EDMOND, Okla. (AP) _ When Jamie Jacobson first came to the University of Central Oklahoma to be director of the Dance Program 17 years ago, the school didn't even offer a degree in dance.
But during her time with the university, Jacobson has overseen the program's exponential growth.
Now the university not only offers a degree in dance (with about 40 students in the program), but is receiving grant money and plenty of national recognition for the program as well.
Just this month two groups of dance students made appearances performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and each group took a different path getting there.
Last October, UCO received a $7,500 grant to bring in renowned choreographer Bill Evans to produce a unique fusion of modern dance and tap dance in ``Together Through Time'' using UCO dance students.
The performance was one of eight selected nationwide to appear in the Kennedy Center's Summer Series.
The night before, the UCO Dance Program made another appearance at the Kennedy Center as part of the National American College Dance Festival, performing a piece created by faculty member Tina Kambour.
Clearly Jacobson has brought this program into the spotlight.
``One of the strengths of the program is that students get to study all types of dance and choreography and teaching methodology,'' Jacobson said.
The curriculum covers not only the expected dance styles like modern dance, ballet, jazz and tap dancing, but also includes classes on dance history and even anatomy, so that students can learn the science behind their graceful movements.
``Upon graduation, they're more versatile and can enter the job market with a variety of skills,'' Jacobson said of her students.
The fact that an impressive 80 percent of UCO dance graduates find work in the intensely competitive field as performers, choreographers or teachers backs up Jacobson's statement.
But an education with such a pedigree doesn't come easy for the students. Prospective dance majors need to audition to be allowed into the program, and last year out of 60 applicants, roughly a dozen were accepted.
And even for those lucky few, the hard part was only beginning.
``There's a lot to this program,'' Jacobson warned, ``and I think they really have to want to be dance artists. The students we have, they just know that this is what they have to do.''
When one or two students inevitably drop out of the program, Jacobson said it's usually because they couldn't believe the amount of work involved.
Jacobson knows there's a lot to learn when it comes to dance.
Before coming to UCO, she began her dance education in high school, and then earned a bachelor's degree in dance specialty from Brigham Young University, followed up by a master's degree in choreography.
And she still spends her spare time dancing, attending workshops and simply continuing her education in the medium.
Back before she became the director of UCOs Dance Program, Jacobson taught dance at several places in differing capacities, but it seems there was never any doubt about where she wanted to teach.
``Some of the places just had different philosophies,'' she said. ``(UCO) just felt like home to me. It just felt so right. I knew I could hopefully bring something to the program.''
It's safe to say that every UCO graduate with a degree in dance, as well as the 19 students returning from performances at the Kennedy Center, would say she's done just that.