“When I came here, I was like, ‘Have I ever danced before?’ There was so much to learn, I felt like I didn’t know anything.” —Zoey Anderson, junior, Marymount Manhattan College (Photo by Erin Baiano)

My first Friday night at New York University, two second-year dance majors had some of us freshmen follow them through SoHo to a tiny triangular street corner. There was nothing there but a one-story building that looked ready for a demolition crew. I didn’t know where we were or why. Then Savion Glover climbed onto the roof. He began tapping like a crazy man angry at his shoes—and my new classmates and I completely geeked out. Savion was jamming on a rooftop! For free! Just blocks from our school! Living in NYC was going to be awesome.

Some of the best college dance departments are located smack in the middle of the Big Apple, and for good reason. “If you want to immerse yourself in the center of the field, where the newest ideas about dance are being formed, where the best artists are practicing, where you can see a different show every night, NYC is the place to be,” says James Martin, an associate arts professor in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts dance department. But going to college for dance in NYC is kind of like the Disneyland version of being a professional dancer in the big city: It’s a larger-than-life experience and a much less risky option than arriving on 42nd Street with nothing but your resumé and dance shoes.

Not Your Normal Campus 

The first clues that NYC dance departments are unusual are the faces around the studio. These schools pluck the best of the best right out of the Big Apple dance scene: Allegra Kent teaches at Columbia University’s Barnard College; Joe Lanteri is on faculty at The Juilliard School; and the dancers in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program take class from a whole host of A-list instructors at The Ailey School. (Some students even have Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company members as their mentors, which means you might find Alicia Graf Mack hanging around the dorms!)

Yes, colleges everywhere bring in high-profile adjuncts and guest artists. But NYC schools can do it more often because those people live just a few subway stops away. “Last year, Larry Keigwin, Chase Brock, Pascal Rioult and Pam Tanowitz set work on us,” says Marymount Manhattan College junior Zoey Anderson. “These are big-time choreographers you want to know. We get to learn their movement and make a real connection with them.” Some schools, including NYU, invite entire NYC-based companies for weeklong teaching residencies. Students meet not just the director but also the dancers, and start to build a network of industry professionals. “Seeing what these companies go through on a daily basis better prepares students for professional life,” says Martin. “They know what’s going to be expected of them.”

And NYC’s resources don’t end there. Choreography and dance-writing courses might integrate local dance performances into the syllabus; dance-history classes can take students to museums or the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Through Juilliard’s Educational Outreach programs, junior Corey John Snide has honed his performing and teaching skills in public schools. “It’s not like I’m in a campus in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “Juilliard is my gateway to NYC.”

“I see as many performances as I can afford to. I’ve learned so much about what I like—and don’t like—and where I might want to dance in the future.” —Corey John Snide, junior, The Juilliard School (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Make Your Own Curriculum

In NYC, one of the best parts of going to school is leaving school. You can head to Broadway Dance Center to take the hip-hop classes your program doesn’t offer, or load up on ballet at Steps on Broadway. (Just try not to gawk when you end up next to Wendy Whelan at the barre.) “I’ve been able to keep up my ballroom dancing and to take classes with people like David Parsons so I can learn his style before it’s time to audition,” says Zoey. Some classes can even take the place of an audition: After taking choreographer Marinda Davis’ class at Peridance Capezio Center in 2011, Zoey performed with Davis in showcases around the city.

In addition to dancing, you can build your practical skill sets—and get an insider’s peek behind the scenes. NYC college students’ resumés might boast internships with The PULSE On Tour, American Ballet Theatre and Dance Spirit!

Intro to the Concrete Jungle

Moving to NYC can be overwhelming, even for people who love bright lights and bustling streets. But dancers who start off their big-city experiences in college have the support of a smaller community while they find their footing. “I’m so grateful to have a structured schedule set up for me, rather than just randomly picking up a class here and there,” says Zoey. A college dance department helps guide dancers so they know where to find rehearsal space, how to set up auditions and what resources are available.

Being a student also hooks you up with all-important student deals. “Our teachers always have extra free tickets to see Ailey,” says Ailey/Fordham sophomore Courtney Celeste Spears. “We also got to see Armitage Gone! Dance—and because it was through school, we met the choreographer, Karole Armitage.” College classes may force you to see shows you wouldn’t attend on your own—and possibly discover a company or new style you love.

