Boston Conservatory has long been a leader in contemporary dance training in higher ed. While it remains an excellent option for artists hoping to pursue a career in concert dance, now—with the launch of a brand-new BFA program—the institution is expanding its world-class conservatory-style training to encompass commercial dance. Now accepting applications for fall 2022 studies, the commercial dance BFA will build on Boston Conservatory at Berklee's standard of excellence to prepare the next generation of dance professionals for the commercial industry. If you dream of dancing backup for Beyoncé, travelling the world as an entertainer on a cruise ship or landing a role in the next Cirque du Soleil production, here are six reasons to consider this standout program.
1. Students will have the opportunity to study commercial dance in a conservatory setting.
Historically, conservatory-style training has been reserved for classical dance forms, with commercial training following a different, less specific course. Boston Conservatory's commercial dance BFA is changing the tide, inviting dancers to immerse themselves in a variety of commercial dance styles in a concentrated and rigorous setting. "We're the only conservatory in the country that offers a BFA in commercial dance that can be completed in just three years," says Tommy Neblett, Boston Conservatory's dean of dance. "This is a very unique program in that we're positioned to draw on the strengths of both the affiliated Berklee College of Music and Boston Conservatory's existing dance program."
2. The program only takes three years to complete.
Because dance is such a fast-paced and youth-driven industry, dancers often feel pressed to choose between a formal education and jump-starting their careers. Boston Conservatory offers students the best of both worlds with the new BFA, utilizing a three-year (six semester) curricular model. "Completing the program in three years means really significant tuition savings for students," says Cathy Young, Boston Conservatory's executive director. "It also means a faster launch into the field."
3. You’ll leave with real-world experience for your resumé.
"Everything we do in this degree program is focused on helping students build out their portfolios," says Young. Not only will the students be featured in a major arena concert each year as part of commencement, but they'll also do industry-specific projects each semester—like performing with musicians from the Berklee College of Music and dancing in music videos. These projects are designed to "mimic what happens out in the world," Young says.
The new commercial dance BFA was also developed in partnership with Berklee's Career Center, which will help students find internships and apprenticeships that align with their specific interests. "They'll be able to get real-world experience, and if they land a gig, it will count towards their degree," says Neblett.
4. You can audition with—and study—any dance styles that align with your career goals.
The commercial dance BFA is designed so dancers can specialize in a variety of commercial-specific styles, from circus arts to K-pop to Broadway dance. "I really feel like the opportunity to reach through different departments and have an à la carte degree program is ideal," says Chelsey Arce, a Boston Conservatory alum and commercial dance BFA program development advisor who is currently the assistant director and choreographer for Cirque du Soleil's Paramour.
The commercial dance program does not require students to enroll in ballet or classical training, instead allowing them the flexibility to choose amongst a variety of genre-specific modules, including the following: hip-hop and urban dance; dance for video; circus and Las Vegas arts; social dance (swing, ballroom); jazz dance and Broadway dance; tap (Broadway and rhythm); improvisation; acting and voice; ballet and modern dance; and dance composition for film, video and stage.
Each module gives students a deep dive into that style. "If a dancer's goal is to be a backup dancer, they might choose the jazz module. If their focus is to do more Las Vegas circus arts, they can choose that pathway," says Neblett. "Or they can choose all different modules if they're interested in being more versatile and having a more eclectic range of training."
Classical forms are not a requirement of the audition process, either. In addition to taking a jazz technique class and a freestyle class on audition day, applicants will present a 60 to 90–second solo in whichever style they feel best represents their skills and future career goals. Boston Conservatory encourages and welcomes applicants from a variety of dance backgrounds, regardless of whether they have had formal training, Neblett says.
Boston Conservatory at Berklee dance students perform in Berklee's 2019 Commencement Concert.
Kelly Davidson, Courtesy Boston Conservatory at Berklee
5. Students have the opportunity to collaborate with the affiliated Berklee College of Music.
Not only will students benefit from the resources and name recognition afforded by Boston Conservatory, but they'll reap the rewards of proximity to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, which boasts alumni such as John Mayer, St. Vincent and Quincy Jones. Dancers in the commercial program will work closely with music majors, collaborating on performances, music videos and concerts. "The next Katy Perry or Beyoncé might come out of Berklee College of Music," says Neblett. "The commercial dance students will be working with these students in college, and then they'll already have those connections and that network set up when they enter the professional world."
