With a growing emphasis on specialized training, many colleges are offering concentrated degrees within the overall dance major, focused on preparing dancers for very specific aspects of the industry—from ballet to ballroom to commercial. DS rounded up some of the hottest programs with hyper-focused degree tracks.

For Broadway Hopefuls

Jessica Fay's Ladies of the USO at Oklahoma City University (photo by Katy Rush, courtesy Oklahoma City University)

Oklahoma City University

Oklahoma City, OK

OCU is one of the premier college dance programs for musical theater enthusiasts. After two years of triple-threat classes, students can select a performance-focused track. Senior Tanner Pflueger, who starred in London’s Billy Elliot from 2008–2009, chose OCU because “as a young performer, I didn’t understand everything that goes into being on Broadway,” Pflueger explains. “I now have hands-on experience in both production and performance.”

Notable alumni: Sasha Hutchings (Hamilton), Gabrielle Ruiz (In the Heights, A Chorus Line national tour, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on The CW), 45+ Radio City Rockettes

Point Park University students in Sonya Tayeh's It Passes (photo by Jeff Swenson, courtesy PPU)

Point Park University

Pittsburgh, PA

“At Point Park, students learn fundamental jazz styles, like the techniques of Bob Fosse and Luigi, and study current Broadway choreographers like Susan Stroman, Rob Marshall and Mia Michaels, before exploring their own artistic voices,” says Point Park alumna and jazz coordinator Kiesha Lalama. Guest teachers and visiting professors, such as Broadway Dance Center’s Jim Cooney, give students the full spectrum of concert-based, commercial and musical theater jazz styles.

Notable alumni: Rob Ashford (2002 Tony winner for choreography in Thoroughly Modern Millie), Broadway performers in Young Frankenstein: The Musical, Peter Pan (national tour) and Mary Poppins (national tour)

Cherice Barton's '59 at Marymount Manhattan College (photo by Eduardo Patino, courtesy MMC)

Marymount Manhattan College

New York, NY

Marymount allows jazz and tap fanatics alike to obtain a college degree right in NYC. “I want my students to understand how to work both the camera and the stage, how to dance to pop music or to Broadway tunes,” says Marymount jazz teacher Sheila Barker. Recent alumna Cindy Reid loved having access to the city’s extensive dance network during her college career. “We have Marymount MIX [Movement in Exchange], which allows choreographers like Broadway Dance Center’s contemporary/jazz teacher Mike Esperanza to use Marymount dancers in a lab,” Reid says.

Notable alumni: George Jones (backup dancer for Jennifer Lopez); Broadway performers in 42nd Street (national tour), A Chorus Line, CATS (national tour), Hairspray (national tour) and Legally Blonde; performers on Celebrity, Norwegian and Oceania cruises

Kent State's production of Slide Show (photo by Matt Unger, courtesy KSU)

Kent State University

Kent, OH

Kent State’s BFA in musical theater nurtures students who want to be triple threats. “All of our students are required to audition for the main-stage shows—two musicals and two plays per year—and we offer three dance concerts they can audition for as well,” says Terri Kent, the musical theater coordinator.

Notable alumni: Broadway performers in Chicago, Hair, Next to Normal, Grease (national tour) and Annie (national tour)

For Aspiring Commercial Queens

Pace School of Performing Arts students (courtesy Pace)

Pace School of Performing Arts

New York, NY

Pace University’s commercial dance program includes unique classes like Aerial Arts (silks and trapeze) and Vocal Music for Dancers. “I did a choreography project for a dryer-sheet commercial,” says recent graduate Lindsey Weissinger. “The program really prepares you for anything.” Agents from NYC and L.A. frequent Pace’s performances, which include two main-stage faculty dance shows and several full-length musicals a year, as well as numerous student productions. And starting in 2018, students will spend the spring semester of their junior year in L.A. studying dance and choreography for the camera with Mandy Moore and other L.A. artists.

Notable alumni: Broadway performers in 42nd Street (national tour) and performers on Royal Caribbean International

Giana Forgione (center) and other Relativity School students on camera (photo by John Manning, courtesy Relativity School)

Relativity School

Los Angeles, CA

This campus is located in the Los Angeles Center Studios, where shows and movies such as “Mad Men,” “Castle” and The Jungle Book were filmed. “We sometimes get used as extras on TV shows or in music videos,” says junior Giana Forgione. Although the BFA in commercial dance program is only entering its third year, it allows students

to explore contemporary and classical dance styles along with acting and business management. The Inside the Dancer’s Studio series brings in guest artists, such as Tyce Diorio, to teach master classes every other week.

