Dancers are known for being organized, driven and busy. So it’s no surprise that many who attend college choose to double-major in dance and another field. “Dancers who are serious about their art in high school are already prepared to balance technique classes and performances with academic work in a university setting,” says Lynn Garafola, dance department co-chair at Barnard College in NYC.
But double majoring isn’t for everyone, and it often comes with some difficult decisions. Read on to hear from professors and recent graduates about the ins and outs of double majoring—and to discover unique ways dancers can combine their diverse interests.
Finding the Best Program for You
Some conservatories only offer a bachelor of fine arts (BFA), which can be difficult or even impossible to balance with a second major. If pursuing a double major is a priority, you may want to consider a program that offers a bachelor of arts (BA) in dance. “If a student expresses an interest in double majoring, we often place them in the BA program rather than BFA,” explains Rubén Graciani, chair of the dance department at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA, which offers both degrees. “These students will have the same performance opportunities but fewer requirements for technique classes, which frees up their schedule for academic courses.”
Due to their inherent interdisciplinary nature, liberal arts colleges can be ideal for students hoping to double-major. Rebecca Bass, a recent graduate from Barnard College, which is affiliated with Columbia University, chose to double-major in dance and economics. “I chose Barnard because it has a very malleable dance program,” Bass says. “You can choose whether you want your four years to be more technically or academically oriented.” She also discovered that economics and ballet are surprisingly similar. “They both have rules that you have to follow, but they also require you to bring a level of artistry to your work,” she says. Her final project was a joint written thesis on the influence of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (a nonprofit organization that seeks to revitalize communities through job creation and business development) on the Dance Theatre of Harlem. “I proved to my econ professor that dance is socially and politically relevant,” she says.
Point Park dancers performing Terence Marling's Fatum Inflictum
(photo by Jeff Sweeny, courtesy Point Park University)
Weighing Your Options
College should be a place of learning, exploration and discovery—goals that may not be achieved if a student becomes overwhelmed by a double major. “I caution students that more isn’t always better for your schedule,” Graciani says. “Sometimes your body and your brain need time to process.”
Every college career will be filled with difficult scheduling decisions. “There are tons of ways for students to be involved on campus and in the community,” Graciani says. But you can’t possibly do it all. He advises students by asking them ‘What are you hoping to achieve in the long term?’ and then ‘What are you willing to sacrifice?’ to determine what performance opportunities, internships and classes work best in their schedule.
That said, by combining two majors, you can build a more diverse resumé for future careers. Christina Cairns, a BA in dance and BS (bachelor of science) in sports, arts and entertainment management at Point Park, was able to continue her dance training while also preparing herself to work in arts administration. One of her first jobs out of school—working on a startup smartphone app—involved many travel opportunities, and the company allowed her to audition while on business trips. “At the time, I didn’t know if I wanted to stay in dance or transition to a business career, but I kept all of my options open,” Cairns says. For now, Cairns is focusing on dance: In August 2015, she started a contract with a dance company in Cincinnati, OH.
Staying On Track
If you choose to double-major, be prepared for a jam-packed four years. “You have to be very organized to accomplish a double major,” Garafola says. Because you may not have time to complete internships or jobs during the school year, summer will be an important time to establish professional connections. Allocating summers to try out different potential career paths (for example, working in a scientific research lab one summer and interning at a dance magazine the next summer) will help you discover what you enjoy doing, while also allowing you to establish a wide set of professional skills.
The most important thing to remember when embarking on a double major is to stay in communication with your academic advisors to ensure you’re on track for graduating. Some programs, such as the physical sciences, will be less flexible due to their rigid lab schedules, which can limit options for dance technique classes. Bass used extracurricular dance opportunities to help maintain her dance training throughout her double major. “I only took technique classes twice a week during my final semester, but I was dancing every day due to different dance clubs and student performance opportunities,” she says.
Double majoring can be both a daunting and a rewarding experience. While parents, professors or friends may try to pressure you in your academic decisions, ultimately try to find a balance that will be meaningful to you as both a dancer and a college student.
Point Park University's Taylor Robinson and Lindsay Burke in Ben Stevenson's End of Time (photo by Joshua Sweeny, courtesy Point Park University)
Double Majors That Play Well with Dance
Sciences (Pre-Med): Dancers with double majors in
health sciences, like biology, can go on to study physical therapy, nutrition and exercise practices. The body awareness that comes with dance training will give you a leg up on the industry.
History/Anthropology: Dancers who learn research methods through these majors can later earn a master’s and/or a PhD in dance theory or history. You might end up studying the history of movement techniques, or unearthing forgotten dance rituals!
English Literature: Capturing movement through words is a technique of its own. Dancers with writing experience often find jobs and internships with dance magazines, or as dance reviewers for newspapers and journals.
Photography/Film: Dance films are becoming more and more prevalent, and dancers
are always in need of head shots! Photography can be a great source of income that allows you the flexibility to attend technique classes and auditions.