6. Students can spend a semester off-campus to focus on professional work.
A hallmark of the new commercial program is the ability for dancers to spend one of six semesters off-campus to focus on an internship, apprenticeship or professional gig. Dancers are encouraged to go anywhere in the world, and their time will count as credit toward their degree, while still allowing them to graduate within three years. With bona-fide professional experience to list on their resumés upon graduation, alumni of Boston Conservatory will be poised to jump into the plethora of opportunities that come with a commercial dance career.
Applications to Boston Conservatory at Berklee's three-year commercial dance BFA are open now. Learn more about the program and how to apply at Boston Conservatory's website.
Vampires, witches, sickled feet...oh, my! This is the week to indulge in all things spooky and scary, and the dance world doesn't disappoint. Here are our favorite spooky dances that haunt our minds rent-free.
1. Jordan Fisher and Lindsay Arnold, “Dancing with the Stars”
Dancing a heart-pounding paso doble, Jordan Fisher, Lindsay Arnold and a gang of rave zombies are a spellbinding combo, bewitching the judges into awarding a perfect score...and eventually the mirror-ball trophy.
2. “Ramalama (Bang Bang)”, “So You Think You Can Dance”
Had to dust off some cobwebs here (was this really 15 years ago?! ), but Wade Robson's Emmy-winning "SYTYCD" opening number is still just as spine-tingling as it was back in 2006.
3. “Sexy,” from Mean Girls: The Musical
This female-power anthem is on our playlist year-round, but it does a particularly good job of getting us pumped for spooky season. If you need some costume inspiration, Halloween Queen Karen Smith has got you covered.
4. “Thriller,” by Michael Jackson
The actual definition of iconic: Michael Jackson's 13-minute musical nightmare is obviously required viewing this week. (Hint: You don't want to miss the famous dance break, which starts at 8:36.)
5. Michael Dameski, “World of Dance,” Season 2 Finals
With gravity-defying leaps and paranormally perfect pirouettes, "World of Dance" Season 2 runner-up Michael Dameski sure puts the "trick" in "trick-or-treat."
6. Giselle Act II Pas de Deux, Royal Ballet
This ballet may be boo-tiful, but the plot is downright spooky, with Wilis, graveyards, and exes wanting revenge...enough said. It's only fitting that American Ballet Theatre chose this ballet to open its fall season at Lincoln Center this year.
7. “Beautiful Sound,” from Beetlejuice: The Musical
We hope the Marquis Theatre has a powerful ghostlight….Beetlejuice: The Musical's spooktacular cast is returning to Broadway on April 8, 2022. For now, though, enjoy this snippet of Connor Gallagher's drop-dead–demanding choreography.
8. “Monster,” Kaycee Rice and Gabe de Guzman
This power duo may have looked tiny and cute back then, but their devilish dance moves already show off serious star potential.
9. “Prom Queen,” from “Dance Moms,” Season 5, Episode 6
If "Dancing with the Stars" ballroom beauty Jojo Siwa covered in fake blood isn't spooky enough, you should've seen how many creepy-themed Abby Lee Dance Company numbers we had to choose from for this roundup.
10. Dracula, Tulsa Ballet, 2018 Season
Bram Stoker's timelessly terrifying classic is a hallmark of Halloween. Tulsa Ballet's dancers are equal parts gorgeous and ghoulish, not to mention there are vampire brides flying across stage for much of the show...pretty fang-tastic.
No two dancers' career paths are exactly alike...which is actually pretty great! Equally great: New kinds of opportunities are constantly cropping up in the dance world, along with new skills necessary to book them. (Did anyone really know how to make a self-tape before 2020?) But in an industry that seems to quick-change faster than you did at your last recital, how can you be certain which skills will be the most important for you to have on your unique dance journey? The short answer: You can't. Luckily, though, with the right foundation, you can feel confident in any environment, whatever road you dance down.
Enter Marymount Manhattan College, a liberal arts school in the heart of NYC. From Broadway to ballet to the big screen, if you can dream of doing it, Marymount's BA and BFA dance programs provide the tool kit you'll need to get there.
Dance Spirit caught up with four Marymount Manhattan alumni to hear how the diversity of their training has helped them navigate postgrad life.
Samantha Butts (front left) in rehearsal with the Rockettes
Hailing from a competition-dance background in Columbus, OH, Samantha Butts knew she wanted a career in dance, especially one in NYC. "I wanted to explore Broadway, as well as contemporary and concert work, but also get a strong education," she shares. "Doing my research, I discovered Marymount and knew it was the perfect place to prepare for all of those avenues."
