Finding The Best College Dance Program for You

Dancing in a great college program gives you the opportunity to refine your dancing to a professional level through one major while preparing for a “back-up” career with a second major – or to continue doing what you love while pursuing your academics. But as a student making plans for dancing in college, you have more to think about than the average teen. What program is right for me? How tough will it be to find what I need from a college program? Can I find the same or better quality training than what I’ve had up to now? Are there programs that focus seriously enough on my dance genre that I can have a chance to turn pro after college? How do I begin researching good dance college programs?\

According to College Matchmaker, which provides links to and info on thousands of colleges, there are 254 four-year colleges in the U.S. with majors for ballet, dance or musical theater. That’s a lot to consider, especially if you don’t even know what you should be looking for. An excellent place to start your planning is by reading through Dance Advantage’s college guide. This section of the DA website provides invaluable information from how to decide what you are looking for in the first place to how to excel once you are there, plus a nice list of external articles and websites to get you well on your way creating and narrowing down your list of colleges.

There is a lot to be gained by pursuing a higher education while refining yourself as a dancer. If you are not sure whether to even continue dancing while in college or whether to skip college altogether and pursue a career in dance immediately, researching your options thoroughly before deciding can give you a more realistic picture so that you can fully assess all the pros and cons.

What makes the “best” college for you will depend on a variety of factors, including your goals in dance, whether you want to get to a pro level via college or go recreational, and what kind of college dance programs are available to you financially. If you have professional contract offers already and are considering accepting one, you should seriously research your options for pursuing your education in that city, though you may not opt for a dance program at all. During your research, don’t get too hung up on terminology for dance programs (B.A. vs. B.F.A, for example). Focus on the instructor quality, the program’s intensity, class offerings, performance opportunities, facilities and of course where the alumni are now. Good programs will require an audition.

Lastly, consider whether to treat your college education and your dance education as separate pursuits, just as you may have done during your high school years. If you have access to a superior dance school, there may not be a college program available to you that will surpass it, so that it is certainly worthwhile to consider enrolling in the dance conservatory or school to continue with dance while taking non-dance college courses. There is a wide variety of quality in U.S. college dance programs today, but for an idea of what to expect, check out this article from Dance Informa Magazine.

As you can tell, there are many, many options to consider even before you start examining college dance programs. But it’s not as daunting as it might seem! Take control of your college future by delving into the articles and links I’ve provided, and before you know it you’ll be well on your way to planning your college career.

Advertisements

Love Your Dance Teacher? Nominate Her! (Or Him!)

Dance Teacher Magazine is seeking student submissions for their 2011 Dance Teacher Awards. Exceptional teachers may be honored by a Dance Teacher Award at the 2011 Dance Teacher Summit! Click here for submission requirements and nomination categories.

Show your favorite dance teacher how much he or she means to you with a nomination for a Dance Teacher Award!

Update: Dance Studio Life and Dance Life TV are also sponsoring a teacher award program, the Dance Life Teacher Conference Scholarship Program. The DLTC program is held in three rounds of essay, video and finally an editors’ vote. Your teacher could win a scholarship to attend the Dance Studio Life Conference and formal recognition by DSL. Nominate your favorite dance teacher today!

Dance(212) is Back & Focused on Ballet!

A brand new series will soon be presented by Dance(212)! And this time they’ll be focusing exclusively on ballet students’ summer intensive experiences. Check out the preview here, and get ready to meet five exceptional and ambitious young dancers (including Hannah Miller, shown left) with talent and drive to spare. Tune in January 24 for the series premiere!

Getting Accepted: What Are “They” Looking For at SI Auditions?

Summer Intensive auditions are now in full swing, and I’ve gotten tons of great questions from you guys lately about what the SI adjudicators will be looking for! I know you all sometimes feel a lot of pressure about these auditions, but you should know that the adjudicators will make it as positive an experience as possible. Often, your audition fee will be a “master class” fee, and you will have the benefit of instruction and correction from exceptional teachers during the audition class.