Psychology: Dance therapy is a growing field that helps patients work through physical or emotional traumas. You can attend dance therapy graduate programs to earn a degree.
Music: Dancers who are interested in choreography and music collaboration can benefit from playing their own instruments or writing musical scores. Plus, studying dance and music is a great way to work towards a job on Broadway.
Juilliard dancers in Nacho Duato's Gnawa (photo by Nan Melville)
If you’re planning to dance in college, chances are you’ve been pondering life after high school for quite some time—and that’s a good thing. “It’s never too early to start thinking about college,” says Alison Green, an advisor at Minnesota’s Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists. Many collegiate dance programs require an extra application step—that dreaded audition—and waiting until the eleventh hour can add extra pressure to your decisions.
Not sure when to do what? Follow this timeline, which starts your freshman year of high school, to help you stay on top of college prep and keep the process as stress-free as possible.
Your freshman year:
• Start forming a general list of schools that may interest you. Then, look at those schools’ academic requirements, says Kate Walker, dance department coordinator at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. If one university requires its applicants to have taken three years of a foreign language, for instance, it won’t be too late to fit that third year of French into your schedule.
• Start a running list of activities and accomplishments, including any major performances, awards, summer intensives and master classes.
Your sophomore year:
• Look back at your preliminary list of schools, and start thinking more deeply about your interests and what you’re looking for in a dance program. Do you want to cross off any schools? Add new ones? Now is a good time to fine-tune the list.
• Start planning college visits, which can begin as early as your sophomore year and continue until the fall of your senior year. If possible, drop by college campuses when school is in session and students are around so you can get the most out of your trip. “Ask if you can watch dance classes, and definitely go see a student performance,” says Donna Faye Burchfield, director of the School of Dance at the University of the Arts, in Philadelphia, PA.
• Many colleges ask for teacher recommendations with your application. Green says that sophomore year is a good time to start developing relationships with dance instructors or your favorite academic teachers whom you might ask to write those letters of recommendation. “Be a leader in class and ask for their advice,” Green says ”You want to make sure they get to know you.”
The summer between your sophomore and junior years:
• Many college dance programs offer summer intensives for prospective students. Attending one can be a great way to determine if you like a particular school—and keep up your training during the summer break. “You can get a slice of what life may be like at that college or university,” Walker says.
• “Start doing some research on what the curriculum looks like at your prospective schools,” Walker says. Do you want a school that focuses on a certain technique? One that gives students opportunities to choreograph? Ask yourself if you’re leaning toward a conservatory program (with a BFA track), or if you might want to double-major and focus on schools with BA programs.
Your junior year:
• Remember that list of activities and awards you started your freshman year? Now’s the time to transform it into your college-application resumé. Be sure to include your academic and dance achievements, along with any clubs, volunteer work or part-time jobs you do outside of school or dance.
• Attend college open houses and fairs—you may discover programs you hadn’t previously considered.
• Take the SAT and/or ACT. If you wait until senior year to take these tests, Green warns, you’ll have fewer early-application options. This also gives you time to retake the test if you’d like.
• Study! “Many schools will make admissions decisions based on junior grades,” Green says.
• Research scholarship opportunities. Find out each scholarship’s specific requirements.
• Ask teachers for recommendations—and give them a deadline of at least two weeks before they’re due. Walker advises asking teachers in person and then following up with an email that includes your resumé. Having that information handy will make it easier for your teachers to write personalized recommendations.
The summer between your junior and senior years:
• Choose a solo you’ll use for college auditions and start polishing it. It can be something you’ve already performed, or you can choreograph one yourself.
• Write the first draft of your application essay(s).
• Finalize the list of schools you want to apply to and take note of each program’s application deadlines and audition requirements. Don’t forget about the documents you’ll need, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation and income records (for financial aid packages).
• Try to take a few master classes in unfamiliar techniques, like modern or African dance. These new experiences will give you a leg up before auditions, which can often include styles you might not be comfortable with.
Your senior year:
• Schedule auditions. If the school allows, Burchfield recommends taking a class with current students while you’re on campus. Some programs will even count the class as your audition.
• Present yourself professionally online. This might include limiting public access to your social media accounts or adjusting how others can tag you. “You should always be the one in control of your internet presence,” Green says—not your friends.
• Complete and submit all applications, and make sure your transcripts and recommendations are in order. If you’re applying to conservatories, keep in mind that there might be a supplement to the Common Application (or even a supplement to a school’s individual app) where you’ll be asked about your dance training. Don’t procrastinate! Walker says students often underestimate how much time these additional applications can take.
• Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available January 1.
Congratulations—you did it! Beware of falling victim to senioritis, though: Colleges will still look at grades from your final semester. And remember to finalize your plans quickly. Most final decisions are due by May 1, the national college acceptance deadline.