Settling on a modern dance concentration while also taking classes in ballet, jazz, contemporary, and commercial jazz, Butts was surprised not only by the amount of dancing, but of learning about dance, as well. "I went into school thinking that it was going to be all physical. But Marymount exposed me to so much of the history and background of dance that I hadn't even considered before." Particularly, Butts' professors challenged her to communicate as strongly with words as with her movement. "I had always hated public speaking, but I came to realize that being able to speak up, explain your movement and communicate how it feels is so important as a professional," she says.
Aside from dancing every day, Butts had the opportunity to flex other creative muscles. "I got to take graphic design and fashion classes, which I loved connecting to my favorite dance brands, and eventually led to me designing my own dance website," she explains.
When it came to her senior year, Butts still wasn't dead-set on a specific career path, but she was confident she had the tools necessary to succeed in dance. "I was exposed to so many different styles, ideas and people at Marymount. It was overwhelming at times, but by the end, I was confidently audition-ready," she says. After auditioning for several different opportunities, Butts performed as a Radio City Rockette in the 2019 Christmas season. When the pandemic hit, she took up teaching virtually and at her hometown dance studio, and has since expanded her teaching to include dance cardio with Body by Simone. "I never thought I would develop such a love for teaching," she says. "But Marymount gave me all of these tools, like knowing my anatomy, how to present myself professionally and how to communicate concepts, and navigate outside my comfort zone. All the boxes I needed were ticked to feel prepared to step into something totally new."
Martha Graham Dance Company member Jacob Larsen transferred to Marymount Manhattan after completing a year at community college, and immediately immersed himself in the college's vibrant student body. "Marymount is the best place to meet a ton of dancers, but you also meet actors, students working in production and costumes, future physical therapists—all these people who also have one foot in the dance world," he says. "I was enamored with NYC, and the people around me made me fall even more in love with dance."
For his ballet concentration, Larsen took classes in men's technique and partnering, but soon also found himself gravitating towards extra modern technique classes. "Learning the history behind dance, I was fascinated by modern-dance pioneers like Martha Graham," Larsen explains. "I loved how she wasn't afraid to make bold statements and break the rules." After graduating in 2015, Larsen attended Springboard Danse Montréal, where he performed works by Alexander Ekman and Banning Bouldin. Then, he was accepted into Graham 2, and joined Graham's main company a year later. "Graham technique is extremely physical and challenging," Larsen says. "But Marymount helped me develop such a strong technical foundation and awareness of my own body. As I like to say, anatomy is forever!"
What else is on his dance bucket list? Larsen envisions anything from Broadway to touring to performing with a pop star, in part because he's seen his fellow alumni succeed at all of the above. "Marymount is a very close-knit community on the Upper East Side," he says. "But once you leave, you realize, 'Oh, my gosh, there are MMC alumni all over, doing every kind of job.' "
Effy Grey Photography, Courtesy Hayes
Growing up in League City, TX, Lauryn Hayes trained in ballet, jazz, contemporary and hip hop, and spent summers dancing at The Ailey School in NYC. "It was my dream to move to NYC and dance, and I wanted a college program where I could get really great ballet training as well as dive into modern and other styles," she says. "It was that curiosity that brought me to Marymount." At school, Hayes immediately felt like a small fish in a big pond. "Marymount's program was humbling at first," she says. "All my classmates and I were probably the best back at their home studio, but the intensity of training and exposure to so many different dance styles at Marymount is definitely a big wake-up call to what dancing on a professional level is like."
Hayes started off with a jazz concentration in the BFA program, but by her junior year, she had switched to ballet, as well as added a second major, in business. Marymount Manhattan's dance curriculum revealed other new interests, as well. "It was such a happy accident that certain academic dance courses are required," Hayes says. "In Cultural History of Dance and Critical Approaches to Dance, I discovered my love for cultural anthropology and the politics of art."
After graduating earlier this year, Hayes is already #BookedAndBusy, thanks to the connections she made in school—but not in the ways you'd think. "The jobs I've had so far have actually all come from professors I didn't necessarily take from at Marymount, but still had the chance to learn from and network with, since it's such a tight-knit community," Hayes explains. Those opportunities have included joining Andrea Miller's renowned company, Gallim, for a two-month commission at Lincoln Center, as well as dancing in Deep Blue Sea, a work by Bill T. Jones, which just wrapped up a run at the Park Avenue Armory in NYC. "My professors at Marymount were constantly pushing me and were invested in my success," Hayes shares. "Performing in such an iconic NYC venue as Lincoln Center with three of them in the front row cheering me on was a full-circle moment."
Moving forward, Hayes hopes to further explore all of the doors that Marymount opened up for her. "I really enjoy modern and postmodern dance, and also academia," she says. "Down the road, I would love to become a professor of African-American studies or gender studies, alongside my dancing."