The biggest perk for many dance majors is the chance to attend auditions while they’re still in school, rather than waiting until after graduation. Fordham students, for example, are allowed to use professional experiences as credit toward their degrees starting junior year. And Juilliard even helps dancers network so they can be invited to auditions. Corey made it to the final round for Newsies last year, but decided to focus on school instead.

The kinds of auditions students go for might change over the course of their four years. “Being here has opened my eyes to possibilities that I didn’t know about,” says Courtney. She’s not alone: The early exposure to NYC’s dance scene often leaves students with entirely different goals than the ones they arrived with as freshmen. “Growing up, it was always just, ‘I want to be famous,’ ” says Corey. “But I’ve realized I love teaching, and I want to use dance to help impoverished kids. College has given me options for how I can make a living and feel fulfilled artistically. I’m not just trying to kick my leg up to my face anymore.”

“I wanted to be in the middle of everything—see it all and be in it all—and surround myself with dancers who are just as driven as I am.” —Courtney Celeste Spears, sophomore, Ailey/Fordham BFA Program (Photo by Erin Baiano)

Is NYC Right for You? 

Despite the unique advantages of dancing in NYC, going to college there means sacrificing many of the typical cornerstones of campus life. If you’re looking for grassy quads, a big Greek culture or major sports teams to root for, NYC schools will be a disappointment.

And not every teenager is ready for the pressure or intense pace of day-to-day life in Manhattan. “Some students get overwhelmed and withdraw, and it’s something that wouldn’t have happened if they were in a different environment,” says NYU Tisch School of the Arts associate professor James Martin. “If you need more time to find your confidence—and many artists do—New York can be hard.”

It can also be distracting. Between the shopping, the nightlife and the entertainment, fun times are always just around the corner. Dancers have to resist the temptation to blow off classes or rehearsals for that party or film premiere.

For Courtney Celeste Spears, a sophomore in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program who came from a small town outside Baltimore, the hardest part was not letting the amount of competition in NYC intimidate her. “It’s easy to look at it and think, ‘The odds are not in my favor,’ ” she says. Or you can take the approach that she’s learned over the past year: “I use the competitiveness to help drive me more than I ever knew was possible.”

The Stats

Ailey/Fordham BFA Program

Degree offered: BFA in dance

Number of applicants: 422 in 2013

Number accepted: 55 admitted and 29 enrolled in 2013

Focus: Core classes include ballet, Horton and Graham-based modern.

Location: Lincoln Center and Ailey’s Hell’s Kitchen headquarters

Training ground: Six current members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater came through the BFA program.

Notable alumni: Courtney Henry of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Jacqueline Burnett of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Victoria Andrea Guajardo of MOMIX

 

Barnard College, Columbia University

Degrees offered: BA, minor or concentration in dance

Number of applicants: There is no separate dance department application or audition. 5,606 students applied to Barnard’s incoming class.

Number in department: 36 majors and 12 minors

Focus: Emphasizes the intellectual and cultural exploration of

dance in a liberal arts setting

Location: Morningside Heights

Sister theater: The department partners with Bill T. Jones’ New York Live Arts

Notable alumni: Michael Novak of Paul Taylor Dance Company, Jamie Scott of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Anna Schon of Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group

 

The Juilliard School

Degrees offered: BFA, diploma in dance

Number of applicants: 550–600

Number accepted: 24 (12 men, 12 women) per year

Focus: Aims to produce contemporary dancers by training them equally in ballet and modern

Location: Lincoln Center

Subsidized summer travel: The summer grants program offers funding for student-driven outreach programs—anywhere from Cleveland to Kenya.

Notable alumni: Billy Bell of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, Spenser Theberge of Nederlands Dans Theater 1, Frances Chiaverini of Morphoses

 

Marymount Manhattan College

Degrees offered: BFA or BA in dance

Number of applicants: 400 on average

Number accepted: 160 admitted; 75 enroll on average

Focus: Because the school emphasizes versatility, daily offerings include ballet, modern and jazz classes, plus tap, pointe or improv twice a week.

Location: Upper East Side

Scholarship help: More than 85 percent of MMC students receive some form of financial assistance.