I know what you’re really interested in, though, is the nitty-gritty of how your are being judged. Many factors are considered in your evaluation. I like to divide these factors into two categories: physical attributes and performance attributes.\

By physical attributes, I am referring to the body of the dancer. Dancing is a sport (and of course an art), and just like any sport you must have a body that is physically capable of doing the work required. Your adjudicators will be looking for dancers of a healthy weight who have a suitable physical facility for ballet. By facility, I mean dancers with:

  • Good rotation for turn-out
  • Long, flexible limbs
  • Supple muscularity
  • Balanced proportions
  • An overall good “look”

Of particular interest to auditioners might be:

  • Longer limbs combined with a shorter torso
  • A small head
  • High but strong and controlled arches
  • A touch of hyperextension in the knees

Of course, we can’t talk about ballet bodies without getting to the touchy question of weight. I am not going to sit here and tell you that SIs never accept underweight dancers. Sadly, some SIs might overlook an underweight dancer who is able to hobble through an audition, but these dancers generally do not make it far in ballet (or sometimes even that SI) due to their sheer inability to physically keep up. Without a proper muscular structure and proper food intake these dancers inevitably cannot perform as required. One of the saddest things I saw as an SI student was when dancers were sent home from a program for concerns of being underweight or unable to physically keep up. It goes without saying that being overweight will be similarly inhibiting, and that an athleticly slim figure is often preferred. So the most important thing is to be of a healthy athletic weight, and that means being neither over nor underweight.

Physical attributes are secondary to performance attributes, however, and these attributes include movement quality and the dancers ability to … dance! Performance attributes include:

  • Quality training commensurate with age
  • Good basic placement and core strength
  • Coordination
  • Musicality
  • Proper use of plie
  • Good lines
  • Strong and articulated feet
  • Quality port de bras
  • Extension appropriate for age
  • Strength on pointe, if appropriate
  • Ability to understand corrections
  • Ability to apply corrections
  • Ability to pick-up choreography quickly
  • Style and artistic expression
  • Great mental attitude
  • Passion for and enjoyment of dancing

You probably notice that the first ten items on this list are all related to technique. Remember that these adjudicators are not looking for perfection. In fact, up to the age of about 14, they are giving quite a bit of consideration to the dancer’s potential. If you are lacking in technique due to inadequate instruction for example, you can show through your ability to pick up corrections and choreography that you are very teachable and therefore perhaps an excellent candidate. As you get a bit older, however, adjudicators will be looking for a more finished product. By the age of 17 or 18, you will want to present yourself as a dancer who has most of her technique and movement quality at a professional level. They will want someone at that age to be working mostly on artistry with perhaps some technical fine-tuning remaining to be done.

Do not underestimate the importance of the last two items I’ve listed. Showing your love for dance through enthusiasm for learning and enjoyment of movement can and often does cause an adjudicator to give a student a second, third or even fourth look. Avoid the “deer in the headlights” look at all costs! Be present in the moment, attentive, focused mentally and with your eyes, and remember why you are there in the first place … because you love, love, love to dance!

Merde, ballerinas! May you all have an exciting and educational audition season!!

2011 Summer Intensive Updates!

If you haven’t been regularly checking my recent post on the best SIs, click back over to look for newly added quality regional programs (at the bottom of the post) and additional updated info on individual programs.

Also, Pointe Magazine has posted online two good articles on preparing for this audition season. “Rejected” is one dancer’s story of turning a potentially crushing letter into a motivational tool, and “The August Advantage” is a look into summer intensive extension and add-on programs for advanced, vocational students.

The 2011 SI Audition Season is Here!

People, it’s time. Time to get prepared for the 2011 Summer Intensive audition season!! For serious dancers – whether aiming for a pro or college career out of high school, summer intensives with top schools are a vital part of thorough dance training. And top SIs do not admit students without an audition.

There are a lot of considerations that dance students and their families should discuss before an SI is chosen. We’ll get into those in another post. Focusing on the audition season itself, you need to know that even if you are 100% positive that you will not be able to attend an out-of-town summer intensive, it is still an absolute must for you to attend the summer intensive auditions that tour to your town. Why?

First off,  the more experience you have taking part in auditions, the better. Auditions are a way of life for dancers, and getting comfortable with the process is best accomplished by experience. You should consider auditions to be a vital part of your dance education.