Notable alumni: Stay tuned—the first class will graduate in 2018!

For Diehard Ballerinas

Indiana University, Bloomington

Bloomington, IN

The IU ballet program allows students to focus on classical ballet. “The viewpoint is American ballet, so we do lots of Balanchine pieces and have many instructors connected with New York City Ballet,” says department chair Michael Vernon. Vernon runs his department like a ballet company, focusing on technique, and the program often allows students to graduate in only three years so they can join professional companies.

Notable alumni: Amanda Schull (Center Stage), Lauren Fadeley (Miami City Ballet) and performers with Joffrey Ballet, Ballet West and American Repertory Ballet

University of Utah's student company, Utah Ballet, performing George Balanchine's Serenade (photo by Luke Isley, courtesy University of Utah)

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, UT

The University of Utah is home to Utah Ballet, the resident ballet company composed of advanced students. With a large department of about 150 ballet majors, the company often performs full-length ballets as well as smaller one-acts. The department shares a close affiliation with Ballet West, which offers trainee programs and classes open to Utah students.

Notable alumni: Performers with Ballet West, BodyVox, Utah Regional Ballet and Ballet Fantastique

University of Cincinnati, CCM's Swan Lake (photo by Will Brenner, courtesy University of Cincinnati)

University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music

Cincinnati, OH

Surrounded by many regional ballet troupes—including the Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Kentucky Ballet Theater—UC, CCM, allows students to perform full-length ballets like Giselle and Swan Lake while also experiencing workshops and classes with local professional companies. Plus, the program offers online courses, allowing for flexibility of coursework to gain professional experience. Senior Madelyn Nelson has already received a traineeship with Louisville Ballet and will finish her degree online. “We have guest teachers who come in to stage Balanchine or Twyla Tharp, and we recently had visitors from Denmark who staged a Bournonville ballet,” says department chair Qi Jiang.

Notable alumni: Performers with Ballet Austin, Ballet West, Columbus Dance Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Nashville Ballet

For Belles of the Ballroom

BYU's Ballroom Dance Company (photo by Mark A. Philbrick, courtesy BYU)

Brigham Young University

Provo, UT

At BYU, students can study advanced-level International Standard and International Latin ballroom dance, with about 60 ballroom classes offered in total. The program also offers five different ballroom performing teams, each with 16 couples. The BYU Ballroom Dance Company, the highest-level team, tours every summer to competitions, including the Blackpool Dance Festival competition in England.

Notable alumni: Travis and Jaimee Tuft (U.S. Professional Rising Star Smooth Champions) and Shane and Shannon Jensen (World Professional Cabaret Champions)

Utah Valley University dancers (courtesy UVU)

Utah Valley University

Orem, UT

UVU allows students to major in dance with a ballroom emphasis, and includes advanced technique classes in International Standard, International Latin, American Smooth and American Rhythm. Students can perform with the Ballroom Dance Company, which has four different teams, two of which compete. “Last summer, we won the Formation Team Title at the Blackpool Dance Festival,” says UVU professor Chris Witt.

Notable alumni: Giovanna Velazquez (professor at BYU and BYU DanceSport Amateur Latin Champion), Nick Bloxsom-Carter (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Season 9)

Last night, DS assistant/fashion editor Michael Anne Bailey and I got all decked out —I wore jeans, actually, but she was decked out and looked super cute — to attend the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Destiny Rising show at The Joyce Theater in NYC.

In honor of NYCDAF's first anniversary, last night's show boasted a star-studded roundup of choreographers and performers, many of whom are New York City Dance Alliance faculty and alumni (including New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild and Houston Ballet's Melissa Hough and Garrett Smith).

The people watching in the audience was, as with any NYCDA event, spectacular. But the real action happened onstage, and Michael and I are here to recap all the fun for you...

Alison: ‪OK, so last night we went to the New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's Destiny Rising show at The Joyce. How would you describe the night in one word?

