Senior Art Therapy and Dance Major Presents Research at National Conference

When Tess Stiffler came to Seton Hill from Rochester, N.Y., to pursue art therapy, she knew she didn’t want to leave her days of dancing behind.

The senior art therapy and dance major has had to carefully calibrate her class schedules to pursue both of her interests; although the two majors may seem closely linked, only a single class is required for both majors.

Scheduling classes for both majors has been a juggling act that has included many overcredit semesters and rounds of summer classes. 

“It’s been difficult, but I really love learning and expanding my education so it hasn’t been something that was unwanted for me in my college career,” Tess said.

In order to fit a required history course into her schedule this spring, she pursued an independent study with Assistant Professor of Dance TaMara Swank, M.S. that looked into the healing history of dance.

“My interest in dance as a healing modality connects back to my experience of dance throughout middle and high school in a private studio. I was training as a competitive dancer at the time, but my passion for dance was present because it helped me work through and express my own emotions,” Tess said. “I wanted to carry that emotional expression with dance through college and into my career, so the Pre-Dance/Movement Therapy track was such an awesome option for me.”

Her research, titled “Applying the History of Healing Dance,” analyzed the history of dance as a healing medium and its impact on modern dance education and mental health treatment through the lens of pedagogy as it relates to today’s dance professionals.

“When posed the question of what to research in relation to dance history in my independent study, I decided that I wanted to look back at the historical development of Dance/Movement Therapy as I look towards the prospect of a career in this field,” she said. “I'm so compassionate about how dance can heal mentally and emotionally.”

Although Tess is not a dance education major, Swank suggested that she submit her teaching-focused research to the National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) National Conference. Tess was accepted and had the opportunity to present her research in Colorado this fall.

“It was a pleasure mentoring Tess on the research project as I always enjoy hearing about her progress and how the research guides her discovery,” Swank said. “When I suggested the idea of submitting her research for consideration, I had no doubt that she would pursue the opportunity.”

Tess now holds the honor of being the first Seton Hill dance major to present at the NDEO National Conference.

“Not only is Tess a focused and dedicated student, she does it in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” Swank said. “If I know Tess, this was the first of many conference presentations for her!”

While it was a bit of a challenge for Tess to fit in the trip with her other educational demands this fall, including midterms and an art therapy internship at the Latrobe Art Center, she felt confident in her research and was excited to present.

The commitment and dedication Tess has shown to her education will pay off when she graduates in May. After she completes her time at Seton Hill, she has a clear idea of her future goals. She will be attending graduate school for art therapy. Once she becomes certified and licensed to be a therapist, she plans to pursue dance/movement therapy and ultimately combine her two passions into a singular career.