Streamline Your College Search
University of Arizona BFA undergraduates David Maurice, Adam Houston and Laura Kaufman take a break between classes. (Ashley Bowman)
With so many great dance colleges out there, deciding on a few to visit and audition for can be tough. Asking these questions before you plan your college tour can help you narrow your search and target the best schools for you.
What dance degrees are offered?
The first step toward finding your ideal program is thinking about what kind of college dance experience you’re looking for. Do you want to hone your technique intensively and go straight into a professional company? Or would you rather spend more time exploring a broad range of dance styles and related fields? Most colleges with strong dance programs offer either a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in dance. A BFA program typically looks a lot like a conservatory program, but it also includes liberal arts classes like history and science. “Essentially, a BFA curriculum is more heavily grounded in technique and performance than a BA, with the primary goal being to join a dance company after graduation,” says Melissa Lowe, professor in the BFA program at the University of Arizona.On the other hand, a BA could be a perfect fit for a dancer looking to explore. “A BA is more about studying a range of things,” says Terry Creach, a faculty member in the BA program at Bennington College. “Dance is definitely the concentration, but the thought is that you’re beginning an arts career that could go many different directions.” You might end up dancing professionally, or you might go on to manage a company, choreograph or design costumes.BA and BFA degrees aren’t the only options. Some schools might not have a dance degree at all, but instead offer a dance minor or a dance team that can fulfill your dance goals while you pursue an academic major. Cortney Colich, a 2012 graduate and senior captain of the University of Minnesota dance team, decided she could best satisfy her dance interests by joining the UMinn team and focusing on pursuing an advertising degree. “I’ve always been a team-oriented person, and I love to compete and challenge myself,” she says.
(L to R) University of Arizona MFA student Alyssa Alger choreographs on BFA students Weston Krukow and Raffles Durbin. (Ashley Bowman)
What’s the tuition? And what scholarships and financial aid are available?
Unfortunately, tuition costs are going up, while dance scholarships tend to remain much smaller than scholarships for other subject areas. The good news is that most liberal arts schools also offer academic scholarships to dancers with high grades.
When you’re comparing scholarship packages at different schools, don’t forget to consider the cost of living and other extra expenses, like travel. “What a lot of dancers tend to do is say, ‘This school is giving me $15,000 and this one is only giving me $8,000,’ ” says Lowe, “when in fact, once they sit down with their families and measure the total costs, they see that $8,000 would actually go a lot farther toward the total tuition bill of that school than the $15,000 would at the other.”
Who’s on the faculty?
For Indiana University ballet major Laura Pollin, studying with the right faculty for her goals was a top priority. “I wanted to work with people I knew would push me and have my best interests at heart,” she says.
Most schools offer short biographies of each faculty member on their website. You certainly don’t have to study with the most famous dancers in the world, but look for faculty members whose backgrounds interest you. After all, they’ll be your mentors during your years in the program.
University of Arizona professor Melissa Lowe coaches BFA undergraduate Amie Kilgore. (Ashley Bowman)
What’s the alumni networking situation like?
Researching what the alumni of a program have done with their careers can be revealing. Are they dancing with modern companies? Are they on professional dance teams? Are they on the administrative side of a dance company? Look for a school whose alumni are following paths you can see yourself on.
According to Creach, dance program graduates also find alumni connections to be a valuable resource when they graduate. “Alumni who graduated five years ago are out there making connections and working in the field,” he says. “They know exactly what a new graduate is facing, where she should go and who to connect with.” A school with a strong dance alumni network might help you jump-start your career after graduation.
What styles does the dance department specialize in?
Most dance programs focus on some combination of ballet, modern and jazz, often with an emphasis on one or two of the three styles. Some also offer theater dance, voice and acting classes, perfect for the aspiring Broadway dancer. Others, like Bennington, place their greatest emphasis on the creation of new work. Every program is different, so it’s important to think about the stylistic focus of each one you consider.
Where is the school, and how big is it?
Is it in a vibrant city? Nestled in peaceful mountains? Does it have a contained, haven-like campus, or does the dorm’s front door open to the excitement of NYC?
“It’s important to ask yourself, ‘Do I flourish in an environment where there are a lot of stimuli—like in a big city—or do I need the sanctuary of a quieter campus?’ ” Lowe says. Think about size, too: At a very small school like Bennington, you might get to know everyone on campus, dancers and non-dancers alike. If you attend a large university, you’ll have the opportunity (and responsibility) to customize your own close-knit community by joining your favorite clubs and organizations. (Not sure which size is your style? Check out the “What College Is Right for You?” quiz.)
How’s the food?
It sounds a little silly, but food is a really important part of campus life, especially for dancers. The quality of cafeteria food can vary from one campus to the next. Poke around college websites to see what meal plans are offered and what kinds of food are readily available—especially if you have special dietary needs. Fortunately, many schools are now accommodating of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets. “I’m allergic to gluten, and that can be tough,” Colich says. “But it’s been amazing to see how the school provides options for people with allergies. Now, wherever I go on campus I’m able to find something to eat.”
Well, this brings class videos to a whole new level! Choreographer Phil Wright and dancer Ashley Liai have been together eight-plus years, but she was still in total shock when he proposed to her mid-dance at Millennium Dance Complex earlier this week. Why? Well, the whole thing was unbelievably perfect.
In the dance industry, dancers don't always have a say in what they wear on their bodies. This can get tricky if you're asked to wear something that compromises your own personal values. So what should you do if you find yourself in this sticky situation? We sat down for a Q&A with "Dancing with the Stars" alumn Ashly Costa to answer that very question. Here's what she had to say about the options dancers have surrounding questionable costumes.
The groundwork for Erin Carpenter's company, Nude Barre, began when she was a teenager. At 16, she earned a spot in the residency program at The Kennedy Center in partnership with Dance Theatre of Harlem. "We were required to wear nude—as in, our actual skin tone—tights and shoes," she remembers. Carpenter brought her "sun tan" tights and a pair of pink ballet shoes with her, because that was all she could find. But she wasn't allowed in class because her dancewear didn't match her skin. "I was so embarrassed," she says. "I looked unprepared. I just didn't have the right nudes." Her teacher explained that the dancers dyed their tights and pancaked their shoes.
There are dancers and then there are DANCERS! Whitney Jensen, soloist at Norwegian National Ballet, is the latter. The former Boston Ballet principal can do it all. From contemporary to the classics this prima has the technical talent most bunheads dream about. Need proof? Look no further.
Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee's dance inducing hit, "Despacito," is so catchy it should probably come with a disclaimer that warns people of an uncontrollable itch to tap your feet or bob your head. Some might even feel inclined to go all out and break it down. Niana Guerrero is a prime example of "Despacito's" uncanny ability to unleash the red dressed emoji dancer within. 💃🏽 💃🏽