What is the deal with college for dancers? In case you didn’t know, attending a university and majoring in dance is, in fact, an option. There are a million different questions in relation to college for dancers. Here we will be discussing the few things I wish I had more information on before I decided to attend college.
Note: college is not for everyone, and many dancers choose not to attend. Pursuing a college degree is a personal choice. For some dancers, it doesn’t make practical sense to go to a university. You need to decide what is right for you—for your personal and professional goals. For the purpose of this discussion, however, I am going to assume that you are interested in going or have already decided to go to college to study dance.
Degree Options and (Other) Programs
Congratulations! You have decided to study dance at the college level. Now that you’ve made this big decision, what do you do next? Well, there is no one-size-fits-all option where college degrees are concerned. So consider the following choices:
- B.A. or B.F.A. in Dance
- B.A. or B.F.A. in Dance with a minor in another field of study
- Double major (usually a B.A. in Dance and a bachelor’s in another field of study)
- B.A./B.S. in a field of your choice with a minor in Dance
Each of these options will provide you with the opportunity to incorporate your passion for dance into your academic life. If you later decide that college dance isn’t for you but still wish to earn your degree, then you can study whatever you please while participating in a dance team or club at your university. There is no shortage of options. That said, you need to start researching schools and programs ASAP. If you are still in high school, begin your research no later than your sophomore year. If you are a young adult who is revisiting the idea of going to college, then give yourself ample time to research your options and submit applications.
In your research, you will find that most college dance programs are heavily focused on modern dance. My own university training consisted of modern, ballet, and West African. My program required no jazz or hip-hop classes. This was a shock to me, and I wish I had researched my program more thoroughly before enrolling. That is not to say that I gained nothing from the experience. On the contrary, I received amazing training in styles of dance that I never thought I would study. But the program requirements took me off guard. I aspired to work in commercial dance, and my program was not especially suitable for my goals. This meant that I had to spend my limited free time taking hip-hop classes outside of my university, as it was the closest thing I could find to commercial dance training in my area. The point is that these early stages of research are vital!
If you’re like me and you want to work in commercial dance, then know that there are very few commercial dance programs. Though it is not comprehensive, below is a list of schools that either has commercial dance programs or boast a curriculum that offers some commercial dance training.
- PACE University
- The Studio School
- Oklahoma City University
A great way to supplement your research is to participate in summer programs. Some colleges offer summer programs/intensives for high school students. If you have the time and money, I highly recommend giving this a try. You’ll have a chance to meet some of the faculty and to become familiar with the school’s facilities. It is almost (but not quite) like a trial run to see if that school is a good fit for you. Bonus: some colleges offer credit for their summer programs. Should you choose to attend that school, you’ll start your college career with credits already on your transcript. Also, remember that no summer program is a bad summer program. If you find that you really disliked the training you received, then you have one less option to consider—you’ve narrowed your search.
As you already know, selecting a university and dance program is a big decision and not one to take lightly. If you are graduating from high school and know that you want to go to college, but are unsure of your next step, remember that a community college is also an option. But you have to keep a few things in mind. First, to save you time and money, you’ll want to make sure that your community college credits transfer to whichever university you plan to attend. Second, you will need to thoroughly research the schools you plan on attending because some require you to be at their program for a full four years due to dance requirements. Other schools are a little more flexible and you can complete your program in less time. Be sure you speak with both an academic and dance advisor before making any decisions. To be completely honest, some academic advisors are not always on top of all the requirements for each department (even though they should be). Also going to summer school through a community college is always an option as well. I attended community college every summer to complete some of my general education classes so I could save a little bit of money.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Before you start planning this wonderful future of yours, you must first be accepted at your preferred university. This is where college dance auditions (and applications!) come into play. Like all auditions, these can be stressful and exhausting. The best way to prepare is to… do your research! Shocker, I know. You didn’t see that one coming. Try to get an idea of what each school will require for your audition. From my own experience, I can tell you that most of my auditions required full ballet and modern classes. Some auditions also demanded a one-minute solo, as well as an interview. Other auditions had jazz or West African class on the schedule. You get the picture—auditions vary from school to school. Do your research as best you can to prepare for each audition. A few other things to remember:
- Don’t forget about applying to the school itself. The last thing you want is to be accepted into the dance program but miss the deadline for the application to the school.
- Always bring your printed dance resume with you to college auditions. Some schools will ask for your resume, and others will not. It’s best to be prepared.
- If your audition requires a solo, make sure you have your music both on your phone and on another device. (My college auditions were only a few years ago, and the music had to be on a CD.)
- Universities can seem like a labyrinth to those unfamiliar with the campus. Get to the school early on the day of your audition to make sure that you can find your way and not be late.
In case the implication here wasn’t clear enough, note that you should plan for multiple auditions. Though it should go without saying, you cannot bank on getting into one school. Give yourself some options. It never hurts to have back-up schools. That being said, remember to invest your time and money wisely. If you are traveling across the country for auditions, you are likely incurring many costs. Don’t waste your money by traveling to schools that you have no real interest in attending. While you are across the country auditioning for a specific program, I would also try to see if there are other colleges in the area having auditions around the same time. If so, you should audition for those schools even if they aren’t one of your first choices. It gives you more options for the future and you are already in the area so you might as well try!
Speaking of travel, where are you going? Did you say that you’re flying to Nebraska for a college audition? Do you want to work on Broadway and live in a big metropolis? Oh, you do? THEN NEBRASKA ISN’T THE PLACE FOR YOU. If you are going to college, you are likely making a four-year plan. Make sure you are going to a school in a city where you will be happy to live for an extended period of time. I went to school in Chicago. I had been to Chicago many times before, and I loved the city. But it might not have been the most strategic choice for my goals. As I’ve already mentioned, my dream is to work in commercial dance. And there were limited commercial dance opportunities in Chicago. This meant that I would inevitably move to LA, home of the commercial dance industry. After four years of hard work and networking in Chicago, I had to start over again. For those of you who want to work in the performance industry, location is important. Allow this factor to weigh heavily in your decision-making. On the other hand, for those of you who ultimately wish to work at or own a studio, location is a less-critical issue to take into consideration when choosing a college.
Be invested in your schoolwork 110% of the time. But also remember to keep the bigger picture in mind. While in college, you can and should audition for real, paid work. While in college, you can and should take classes outside of school to make connections with working choreographers. While in college, you can and should participate in events, mixers, and the like for your local dance community. College is the perfect time to begin building your resume and your professional network. This is quite possibly the most important takeaway from my own experience. I worked and trained outside my university endlessly. I spent my spare time teaching dance, going to auditions, taking extra classes, etc. And when I graduated, I had a job in the dance industry. I had my start. These “extracurriculars” are imperative to your success.
A final note: as I’ve already said, college isn’t for everyone. You can have a successful dance career without ever setting foot in a university. You might choose to wait and go to college later on in life. That’s fine. Do whatever works for you. But if you choose to get a degree in dance, don’t let yourself be shocked like I was. Make sure you are enrolling in a program that fits your ambitions. College is far too great an investment (in terms of time, money, and effort) to be careless in your decision-making. As always, research is your best friend—never undervalue it.