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Last dance

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“And five, six, seven, eight.”

With this cue, the jazz instructor, in gym socks, sends 13 women across the dance floor and into the air. “Yeah,” says Daren Eastwold, his fast eyes assessing the leaps and landings. “Yeah. Gettin’ there.”

He smiles a little wickedly—the women actually haven’t gotten “there” yet—so he leaps and turns himself. The dancers watch, then emulate.

For 14 years, Eastwold, an adjunct assistant professor, has been the only person teaching jazz for the University of Montana’s dance program. The definition of “adjunct,” he says, is clear to him: “I’m expendable.”

Dancers, all in black, abs on the floor, raise their arms, legs and faces to the ceiling.

The school offered Eastwold half his typical coursework and no benefits for fall semester, so he turned in his resignation, prompting some five dozen students to petition the University.

“I’m viewing this as a gentle shove from the universe to get out of my comfort zone,” he says.

Now, the dancers look like they’re flying. Eastwold—“Look up to the ceiling”—wanders among them, noting when a hip sits off the floor or when a torso bends too far.

School officials offer recycled responses to the adjunct’s departure.

“No adjunct is really guaranteed work from semester to semester,” says Karen Kaufmann, head of the dance program.

Shirley Howell, dean of the School of Fine Arts, explains the change. It isn’t a “cut,” she says, describing it instead as “a curricular decision driven in part by budget.”

Contrary to some rumors floating around the campus, adjunct teaching positions have not been cut across the board within the School of Fine Arts, says Howell.

Before Eastwold resigned two weeks ago, at least 60 students had signed petitions expressing their dissatisfaction with the school’s decision, says student Ani Stube. “We realize that you did not exactly fire Daren Eastwold,” says one petition, “but you didn’t give him any incentive to stay.”

Eastwold turns on the music—“Listen to the jungle”—and the women re-do ponytails and then “kick-step-step.”

Eastwold will say good-bye to Montana, he says, destination unknown.

“And six, and seven…”

The cue, again.

He sends the dancers across the wooden floor.

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