Peter Borg, courtesy Rider University

One Degree, 7+ Career Options: Everything You Can Do With A Dance Degree Today

The term "dance degree" can be a little misleading—after all, it's a degree that prepares you for far more than just performing. Classes as varied as composition, pedagogy, dance science, and even grant writing are a part of some dance programs today.

"When I was creating our Bachelor of Arts in Dance program, I went to the Department of Labor and Dance/USA, and I learned that only 17 percent of grads with a performance degree end up performing," says Kim Vaccaro, associate professor of dance at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. "I wanted to offer students as much choice as possible." The result is a program that offers students myriad career options—like these seven:


Performer 

Any dance degree program worth its salt offers students opportunities to hone their performance skills. "My students have to perform every semester as part of the BA," says Vaccaro. "We produce a major event in the spring every year, and we bring in professional choreographers from the tristate area to create original work." She reports that these choreographers often end up hiring Rider students later on.

Students can also perform with Rider's student-run Dance Ensemble, in American Repertory Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, and with American Repertory Ballet Workshop, part of Princeton Ballet School's pre-professional training program.

A group of women in different all-white outfits dance against an orange and yellow backdrop. They smile towards the audience, and gesture up and to the side.

Peter Borg, courtesy Rider University

Teacher 

Because Rider has a partnership with the nearby Princeton Ballet School, graduates leave with a connection to a respected ballet institution. When 2013 Rider alum Audrey Yeager found a position at the nearby Princeton Symphony Orchestra, she dropped off her resumé at PBS and offered to substitute teach when needed. "Princeton Ballet School ended up hiring me," says Yaeger. "That was a really nice connection. Because I was familiar with the school and how it runs, it was easier to copy that and then eventually create my own teaching style."

Vaccaro says that many Rider dance students double major in elementary education. "Every single one of them is now teaching dance in public schools," she says. All Rider students are required to take pedagogy and methodology as part of the dance BA degree.

Choreographer 

A strong choreographic focus offers students the tools to make their own work post-grad. Rider dancers, for example, take choreography and improvisation classes. They also get to learn firsthand from the reputable choreographers who come to Rider to create new work with them. "I call it osmosis," says Vaccaro. "When you stand by an incredibly inspirational person and work with them intensely, you start absorbing the affinities and mechanisms by which you can then develop your own pieces."

A large group of dancers onstage with a set consisting of plastic water bottles and other types of trash. Some dancers are middair, others are running across the stage or reaching towards the sky.

Peter Borg, courtesy Rider University

Physical therapist 

After noticing that many dance graduates were double majoring in science and then going on to graduate school to pursue careers in physical and occupational therapy, Vaccaro helped design a dance science degree for Rider. "The dance science majors even do practicums with a dance physical therapist on campus," she says. "It's another kind of pedagogy—an experiential one."

Dance movement therapist 

"This type of therapy uses movement to find ways of dealing with anxieties or traumas or other mental health illnesses," explains Stephanie Greenleaf, who is in her first year of Rider's new dance movement therapy graduate degree program.

Her extensive dance training has been invaluable to this course of study. "We study different movement affinities that people might have, and what those might mean to them," she says."Analyzing those different pressures and speeds of movement helps you be able to explore with patients."

Rider's DMT program is unique. "We have movement labs in which students discover for themselves how creativity and dance leads to transformations and healing," says Eri Millrod, who co-created the program. "We create a learning environment in which students feel free to suspend self-judgement, get to know themselves and take risks."

A dancer wears a long, flowy dress, the skirt of which is made of strips of different materials. She reaches up and over to the side, balancing on one leg.

Peter Borg, courtesy Rider University

Arts administrator

Yeager, who minored in arts administration at Rider, says that a grant-writing class she took as an undergrad was instrumental in helping her find success as the manager of donor relations for the Princeton Symphony Orchestra. "You need to be able to communicate and write clearly in this job," she says.

Her dance degree has also been integral to her position. "Dance teaches you discipline, creativity, organization, and being accountable," she says. "That's my whole life at the symphony."

Event planner 

Another important aspect of Yeager's job with the symphony is managing special events. Here, too, her time at Rider comes in handy—she was the president of the Rider Dance Ensemble, a performance group that organized two large dance performances each year, in the fall and spring.

"I was in charge of making sure the production ran smoothly, figuring out the show order, deciding what the program should look like—and that's close to what I do now," she says. "I see something through from the beginning to the end."

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Shouldering the Load: What kind of dance bag should dancers use?

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Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

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Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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