When dancer Georgia Bernbaum was in fifth grade, she participated in a supply drive for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a homeless shelter near her Orlando, FL, home. “I started thinking about what it would be like to stay at the shelter, and all the things I’d miss,” she recalls. Then it dawned on her: “The kids don’t get to take dance lessons like I do.”
Fast-forward two years, and Georgia, now 12, is on her way to changing that. In the fall of 2014, she established the Dance Happy Project, which brings dance training to children at the Coalition’s Center for Women and Families. Every three months, Georgia—
a modern dance student at the Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park, FL—hires instructors to lead a series of classes on site. And with, on average, more than 200 kids staying at the Coalition each night, the Dance Happy Project is making a big impact.
Georgia’s project started on a much smaller scale: fulfilling a community-service requirement for her upcoming bat mitzvah. “My mom suggested I do something with dance, since that’s what I love,” Georgia says. But while her mom thought Georgia might simply try raising money for one of her dance studio’s nonprofit programs, Georgia had another idea. “I told my mom my plan was to bring dance classes to the homeless,” she says.
Georgia’s mom figured they wouldn’t be able to just walk into the Coalition and lead classes—and she was right. Luckily, the center already had an arts education initiative in place, Art by Coalition Children (ABCs), which recruited professional artists to teach community classes in disciplines like photography and sculpture. Dance, however, was missing from the roster. “They had different programs for art and music, but you need cameras for filmmaking and pencils for art,” Georgia says. “All you need to dance is yourself. And you can carry dance with you your whole life.”
(Photo by Lisbet Photography, courtesy Elizabeth Bernbaum)
Georgia knew she couldn’t teach the classes herself. She approached her dance studio’s artistic director, Dario J. Moore, for guidance. “He loved my idea,” Georgia says. (Moore has lots of experience teaching dance in public schools and in underserved areas.) Georgia formed a partnership with the studio, with Moore agreeing to provide instruction for the outreach classes.
October 3, 2014, marked the newly named Dance Happy Project’s first class at the Coalition. Twenty kids—plus Georgia—attended. “Everyone thought I was just another kid taking the class, but Dario introduced me as his boss lady!” Georgia says. “During the class, everyone got to make up their own dance, and I could see the kids having fun.”
The Next Steps
Georgia didn’t want to stop there. ABCs’ program leaders suggested the Dance Happy Project hold a series of four classes (one per week) four times a year. It was to be the center’s first ongoing ABCs program—if Georgia could sustain it. Though she had
received two grants to help pay the dance teachers, she knew she needed to raise more money to keep the project going.
The solution? On February 9, 2015, Georgia hosted a benefit concert featuring a silent auction and performances by nine local dance companies, including members of Orlando Ballet. It took months to prepare. “I wrote to more than 100 artists and asked if they’d be willing to donate a piece of art for the auction,” Georgia says. Thanks to her diligence, items up for auction included signed costume design sketches from Newsies and Wicked on Broadway, Disney’s Frozen on Ice and The Washington Ballet’s ALICE (in wonderland).
Proceeds from February’s fundraising event totaled more than $10,000, enough to continue the Dance Happy Project for at least five more years. Georgia also plans to hold another benefit concert next year. “She got a lot of requests to do it again—and many dancers who didn’t perform this time asked to be on next year’s program,” says Elizabeth Bernbaum, Georgia’s mom. “They all wanted to help.”
Georgia also has dreams of expansion. She hopes to bring the Dance Happy Project to local Boys & Girls Clubs, and to make sure it can continue after she goes to college. Ultimately, she’d like to replicate the program in other underserved communities across the country. “It can be pretty intimidating to ask people to participate and help,” she says. “But I learned not to be shy. You’ll always have more success when you just go straight for something you want.”
At this point, you've all heard of TED Talks. But have you heard of "Tap Talks"?
Hoofers, get excited.
Tonight, the American Tap Dance Foundation begins a six-part monthly series—"Tap Talks"—as part of its mission to educate the community about this classic American dance style. The talks will bring together everyone from tap dancers and choreographers to dance historians and writers. Oh, and there will be movies too, guys. (Three words: Gregory Hines footage.)
(Left to right) ATDF Artistic/Executive Director Tony Waag (photo by Lois Greenfield), tap dancer and mentor Brenda Bufalino (photo by Lois Greenfield) and Gregory Hines (photo by Greg Gorman)
The series begins tonight at 7:30pm at American Tap Dance Center in NYC, and it continues on a once-per-month schedule until June. Here's the lineup:
January 24, 2014: Explore Choreography!
February 14, 2014: Happy Birthday Gregory!
March 28, 2014: Tap Forward!
April 25, 2014: Tap and Vaudeville!
May 23, 2014: Let's Celebrate National Tap Dance Day! (May 25)
June 27, 2014: Tap City Re-Visited!
For tickets, call (646) 230-9564. (Click here for more info.)
And with that, we'll leave you with this epic Gregory Hines tap solo from the classic film White Nights. Happy Friday!