Michael: ‪Progress. The foundation is really taking groundbreaking steps that will help young dancers get the training and education they need to be successful — not just in their 20s, but for the rest of their lives.‬

Alison: Totally. One of my favorite parts of the night was actually the video they played recapping some of the amazing scholarship opportunities NYCDAF has presented to dancers since its inception.‬

Michael: ‪I loved that, too! I actually got emotional watching it — I know the scholarships will change lives. We talk about the importance of formal education in DS all the time, but to hear Susan Jaffe speak‬ about how a lack of education initially held her back after an extremely successful dance career, really brought the issue home.

Alison: Yes! I love that she admitted that. And we got to hear from Corey Snide, who was the first-ever Astaire Award scholarship recipient. He's a freshman at The Juilliard School now, and he's flourishing there, thanks to NYCDAF.

Michael: ‪Let's talk about the dancing. Did you have a favorite number?

Alison: Catherine Hurlin!‬ I have always loved watching Catherine, and last night she performed a variation from Flames of Paris. She was just so sweet and easy to watch. That girl is a star, and I'm so glad she's getting awesome training at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at American Ballet Theatre.

Michael: ‪She was my husband's favorite! He kept talking about her performance all the way home

Alison: Here's the thing:‬ There were a ton of contemporary numbers last night. Lots of instrumental music. When Catherine came out in her bright-white tutu and flashed that giant smile of hers, it was just fun. It was a nice change of pace.

Michael: ‪I couldn't agree more. I was blown away by Melissa Hough and Garrett Smith from Houston Ballet. And when I realized that Garrett had choreographed the piece, I couldn't believe it! Her technique, passion, and dedication to the piece were unmatched.

Alison: I absolutely agree. Melissa Hough is another one of my favorites — all of my favorite dancers right now are ballet dancers who grew up on the comp scene. Go figure.‬

Michael: And it's so fun to see a ballerina in bare feet every once in awhile. Melissa Hough is so versatile, which I definitely think comes from growing up on the comp scene.‬

Alison: Camille A. Brown's piece was fantastic, too. She's hilarious, and even my boyfriend got into her solo.

Michael: I loved loved loved Camille A. Brown's piece. I had never seen her perform and was absolutely wowed. She draws you in like a true entertainer.

Alison: ‪What was particularly amazing about her performance was that we couldn't see her face the entire time, but she was still so expressive. Her hat was down over her eyes, but she didn't need to connect with the audience visually. Her movement spoke volumes. She's a really unique performer.

Michael: ‪I've never seen anything like it. And I would die to see it again!‬

Alison: ‪So can we talk about how incredible our former Cover Model Search finalists were last night? Two of my favorite performers of the night: Ida Saki and Zoey Anderson. Those girls are insane.

Michael: ‪YES!!! It's so fun to see how much they've grown since attending Tisch (Ida) and Marymount Manhattan (Zoey). Zoey danced in a number with probably 30 other girls and I only watched her. Zoey has always been an outstanding performer, but now her movement quality and technique are becoming more and more flawless.

Alison: ‪Zoey is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. And Marymount is working for her. She's grown a ton since we saw her for the CMS. I didn't love the number Ida was in, sadly — it just wasn't my style, and I wanted the show to kick off with something a little more upbeat — but the choreography really played to Ida's strengths.‬

Michael: ‪I agree. I'm a bit bored with most of the contemporary pieces I'm seeing lately. Everything is starting to look the same: the music, the choreography, the performance quality.‬

Alison: ‪Absolutely. Dear choreographers: We get it. We see what you're doing. We're ready for large group jazz numbers now! Love, DS

Michael: ‪Ha ha, just something new and innovative, please! I'm ready to be wowed again, and I know these choreographers are talented enough to do it! That said, I left last night with an even greater respect for the NYCDAF, Joe Lanteri and the dance community in general — young dancers are in good hands!‬

Alison: ‪Yes, at each event Joe's passion for the arts truly comes through. He knows each NYCDA kid by name, and that blows my mind. He knows which studio they're from, what the name of their solo is and where they're thinking about going to college. He's so invested in their futures, and as an audience member, it's a total pleasure to witness.

Michael: ‪I couldn't agree more. What a wonderful night it was.‬

Alison: ‪Have I mentioned I have a huge dance crush on Joe Lanteri? No? It's clear though, right?‬

Michael: ‪Ha ha, yes, Alison, we know. But I'm pretty sure it's a general Dance Spirit crush.

Alison: ‪On that note, thank you, Joe, for a wonderful night, and thank you Michael for being a great show-seeing partner.‬

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