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Can you earn a PhD through dance?

The quick answer is, sadly, no! But today's question takes us through an interesting investigation of some of the different ways you can gain a PhD. Increasingly, there is room for creativity and industry knowledge in the PhD process. You can gain this degree by writing a novel, developing policy, or creating artworks. There is more and more recognition of the originality and in-depth study that goes into these processes.

So let's get to answering our question:

"Hi, I heard from an older student that someone got her PhD by dancing instead of writing. Is that for real anywhere in the world? Because I want to do that. Thanks" - Levi (she/her), B.C., Canada.

Hi Levi,

Your question actually brought back a distant memory for me. I recall hearing the same story back when I was a PhD candidate. I think it's the kind of urban legend that appears from time to time across campuses where students are dreaming of some other way to create a dissertation that doesn't involve quite so many footnotes...

I had a look for the source of this rumour, and my best guess is that it came from a misunderstanding of the 'Dance your PhD' contest where students express their research through interpretative dance. I love this contest and highly recommend you watch it, but the choreographers are communicating their arguments rather than actually gaining a doctorate in the process.

Accredited institutions have certain standards they need to adhere to so that a PhD means the same thing globally. While different countries and universities/colleges have different programs, they need to be of a comparable level of difficulty and produce graduates with comparable skills. One of the core skills of a PhD graduate is the ability to advance a sophisticated and original argument, or to produce new knowledge, through the composition of a (written) thesis.

While dance can certainly be original, complex, and communicative - it's not a thesis.

Nor is it an exegesis - a special kind of thesis that contextualises and amplifies the themes in a creative work. I think an exegesis-based program would be the best way of gaining a PhD in dance. Through this kind of PhD program, you could develop and perform choreography, then account for its originality and importance using academic writing. I had a look a dance PhD programs and found some including this offering from Temple University. This degree involves performance practice but also runs more traditional coursework units and culminates "in an in-depth dissertation project". So you'd still need to write about your dance and have that written work be examined in order to gain a PhD.

So can you dance instead of writing? No. But do be aware of the increasingly diverse PhD program offerings where you have a chance to dance as well as write.

What are your thoughts on a PhD through creative means? Is this something you'd ever want to do? Or something you've done? Let us know in the comments.

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