Notable alumni: Jacob Michael Warren of Pilobolus’ Shadowland, Abby Silva Gavezzoli of Parsons Dance

 

Pace University

Degree offered: BFA in commercial dance

Number of applicants: 207 in 2013

Number accepted: 57 admitted and 39 enrolled in 2013

Focus: Prepares dancers for professional work onstage, in television and in commercials

Location: Financial District

Showtime: Students have the opportunity to perform in over 50 departmental productions per year.

Notable alumni: Former Miss Teen USA Logan West; Miss Southern NY Madison Embrey; Megan Peterson of the Rockettes tour

 

Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

Degrees offered: BFA or MFA in dance

Number of applicants: 400–550 BFA candidates

Number accepted: 30

Focus: Trains students for careers in contemporary and classical dance

Location: Greenwich Village

In and out: The program is designed so undergrads can graduate in three years.

Notable alumni: Ian Robinson of Batsheva Dance Company, Christina Dooling of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Jenn Freeman of Tayeh Dance

You know what I love?

Smart dancers.

Do you know how you can become a smart[er] dancer?

Go to college!

I love dancers who make the decision to continue their education after high school. I know it's not for everyone—some dancers want to get their professional careers kicked off right away, and hey, any ambition is good ambition, right?

But it's the ones who choose to pursue a bachelor's (or master's!) degree—while still dancing!—that really impress me.

Dance Spirit's September Issue! Cover photo by Erin Baiano.

And with that, I proudly present to you...Dance Spirit's September issue! It's our annual Higher Ed Issue, and you should've received it in your mailbox by now. (If not, go snag it at your local Barnes & Noble. I'll wait.)

On the cover, meet three current college students who are making the grade in NYC: Corey John Snide, Courtney Celeste Spears and Zoey Anderson. All three grew up on the competition circuit, and now they're getting a glimpse of all life has to offer in the classroom, in the dorms, on the college stage and beyond. Corey's studying at The Juilliard School (impressive, I know), Courtney's enrolled in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program, and Zoey is a dance major at Marymount Manhattan College (all the way from her hometown in Utah!).

We are so proud of them and are thrilled to have their smarty-pants faces beaming on the cover. Click here to read their cover story, "University of NYC."

Also in this issue: 

  • Must-know details about six standout NYC college programs
  • "Am I Ready for College?" I don't know. But in this story, we break down five common challenges university-bound dancers face, and we'll help ease any fears you may have about heading to the dorms.
  • Emily Bernet, a sophomore at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, shares all the gritty details about her first year as a dance major at SMU. (She got bit by a poisonous spider, but don't worry about that. It's not a common college thing. Promise.)
  • Dance Spirit's annual Higher Ed Guide, with all the info you need on 145 top-notch college dance programs.

Go check it out and then let us know what you think on Facebook or Twitter!

Study hard, dance hard, play hard and have the best school year ever!

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.‬

Zoey Anderson, Kaitlynn Edgar and Maddie Swenson are no strangers to competition. All three grew up regularly attending dance competitions—which no doubt prepared them for their trip to NYC as the 2011 Dance Spirit Cover Model Search finalists. For three jam-packed days, each dancer did her best to show why she belongs on the cover of DS, sweating through three back-to-back classes at Broadway Dance Center, rocking out at the DS photo shoot and performing a solo for the editors and voters.

While this year’s finalists all share similar backgrounds, when you see them perform, it becomes immediately apparent that each girl is very much her own dancer. Zoey’s a chameleon: One moment, she’s a sultry ballroom diva, sashaying in high heels, and the next she’s an emotionally vulnerable contemporary dancer. Kaitlynn picks up choreography in a snap and then infuses it with killer groove and alluring magnetism. Maddie’s got impeccable technique, supple feet and an approachable charm, all of which combine to make her a sparkling performer.

Zoey, Kaitlynn and Maddie made it to the finals by posting videos on dancemedia.com. Each month, viewers and editors choose their favorite Cover Model Search entries, which become the pool of semifinalists. Then, the DS editors select the top three, who are invited to NYC for the final round of competition.

The DS editors fell in love with all of the girls, so we’re glad we don’t have to pick the winner—that’s up to you! After reading about each finalist, go to dancespirit.com/ to watch Zoey, Kaitlynn and Maddie give their solo performances. Then, vote for your favorite, starting June 15.

While in NYC, the girls saw the Tony Award–winning Broadway musical Billy Elliot. When the curtain came down, Maddie, Kaitlynn and Zoey couldn't stop gushing about the talented cast!