Secondly, the audition results can give you an idea of how you are progressing. Are you good? How good? It can be nearly impossible to get a feel for your own talent and technique just from taking daily class at a small-town studio. Finding out what major schools are interested in you – and which ones aren’t – can help you understand how you are perceived and what kind of potential you are thought to have.

In addition, you will have a chance to be seen by top companies and schools who may recognize you next year if you are unable to attend the SI but do audition again. Often, SI schools send the same few people to the same cities, so that the Tulsa team, for example, will be fairly unchanged year after year. If you stood out at all, you may have made an enough of an impression with the adjudicators that they remember you from the prior year. You’d be surprised how often this happens and how much it can help with your training career.

For dancers located in areas without access to the very best schools, summer intensives can be their only access to opportunities to be trained by national master teachers, to be taught by professionals currently dancing with top companies, to meet other serious young dancers, to be seen by artistic directors and to devote a whole month or more of full 8-hour days to their dance training.

Summer is often the only time a young dancer has when time is not split between school, homework and other activities. Those dancers who do not take advantage of this time – even by attending just a local dance intensive – are not only wasting an opportunity to focus on dance without distraction; they are creating large developmental gaps between themselves and their many peers who do attend intensives.

These are just a few of the reasons that you should make SI auditions an annual part of your training process. In the next post, I will be providing links to audition tours and websites for the best of the best in SIs. Take a look, and start planning your 2011 audition schedule!

Square Foot, Round Shoe?

In the U.S., anyone can open a dance studio or dancewear shop – no regulated training or certification required. And this is a good thing for a lot of reasons. Even principal dancers have no document proving their abilities – their careers just speak for themselves. This does mean, however, that a lot of unqualified people get to open studios and shops regardless of their training. When it comes to a dance technique as advanced and specialized as pointe, the results of their undereducated counsel can be devastating to a growing dancer.

What can you do about this? First, you must research the background of your teacher to make sure she is well qualified. A professional career, training at highly ranked dance schools, and pedagogical study are things to look for. Unqualified teachers are rarely educated in or enforce pointe readiness parameters.

Second, educate yourself before you walk into your first pointe shoe fitting. To help you out with this, I posted basic pointe shoe terminology yesterday. Today, I’ll give you an intro to basic foot shapes and how to choose pointe shoes that make sense for each.

You should look for a pointe shoe that mimics the general shape of your foot. Feet come in many shapes and sizes, but the basic common shapes are:

  • Greek or Morton’s: This foot type has a long second toe. The rest of the toes are shorter. The width tends to be narrow to medium. These feet tend to prefer a somewhat tapered box.
  • Egyptian: This foot type has a long first toe. The rest of the toes taper. The width tends to be narrow to medium. This foot tends to prefer a tapered box.
  • Giselle or Peasant: this foot type has at least three toes the same length (sometimes more). The toes tend to be short and the width medium to wide. This foot usually prefers a square box.

Stand on flat parallel to a mirror and examine your foot. Is it flat against the floor? Do you have a high arch that protudes upwards?  Or do you have a foot height that is somewhere in the middle? This will affect your selection for the profile of the shoe.

Lastly, look down at your toes. Are they very long, short and stubby, or just medium length? This will affect the vamp length that you need.

Using these three basic parameters (footprint, foot height and toe length), you can choose which shoe types to begin your fitting with. In order to do that, however, you need to know which shoes mimic these shapes.

Unfortunately, marketing departments of pointe shoe manufacturers do not always give correct information in their pointe shoe descriptions. But there are researchers out there who carefully measure and examine pointe shoes for historical and scientific purposes. This is where you can really get good data on what shoes exhibit each feature that you need. My favorite pointe shoe resource is The Perfect Pointe. The researchers from this group have compiled an invaluable Master List of Pointe Shoes, which is an easy to use chart for choosing shoes with the features you need.

Following this basic guide should get your fitting off to a good start. In upcoming posts, we’ll talk about choosing a size (It’s not like street shoe fitting!) and examining each shoe you try for proper fit.