Sarah Stanley (Paula Court, courtesy Sarah Stanley)

Freshman Flashback: 9 Dance-Program Grads' Advice for Your First Year at College

Navigating college can be tough, especially when you're balancing an intense dance schedule with academic classes and jobs—and trying to make new friends! About to begin your college adventure? We talked to these recent graduates about what they wish they'd known before starting college.



Sarah Stanley (Paula Court, courtesy Stanley)

Sarah Elizabeth Stanley
Sarah Lawrence College-BA in liberal arts and sciences, with a concentration in dance

"Explore interests outside of dance. It helps you develop more as a person and become a better dancer and artist. I started screenwriting my senior year, and it has really helped with my choreography and things like how to build and edit a narrative. English and history also help you understand where movement comes from, and science classes like physics or anatomy will help you figure out how your body works."


Jessica Bertram (Lori Teague, courtesy Bertram)

Jessica Bertram
Emory University-BA in dance, BS in anthropology and human biology

"I wish I'd known about somatic practices before I entered college. Somatics is a field of movement study focusing on internal awareness. We had to take two or three somatic practice courses, such as applied yoga and contact improvisation, and it completely changed my dancing. You learn how to breathe and how your core is connected to everything. Even if I'd just taken yoga and Pilates in high school, I think I would've had a much smoother transition into my college technique classes."



Audrey Johnson (Bree Birr, courtesy Johnson)

Audrey Johnson
Wayne State University-BFA in dance

"Freshman year, you should audition for anything and everything, including repertories, student works, and faculty pieces. Even though I wasn't cast in most things my freshman year, the faculty and upperclassmen got to know me, and it opened up doors for me later. After seeing and being a part of other student works during my first couple of years, I wish that I'd started making my own choreography my freshman year, just to take advantage of every opportunity."



Lydia Marbach (Chloe Hamilton, courtesy Marbach)

Lydia Marbach
University of Arizona-BFA in dance

"Don't be afraid of the competition around you. My first day of dance class, I ran from an academic class over to the dance building for Ballet 400. I walked into a room of mostly seniors and juniors with perfect fifth positions and gorgeous lines, and I felt like I didn't look like any of them. I realized I needed to take ownership of my abilities, so my sophomore year, I took all of the dance classes I could fit into my schedule. Once the faculty sees that you're proud of who you are as a dancer, they're going to notice you!"



Emilie Stoll (Adam Campos, courtesy Stoll)

Emilie Stoll
Connecticut College-BA in dance

"I was so disappointed when I was paired with a first-year roommate whoI didn't get along with very well. She wasn't courteous and her boyfriend was always hanging around, so I avoided my room as much as I could. I wish I'd known that I should prepare myself for the possibility of us not liking each other, and had applied for a room change. I was a naïve freshman who didn't want to cause trouble, but I should have spoken up for myself."



Dot Armstrong (Carly Vanderheyden, courtesy Armstrong)

Dot Armstrong
University of Iowa-BFA in dance performance, BA in English

"You don't have to do ballet in college. I studied at a small-town ballet conservatory in high school, and so I applied to Iowa for its ballet program. I was lucky that Iowa has such a great balance of ballet and modern classes, because I learned that I shouldn't be afraid to explore beyond my comfort zone. Ask questions, both when you're applying for programs and when you first start out—you might miss important opportunities."



Ethan Barbee (Gabriella Olsen, courtesy Barbee)

Ethan Barbee
University of South Florida-BFA in dance, minor in mathematics

"You're going to need major time-management skills. My freshman year, I tried to do everything, but I was so overwhelmed and didn't have any personal time. About midway through my sophomore year, I finally figured out that I needed to see my schedule on a spreadsheet to know what I should say yes or no to. You can be a great dancer and still have other friends and priorities. Joining a fraternity and being a peer advisor leader were two experiences I wouldn't trade for anything!"



Cecilly Shives (John Lacko, courtesy Shives)

Cecily Shives
Western Michigan University-BFA in dance

"I wish I'd known the 'freshman 15' would affect me regardless of my dance classes. With no parents around to make my food, the cafeteria being all-you-can-eat, and wanting to stay inside to hang out with friends in the dorms, I gained the weight. So my sophomore year, I made a complete 180-degree change. I went to the gym every day as part of my routine, and I made smarter eating choices, like drinking lots of water and heading to the salad bar first."



Sydney Burrows (Bicking Photography, courtesy Burrows)

Sydney Burrows
Goucher College-BA in dance and English, minor in business management

"It's important to prioritize sleeping and eating well, especially during tech weeks and performances. I learned to keep snacks in my bag, such as nuts, bananas, and other fruits, almond butter, and protein bars, so that if I couldn't sit down for a meal, I could at least snack throughout the day."



Gabriella Olsen (Kyle Scharf, courtesy Olsen)

Gabriella Olsen
University of South Florida-BFA in dance

"Look into schools' study-abroad programs to see what's available. I was so lucky that my dance department developed a study-abroad program in France, because it really showed me what kind of route I wanted to take with my dancing. We studied at dance studios in Paris, learned from emerging global choreographers, and were treated like company members. The workshops that I took and the dancers that I worked with were unbelievable resumé builders. Ask what programs are available, as well as whether you can apply for any scholarships or grants."



Claire Goltz (courtesy Goltz)

Claire Goltz
University of Utah-BFA in ballet, minor in economics

"I thought that teachers in college would be very focused on tricks and how many pirouettes I could do. But we didn't get graded on how high our leg could go. It's about the pure technique and artistry. I had to learn how to let go of thinking I had done well because I had done an extra pirouette, and focus instead on implementing the artistry of the movement. My peers taught me how to make the smallest of details important in our dancing, and I now approach class very differently."

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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