Lexi Garcia backstage at Hamilton, with Lin-Manuel Miranda
Florida native Lexi Garcia still vividly remembers the first time she walked into Marymount Manhattan for her BFA dance audition. "From taking in the beautiful campus to the professors leading my audition, the energy and encouragement felt completely aligned with what I wanted out of my college experience," she recounts. What Garcia didn't quite expect was for Marymount to completely flip her idea of technique on its head. "Coming from a competition background, I quickly realized I had to rewire my brain to focus on longevity," she says. "If I wanted to dance professionally, I couldn't just crank my leg up or jam my turnout. My training at Marymount was a lesson in working with and celebrating what I've got." The ultimate payoff of rebuilding her technique on a college level, according to Garcia, was consistency. "When you truly understand your technique, there's no more 'good' and 'bad' turn days. You know that whenever a choreographer asks for something, you're able to deliver."
Although Garcia pursued the modern concentration at Marymount Manhattan, after graduating in only three years, she was happy to discover how her training equipped her to grand-jeté in a new direction: musical theater. "When I started going to open calls, I realized it was a very similar environment to all of the times I worked with guest choreographers in school," she explains. "Your adrenaline is pumping, and you want to impress everyone in the room and stay open to whatever they're throwing at you. Knowing I had done that before definitely helped my confidence."
After contracts with Norwegian Cruise Lines and regional theaters, Garcia got the call she'd been dreaming of. "I had auditioned for the Philip cast of Hamilton 's North American tour before, but they explained that someone in the Broadway cast was pregnant and they needed a replacement," she says. In 2017, she made her Broadway debut.
Nowadays, Garcia is passing on all of the valuable lessons she's learned to her students at East Coast Performing Arts, while plotting yet another career switch-up, this time as a performer at Disney World in Orlando, FL. "My family lives in Florida, and it's my dream to be able to perform for them and be a part of such a magical place for entertainment," she says.
Overall, Garcia's time at Marymount planted seeds of insight that she's continued to develop across the span of her dance journey. "When I first came to Marymount, I had this perspective of making everything happen all by myself," Garcia says. "But Marymount introduced me to the ideas of community and balance. I realized that if I'm going to survive in this industry, I need other people to help keep me going, and at Marymount, I found those people."
It's no surprise that more and more dancers are choosing to choreograph their own solos for competitions: It grants them creative freedom, gives them a chance to practice choreography, and allows them to find what movement works best for them.
But what about dancers who want to choreograph a duet, trio or even a group dance with their peers? Does it become a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, or an opportunity for collaboration and growth?
First, Ask Yourself Why
Before you begin collaborating with other dancers to choreograph your own work, consider your motivations. Are you eager to see where your creativity can take you? Do you want to explore a particular style that's unlike those of choreographers you normally work with? Are you encouraged by your teachers and dance-team directors? Having a clear "why" can help motivate you when the process gets difficult and keep your focus on your creative journey, rather than competition trophies.
At Spotlight Dance Academy of NJ in Martinsville, NJ, dancers are encouraged by their teachers to explore their own choreographic chops with choreography. So, when Bryona Inglis, Analisa Marago, Mikayla Sivulka and Emily Stass decided to choreograph a group competition routine for all four of them, they had both support from their teachers and some prior experience.
"Choreographing is something we've done for a couple of years now," Stass says. "We've also done solos and duets. We're encouraged at our studio to explore choreographing at a younger age."
Julie Rust and Hannah Brabham, dancers from The DanceWorks in Round Rock, TX, decided to perform a duet together for Brabham's senior year competition season, and wanted the freedom to blend elements of jazz and contemporary. The pair approached their studio's owner and their competition company's director with their idea.
"We really wanted to do a duet, but we felt like only we could create the choreography that we wanted," Rust says.
"We had seen older dancers at competitions doing self-choreographed solos and duets," Brabham says. "So we went to our teachers with the idea of choreographing a duet together, and they were behind us 100 percent."
Like any choreographers, dancers who plan to self-choreograph for a competition can start their work in a variety of ways. Some choose to select their music first and then create movement, others start by creating movement phrases and then setting them to music, and some even begin with a story or theme for their piece and build from there.
Rust and Brabham looked for music separately before their first rehearsal. "We sent links back and forth until we landed on a piece of music that felt like a perfect blend of what would challenge us and be musically interesting to choreograph to—something we would enjoy listening to and dancing to at all our rehearsals," Brabham says.
