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.