Choose Wisely

If you’re a college-bound high school senior, you might feel like the rest of your life is enclosed in one of those highly anticipated large envelopes. But what if you got more than one?

First of all, congratulate yourself on the hard work that led up to those acceptance letters! Then, take a step back and consider your options. Got into your top choice—but your parents aren’t 100 percent supportive? Received a great financial-aid package—but it’s still not enough? DS asked Heather McCowen, PhD, a counselor at The Chicago High School for the Arts, to help you figure out which school you should ultimately choose.

(Photo by Jack F/Thinkstock)

I got accepted to my top choice—a dance conservatory—but I need help convincing my parents that dance school is OK. What should I do?

If your parents aren’t supportive of you pursuing a dance degree, try to remember that they’re probably just worried about you. “Parents can have a lot of negative preconceptions,” McCowen says. She suggests sitting down with your parents and explaining to them—step-by-step—how you’re going to make it work. Offer to try out a program for a semester or a year and then check back in with them—but specify that if you end up loving where you are, they should agree to respect your decision. And if you need a mediator, don’t hesitate to involve your high school counselor. He or she can help explain the benefit of a dance degree to skeptical parents.

I got into two schools. One isn’t my first choice, but it’s in the city of my dreams. The other is a great program—but it’s in the middle of nowhere. Help!

Location won’t necessarily hold you back, but a lack of stage time and networking will. “Find out which school gives you more performance opportunities and how many guest artists the department hosts,” McCowen says. If it’s a top school, but you’ll have few chances to perform or work with guest artists, then the name doesn’t mean very much—especially if you’re outside of major cities and totally reliant on your department for networking and training. If the program isn’t top-notch but is in a major dance hub like NYC or L.A., you can still meet people, audition and take class outside of school.

I got into a top conservatory program, but I was offered a better financial-aid package at a university. Is money a reason to give up my dream?

Sit down with your family and take a long, hard look at the reality of student loans and debt. Even if it seems like you’re faced with an impossible decision, you have options. “Conservatories are notorious for offering low financial-aid packages,” McCowen says. “You and your parents should determine how much more money you would need to make it work, and then appeal your financial-aid package.”

Every family has to decide what they can handle financially, but McCowen cautions against going into massive debt for any program. Consider applying to transfer in after a year or two, or check out whether the conservatory school offers any graduate degrees, which are often funded.

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

Cover Model Search
Photo by Erin Baiano

Imagine attending American Ballet Theatre's prestigious NYC summer intensive, training among classical ballet legends. Imagine taking the stage at New York City Dance Alliance Nationals, competing against some of the country's best contemporary dancers. Now, imagine doing both—at the same time.

Welcome to Madison Brown's world. This summer, she's in her third year as a National Training Scholar with ABT, while also competing for NYCDA's Teen Outstanding Dancer title. (She's already won Outstanding Dancer in the Mini and Junior categories.) The logistics are complicated—ABT's five-week intensive overlaps with the weeklong NYCDA Nationals, which translates to a lot of cabs back and forth across Manhattan—but Maddie is committed to making the most of each opportunity. "I love contemporary and ballet equally," she says. "While I'm able to do both, I want to do as much as I can."

Maddie has an expressive face, endless extensions, and a quiet command of the stage. She dances with remarkable maturity—a trait noted by none other than Jennifer Lopez, one of the judges on NBC's "World of Dance," on which Maddie competed in Season 2. Although Maddie didn't take home the show's top prize, she was proud to be the youngest remaining soloist when she was eliminated, and saw the whole experience as an opportunity to grow. After all, she's just getting started. Oh, that's right—did we mention Maddie's only 14?

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Photo by Erin Baiano

Click here to vote for Emma.

There's a story Kate Walker, director of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX, loves to tell about Emma Sutherland, who just graduated from the program. "We were watching the students run a really long, challenging piece," Walker recalls. "Several kids couldn't quite make it through. But Emma did make it all the way to the end, which is when she walked up to us faculty and very politely asked, 'May I please go throw up?' "

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