When it comes time to work in the studio, each choreographer brings their own style. How you blend those styles is a matter of choice: You could work together step by step, or you could each contribute your own phrases of movement to the piece.
Rust and Brabham's creative process was heavily based on their improvisation together. "We played the music, and then whatever our bodies wanted to do, we'd set for that part," Rust says.
"We let it organically happen, like 'Oh, that looks cool. How do we blend that into something else?'" Brabham says. "And it was really collaborative, not like 'I do this section, you do that section.' It was a reflection of our styles and our individuality, but also us as dancers together."
Staying On Track
Don't be surprised if you hit a creative block while choreographing your first piece. Sometimes the solution is to push through, but if an idea isn't working, don't be afraid to shift gears.
The four dancers from Spotlight Dance Academy of NJ were halfway finished with one dance before deciding it didn't have a proper storyline, and so needed some changes. "It was a lot of trial and error," Inglis says.
Rust and Brabham started with a sentimental dance dedicated to their friendship and Brabham's senior year, but they scrapped it after a month of work. "We felt really restricted doing it, because it wasn't necessarily 'us,'" Brabham says. They turned their efforts towards a darker, more contemporary style, and the movement flowed from there.
Despite being open to changing artistic directions, both the group from New Jersey and the duo from Texas had to stay mindful of their competitions' deadlines. They dedicated at least an hour weekly to their self-choreographed pieces to complete and clean them.
Cleaning a dance you are also performing can be challenging for a choreographer. Rust and Brabham turned to technology for solutions. They filmed themselves and reviewed the footage over and over to smooth out awkward transitions and refine their timing. Their company's director, Kali Boyd, also offered tips.
"When we got closer to competition season, Kali came in and gave us advice," Brabham says. "She basically told us, 'What you have is good, but here are ways to elevate it to the next level.' But for the most part, she made sure that we were prepared and wouldn't send us out with a dance that wasn't ready."
Julie Rust and Hannah Brabham dance their self-choreographed duet at competition.
Photo courtesy of Rust and Brabham
As with any group project, choreographing as a group has the potential to bring up conflict among the collaborators.
"We all have unique styles of choreography, and we're also all really good friends, so sometimes we would butt heads and bicker," Inglis says. "But, ultimately, we all had the same goal—to do well at competition. So we'd decide what was best for the group and communicate instead of fighting."
Try to approach conflict with that idea in mind—you're all on the same team and working towards the same goal. Talk it out in a level-headed manner, and, if need be, bring in a trusted teacher as an impartial mediator.
Certain competitions have categories and special awards for student choreography, so check the rules and regulations when registering. If not, enter in the standard category and enjoy seeing your own names in the program under "choreographer"—you've earned it!
"I'm most proud of how independent we were with our duet," Brabham says. "Our teachers really trusted us to do what we wanted, and we were able to make something of our own that was a reflection of our hard work."
"Be open, and communicate with your group or partner," Sivulka says. "And remember: It's your dance. Do what works for you."
Oatmeal isn't just a boring breakfast anymore—it's a hearty meal (or snack) that's perfect for a pre- or post-dance refuel!
Oatmeal is affordable and customizable, making it perfect for dancers looking for a budget-friendly, pre-rehearsal pick-me-up. A half-cup of uncooked old-fashioned oats offers 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein, and that's before you dress it up with your favorite toppings.
Here are three methods for cooking old-fashioned oats, plus four ways to customize them.
COOKING YOUR OATMEAL
Bring 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup of your preferred milk and a pinch of salt to a boil in a small saucepan. Add 1/2 cup of oats and reduce to medium heat. Stir occasionally and cook until the oats have absorbed most of the liquid, about 5 minutes. Top with your favorite combinations from the list below.
Mix 1/2 cup of dried oats, 1/2 cup of your preferred milk or yogurt, and 1 teaspoon of chia seeds in a jar or airtight container. Leave in your refrigerator overnight, or for a least five hours. Mix with ingredients from the list below.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix or blend 1/2 cup of dried oats with 1/2 cup of your preferred milk, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt, 1/2 of a mashed banana, and your preferred ingredients from the list below. Pour batter into an 8-ounce greased ramekin. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
ADDING YOUR TOPPINGS
Berries and Cream
Serve with sliced strawberries, blueberries, a dash of vanilla extract and a dollop of yogurt.
Top with a scoop of pumpkin purée, cinnamon, nutmeg and a drizzle of maple syrup.
Dice apples into bite-size pieces and top with cinnamon and maple syrup or honey.
Peanut Butter Chocolate
Bring extra protein with a small scoop of peanut butter or other nut butter, and add chocolate chips for sweetness.