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.

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Ballet for the Teen Beginner – Part 1

When is too late to start ballet? What should I look for in a ballet school? Can I become a professional dancer if I start training as a teen? What on earth do I wear?

If you’re a teen that is interested in beginning ballet classes for the first time, these are just a few of the exciting questions you probably have. Ballet is a wonderful activity at any age for strengthening the body, increasing flexibility, emotional expression and spending time with friends. Starting as a teen will give you a different experience than if you start young, but it can certainly be as fun and enjoyable. So let’s get to those questions …

I recommend a physical exam with your doctor before beginning any new physical activity, but it is never too late to begin ballet lessons if you are medically able. Your goals in dance are important to consider though. Do you just want to get some activity into your week while spending time with friends? Do you dream of eventually wearing pointe shoes? Do you aspire to a professional career? Do you just want to try something new?

If your goals are recreational, you have chosen a wonderful activity. Ballet is terrific exercise, is very creative and is great for spending time with friends and making new ones. It’s unlike any other sport because it is also a performing artform. You should plan to take classes once or twice a week to progress at a safe pace recreationally.

If you would also like to one day wear the coveted satin pointe shoes, you may be able to reach this goal. However, this will require a bit more dedication than the above. There are many different factors that go into a student’s preparedness for pointe work, including skeletal structure which cannot be altered. Soft tissue malleability is also an issue. Young children have some ability to change soft tissue range of motion, but that decreases dramatically in the teen years. You will need at least two years of twice weekly lessons before you should be considered for pointe training. Whether you are an acceptable candidate for pointe at that time should be determined by a qualified teacher. But rest assured that ballet is incredibly enjoyable and satisfying activity regardless of whether you are on pointe or not!

Now for the toughest question: Can you become a professional ballerina if you start ballet lessons in your teens? If you are very, very lucky and work very, very hard, yes you can. Just ask Darcy Bussell, Melissa Hayden, Carmen Corella or Misty Copeland. But it would be wrong of me not to tell you that those are extremely rare and fortunate circumstances with dancers that were born with a naturally favorable body and facility for ballet and pointe. If you’ve read my article on becoming a professional dancer, you know just how competitive it is, and that is for students who have been training for nearly all their lives! (Of course, it is different for male ballet dancers, who may be able to start in their mid-teens with no problem.)

Training in ballet as a teen can open doors to other styles of dance that are based on ballet technique. Studying ballet can prepare you for success in modern, jazz, contemporary and other disciplines. Because they don’t require pointe training, these styles can be more accessible to teen beginners for potential of professional dance. Also, even recreational ballet training might lead to new college opportunities.

Once you’ve given some thought to your goals, its time to research local dance schools. The easiest way to come up with a complete list of dance schools in your area is to look on www.yp.com. There are a lot of websites that claim to have dance school listings, but most are dependent on the schools initiating that listing, which many schools don’t. If you are interested in pairing your ballet lessons with classes in other dance forms, focus on studios that offer those other forms of dance in addition to ballet.

Because dance can be harmful if taught improperly, it is important to review the training of each teacher you consider. They should have trained with a school that is well-respected in the dance community at large, not just locally, or they should have had a respectable professional career. Thanks to Google, this shouldn’t be difficult to find out once you have the teacher’s bio. Visit the school to get a feel for its suitability. Do the students conform to a clean and professional-looking dress code? Do the classes seem organized and logically-run? Ask if the studio has sprung floors, which minimize injury. Studios should be large and well-lit with high ceilings and with mirror panels covering at least one wall.

If you have dreams of dancing professionally, your ideal option is to enroll in the recreational division of a professional ballet school (one that is affiliated with professional ballet company) and to try audition into the professional training division once you have reached an acceptable level. You may need to audition even to enter the recreational division. Speak to the teacher or the school directors about your options for entry and progression. You will need to take a minimum of one class a day most days of the week to train at this level. Once you have a learned the basics and strengthened your body, this schedule could need to increase significantly.

Hopefully the schools you look at will offer a teen beginner ballet class. If they do not and you are not comfortable in a class with much younger students, look for an adult beginner class. Do not be discouraged if you cannot find either at a good school in your town. Instead, speak to the teacher or director about how far along you would need to be before you can move into a class with students closer to your age. Create a plan with the teacher or director for reaching your goal so you will not feel like you are stuck in a lower age group indefinitely.

Starting ballet classes can be so exciting. Congratulations on choosing such a beautiful and fun activity. In my next post, I’ll help you prepare for your first ballet classes … with a little shopping!

So you want to dance professionally?

Deciding to pursue a professional dance career is a huge decision. If its something you really want, you will have to have to put maximum effort not only into your training, but into setting yourself up in the best situation to support this goal. With so many factors to address, where should you start?

If you are still a young student, the first item to consider iswhether you are getting the training you need to be technically and artistically competitive. One way to assess your current school is to find out how many of its students have gone on to professional careers and exceptional college dance programs. You should also consider how many hours of training you receive each week and what level of proficiency your teachers each reached before becoming instructors. If you want to dance professionally, you should be training about four hours daily, five days a week, by age thirteen or so. Your teachers should have each either danced professionally or pursued study in pedagogy for their field of dance. Be aware that a former professional dancer may not know how to teach well, and a pedagogically trained teacher may not have enough knowledge about professional-level training.

For ballet, contemporary and modern dancers, finding a school that will put you at your best advantage for a professional career can mean transferring to a school that is attached to a professional company. Many such schools will require an audition for acceptance or at least for level placement. Some of the largest and best of these schools also offer academic classes, like Walnut Hill or the tuition-free Harid Conservatory. Some, like School of American Ballet and Joffrey Ballet School, are affiliated with professional children’s academic schools, and some, like The Rock School for Dance Education, have special arrangements with the local school system. Finding the right school, getting in, and finding a way to afford it can each be huge hurdles.