On the streets of NYC, 18-year-old Zoey Anderson is a head-turner. She’s an all-American beauty with platinum blond hair, a radiant smile accented by dimples and a bubbly personality. But the moment this Utah native steps onto the dance floor, it becomes obvious she’s much more than a pretty face: She’s a versatile powerhouse with a vivacious stage presence.

Zoey started dancing and competing when she was 3 and immediately fell in love. She did it all, taking ballet, jazz, hip hop, lyrical—even cheerleading. When Zoey was 15, Kim DelGrosso, one of her teachers at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, told Zoey there was a boy looking for a ballroom partner. “I’d never done ballroom before,” she says, “but we took one private lesson together and that was all I needed—I knew I was going to love it.” And that’s clear at the finalists’ NYC photo shoot. When Zoey slips on a pair of heels, her feet fly into a cha-cha and her face comes alive with a flirtatious smile. She manipulates her body into perfect S-curves as her hips move in time to the music. “I love the personality I get to put into my ballroom dancing,” Zoey says. “I can be hot and sassy, but still fierce.”

Zoey’s passion is in her genes. Her grandmother was a member of the University of Utah’s first dance company. Her mom earned a BFA in dance from the U of U and went on to apprentice with Alvin Ailey in NYC. Plus, Zoey’s dad was part of the Young Ambassadors, an elite singing and dancing group at Brigham Young University.

With her family’s support, Zoey put her heart and soul into her training, and her dedication has paid off: She’s placed in the top 10 at every national competition she’s ever attended. She can be seen as a dancer in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and in commercials for Coke, Pepsi and the Discovery Channel. She even shared the stage with Jennifer Lopez and P. Diddy at the Macy’s Passport fashion show, where she danced in a piece choreographed by Brian Friedman. Oh, and did we mention that Zoey and her ballroom partner, Justin Ascione, are currently the world’s top couple in American Smooth for their age division? “It’s a mix between Latin and the standard technique,” she explains. “I love it because you can break off the frame and be more artistic by adding all sorts of tricks.”

Now, Zoey’s after the one thing she doesn’t have: a BFA in dance. This fall, she’s moving to NYC to start her freshman year at Marymount Manhattan. “I thought about moving to L.A., but after talking to my friends who took that route, I knew I needed to go to school,” she says. “There’s still so much for me to learn. I want to grow and continue training.” And after graduation? “I’d love to join a professional company like Cedar Lake or Complexions. Or be on Broadway—in Hairspray!”

Fast Facts

Birthday: April 26, 1993

Dance idols: “Mandy Moore was the first choreographer I really worked with and she’s choreographed a lot of my solos. I also love Andy Pellick—he’s a work of art. He teaches classic jazz and is really bringing it back. Oh, and Justin Giles!”

Dance crush: “Let’s be honest, we’re all in love with Tony Testa. But secretly, it’s Travis Wall—I’ve always thought he was so cute!”

Dance mentor: “Janalyn Memmott, my teacher at home. She’s given me such great support. And Kim DelGrosso, artistic director of Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, who’s an amazing woman and has given me so many opportunities.”

Three words that describe your dance style: Artistic, technical, passionate

Three words that describe your personality: Giggly, kind, happy

Non-dance hobbies: “Cooking. My dad loves it and has always made the best meals. It’s rubbing off on me. Every Sunday we make dinner and a dessert together. I also love singing and acting.”

Favorite food: “Meat—I love all meat.”

What People are Saying About Zoey

Janalyn Memmott, Zoey’s Teacher at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio: “Although Zoey is blessed with amazing ability, she remains humble, teachable, grateful and kind. I’m profoundly impressed with her honesty and innocence, as a person and as a performer. She takes a sincere interest in her fellow dancers and understands how to be a team player, always willing to share and contribute. Her integrity and generosity will serve her well in life and in her career.”

DS photographer Erin Baiano: “Zoey is a bubbly mass of energy with a mega-watt smile. (Her dimples are adorable!) She was completely at home in front of the camera and is a dynamic performer.”

Natalya Stavro, ballet teacher at Broadway Dance Center: “She’s very capable, but she has to be more confident with what she does in class. She has strength, she has good potential, but she lacks a little bit of experience in classical ballet.”

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