, but primary sources dating back to the medieval.

Areas of Research

In keeping with the division of Critical Dance Studies’ theoretical, historiographic, and transdisciplinary orientation, research interests of its faculty cover a broad scope of topics. Ranging from the early modern period to the contemporary, research focuses on ballet and its 19th-century discourses, gestural thought in dance modernism, the discursive and material movements of Indigenous dance cultures, postcolonial practices and postmodern dance, intermedial fields of research (architecture, film, literature), reenactment, somatics, dance dramaturgy, curation, Black, queer and decolonial studies, and the environmental humanities.

Critical Dance Studies is integrated into diverse research contexts at Freie Universität Berlin, including the Collaborative Research Center 1512 "Intervening Arts," the Research Training Group 2638 "Normativity - Critique - Change," and the Cluster of Excellence "Temporal Communities." Researchers maintain close connections with dance scholars both within and outside Europe, resulting in international guest invitations, workshops, seminars, and conferences. Research is incorporated into lectures and seminars to familiarize students with cutting-edge approaches. The department’s cross-pollination between research and teaching enables its student body to move confidently within an international field of discourse in Critical Dance Studies when pursuing their individual research interests.

Course of Study

In the first semester, the module "Introduction to Critical Dance Studies" presents subjects that offer orientation in Dance Studies’ theoretical research field. These include a weekly introductory course and an applied practice session exploring body and movement techniques, typically in block seminar format. The three-part module "Theory / Aesthetics" is made up of a research seminar, a seminar-like practice session on dance writing, and a lecture.

In the second semester, the module "Historicity / Historiography" offers three courses exploring concepts and methods of dance historiography based on key historical examples. The three-part module is comprised of a research seminar, a seminar-style practice session, and a lecture. The module "Methods/Practice" encompasses a group project and accompanying applied practice session, developed within the framework of the Valeska Gert Guest Professorship.

The third semester consists of the three-part module "Dance / Arts / Media," in which a research seminar, seminar-style practice session, and lecture address questions of dance’s intermediality and postmediality. The module "Research Practice" enables students to work with another Valeska Gert Guest Professor and to test initial impulses for the topic of their master's thesis within a project colloquium.

In the fourth semester, students complete a master's thesis and attend an accompanying research colloquium.

The master’s degree program in Critical Dance Studies is a full-time course. Requests for part-time study will be considered on an individual basis.

Career Prospects

In a dance climate with resources rapidly becoming digitized and with many diverse funding options available, holders of a graduate degree in Critical Dance Studies have access to many stimulating job opportunities. While some graduates continue to pursue PhDs, others assume dance-specialized jobs at theaters, production houses, and other cultural institutions, including archives or publishing houses. Graduates take on professions in dramaturgy, curation, public relations/marketing, and arts management, both as freelancers and full-time employees. Their knowledge of dance, and their honed critical thinking skills, also qualify them to work in the field of cultural policy, addressing questions, structures and cultural strategies in relation to the situation of both individual and collective bodies in society.


Subjects of the study program
The research-oriented Master's program deals with the history and aesthetics of dance, the examination of the possibilities of movement analysis and recording, as well as practical and scenic exercises that address the body and how it can be experienced in movement, and reflect on this in consideration of theoretical approaches. In doing so, a continuous interweaving of theory and practice is strived for, which finds its expression in new teaching formats and in a close cooperation with national and international institutions.

Study objectives and professional qualification
The aim of the Master's program is to impart and promote a complex historical and theoretical knowledge, transdisciplinary thinking and scientific reflection of choreographic processes as well as practical dance and body techniques. The program enables graduates with a bachelor's degree or equivalent - primarily from the disciplines of dance, theater, film, and cultural studies - to deepen and broaden their expertise by specializing in selected areas of dance research. With its research-oriented focus, the program aims to enable students to participate creatively in scientific and aesthetic discourses in an interdisciplinary and international context and to design and carry out larger research projects.

Graduates possess in-depth scientific knowledge and advanced professional skills.

The program qualifies students for jobs specializing in dance in theaters and other cultural institutions, academia, journalism, cultural management, dramaturgy, production and communication, archives and publishing houses, as well as for doctoral studies. Beyond the academic qualification, the combination of theoretical reflection and practice-oriented work imparts specific knowledge geared to the above-mentioned study goals.