Some dancers simply do not have support from their family or money to attend or even apply to such prestigious schools, in which case transferring to the best school in your town is the next best option. It is a tougher road but not an impossible one. Before deciding this is your path, research all available scholarships, free-tuition programs and ways to raise funds. Remember that when you start auditioning for work, you will be competing against hundreds of graduates of professional schools like the ones above.

Deciding to transfer out of your current school can be a difficult one. Often a young dancer’s school is like her second home, her dance friends and teachers her second family. Remember that transferring schools doesn’t mean having to cut ties with everyone there, and you should always be respectful and appreciative of the many things your “old” school taught you. A dancer’s first school is usually the one that inspired her to begin a path to a professional career, and that passion for dance is the most invaluable part of a dancer’s education.

You will become eligible for many company auditions by sixteen, but that does not mean you need to start auditioning then. Most companies don’t take dancers until they are in their early twenties at least. Going to a very high-quality college dance program is the step I recommend for professional-track dancers graduating from high school. College dance programs are always evolving in quality, so when its time to start looking at colleges, I highly suggested getting yourself a copy of The Dance Magazine College Guide to find out which ones are best. Ideally, you want to find a truly top program that turns out professional dancers and is affiliated with a professional company so you can gain performing experience and set up a connection to a company while in college. Once again, getting into and affording the right school can be huge hurdles. Scholarships and working while in school can ease the financial burden, but the audition is all you.

About two years before you want to start your professional career, you will need to start intensive research on potential employers and decide on your application presentation. You may have to have to put in as many hours researching companies, developing your marketing materials (résumé, photographs, videos, etc) and earning money to fund an audition tour as you do training – and that’s a lot of hours.

Different companies value different qualities. Preferred body types, training techniques and dancer “looks” can vary widely. You don’t want to waste your time auditioning for a company that only likes lithe blondes with Balanchine training if you are a short redhead trained in Cecchetti. You’ll find that some companies welcome a variety of looks for their dancers, and you may prefer that culture.

Finally, it comes down to the audition. When at all possible, avoid the cattle calls of open auditions. It can be extremely difficult to find work this way. Instead, find out how to get into a company class. Some companies will want to see your video before they will agree to let you audition. Those pre-screened auditions are also much better than the cattle calls. If you are offered contracts, you will need to compare your potential pay and benefits, geographic locations, amenities, facilities,  performance opportunities, etc, to decide which offer you want to accept.

There is so much more to this process than I’ve laid out here, and I’ll try to address specific items in more depth in later posts. But hopefully this has given you the basic idea of what it really means to say, “I want to dance professionally!”

The Dancer’s Résumé

An essential for many aspiring dancers by high school, the dancer’s résumé can be a very intimidating project for a young student! Your first résumé is always the hardest one to write, but a little guidance is really all you need.

One of the very best beginner résumé guides for dancers is available for free online – just visit Your Dance Résumé. This guide was written ages ago, but the advice is timeless.

Remember, as a student your résumé is not expected to be long. In fact, it would be inappropriate for an entry-level dancer to have more than two pages; one page is preferred. Keep it neat and don’t embellish or fudge the facts. And don’t forget to keep updating it as you expand your experience and education!

Etiquette Shmetiquette?

Does it really matter what your hair looks like in ballet class or if you forget your shoes every once in a while? It’s not like its an audition, right? Um … wrong! Every day you set foot in the studio, you are presenting yourself for potential casting decisions, promotions and recommendations by your teachers.

Most schools have an annual recital, but few hold auditions for stage placement and casting. How do you think those decisions are made? They are made based on the technique, work ethic, attitude and etiquette that you show in class every day to your teachers. Class is of course not the same as an audition – it should be seen as a safe place where you can explore and expand your dance vocabulary, take chances and feel comfortable asking questions. But it is important that in daily class you hold yourself to a high standard not only when it comes to your dedication and technical work, but also how you present yourself in general. So what does that mean exactly?

Simply put, you never want to detract from the 110% effort you put into your technique (which I assume you are putting in!) by coming across as lazy, rude or irresponsible. A teacher will have a hard time promoting or recommending any student if the student is technically proficient but simply not up to par when it comes to grooming, manners or dress code. Showing that you are on top of these things can help show that you are ready to take on more, which can solidify a level promotion or lead to an important new understudy role, an assistant teacher position or even a lead role – but I guarantee this works the opposite way as well. (If you read my recent post on promotion to pointe class, you know just how directly it can affect level promotion!)

Setting a personal standard for yourself for class time can be tough sometimes – Remember that you are in total control of it. Especially at an advanced level, it’s easy to get comfortable and start believing that you have earned the right to wear your PJs to class or throw your hair up haphazardly, but I promise this will always detract from your hard work.

In the future, I’ll post on specific things you can do to manage the impression you make and to present yourself in the best light possible. Stay tuned for the details on how to master the hairstyles, look your best in your leos and impress with your professionalism.

Back to Ballet Class

Fall is nearly here – Are you ready physically and mentally to get back to dance class? Here is some excellent advice by venerated classical ballet teacher Victoria Leigh on how to digest your summer training, set goals and prepare yourself to be at the top of your game this fall.

Ballet in Film: Ballerina

One my absolute favorite dance documentaries, Ballerina, is now available to watch instantly on Netflix. This exquisite portrait of five female ballet dancers from the legendary Kirov is a relatively recent film, which lends it a much more modern air than most dance documentaries available, particularly when it comes to the level of virtouosity of the dancing itself. If you are looking for true inspiration and to see just how elevated a level ballet can reach, I highly recommended you check it out.