Back in the fall, when you applied to your dream dance programs, May 1—aka College Decision Day—felt very far away. But now it's almost here, which means it's time to decide where to dance for the next four years! To help you narrow things down, DS asked Molly Newman (Idyllwild Arts Academy's director of college counseling) and Denayia Miniex (currently a freshman in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program) for advice on making the right choice for your dance career.
Where do I go next?
It's a simple question so many dancers face as they approach high school graduation. Yet it's also a decision that takes a whole lot of time, introspection, and fortitude to make.
When I was a wide-eyed little girl, ballet was pure, ethereal magic. The control and strength of these dancers seemed to defy physics—they took my breath away. From the costumes, to the movement, to the storylines, to the masterful classical compositions, I fell in love with ballet.
But what 11-year-old me realized after her first classes is that ballet is, to put it mildly, very difficult. It took immense determination on a daily basis to push through the soreness, constant criticism, and exhaustion from training every night after school. I had to give up a lot of high school "normalcy"; I was never able to go to school dances, football games, or parties, or stay home during the summers. Instead, while my peers were doing all of these things, I had to train.
But I wasn't deterred. On the contrary: I had a dream, and I chased it.
At 15, I moved away from home to study 40 hours per week in NYC at the Ellison Ballet professional training program. By then, I'd become completely consumed by ballet. There were many points where I had felt like I was missing out on all other aspects of teenage life. But whenever I stepped out onto a stage—including the Lincoln Center stages where I was lucky to perform—every worry disappeared. It was just me and that moment.
My senior year of high school was a whirlwind. Should I audition for ballet companies? Should I take a traineeship or job with a second company? Should I go to college for dance? Should I go to college for something else and dance recreationally? I was torn. I kept thinking to myself, "Yes, you want to dance, but what else can you be? What else do YOU want to be?" Those questions weren't going to go away until they were answered. I had to step back and envision what different paths would lead to in the long term.
Who among us hasn't daydreamed about finishing college a semester or two ahead of the class? But as tempting as it may be to get started on your dance career ASAP, this isn't a decision to take lightly. So DS had a dance department chair and an alumna who finished ahead of schedule lay out the case for—and against—graduating early.
Because they're the one part of college applications you don't do yourself, teacher recommendations can feel like big, scary question marks. As Sarah Langford, college counselor at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, says, "When admissions chooses between equally talented candidates, a memorable letter can put you in the 'yes' pile." But take heart: You have more control over what ends up in these letters than you might realize. Here, Langford and Sarah Lovely, director of college counseling at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, spill the secrets to ensuring you'll get letters that'll help launch you into the dance department of your dreams.
If you closed your eyes and pictured dance paradise, what would it look like? Maybe you'd start your morning in rehearsal with a renowned contemporary choreographer, and then work on a dance driven by computer programming, and then run to a music video audition, and end the day discussing the impact of African dance styles on American pop culture.
Guess what? That dance paradise isn't just a dream. It's the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, a young program that's already attracting some of the most talented dancers around—for good reason.
Click here to meet Alyssa Allen, Simrin Player, and Jake Tribus, three of USC's standout students.
The University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance is about to graduate its first class of dancers. We asked students Alyssa Allen, Jake Tribus, and Simrin Player to tell us about their experience at one of the best collegiate dance programs in the world.
You can still dance at a high level while attending a school that has no dance department. Just ask these two recent grads—their post-college careers bloomed because they took charge of their dance education.
The Glorya Kaufman International Dance Center is the 54,000 square foot home of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, one of the largest facilities dedicated to dance on a private university campus. Designed for their innovative new curriculum, that supports a range of dance styles, the school's staff designated Harlequin to provide wall-to-wall flooring for the large 3,500 square foot Performance Studio as well as five dance studios in their new state-of-the-art building.
For many non-dancers, planning a post–high-school gap year can feel like a necessary step toward getting college-ready. For potential dance majors, though, taking a year off between high school and college might sound counterintuitive. After all, you're essentially delaying your entry into dancing professionally. But a gap year can provide helpful experience, training, or personal growth—it all depends on how you use the time.
July 1 marks an exciting new era for The Juilliard School. Vail Dance Festival director and former New York City Ballet principal Damian Woetzel steps into the role of president, and the dance division will also have a new leader: Alicia Graf Mack, 39, will take over from Taryn Kaschock Russell, acting artistic director for the current school year.
As a performer, Mack was a beloved star at Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theaterand also a guest performer for Beyoncé and Alicia Keys.
But she's no stranger to higher education. Early in her career, she earned an undergraduate degree in history from Columbia University, and, later, she took a break from dancing with Ailey and pursued a master's at Washington University in St. Louis. She majored in nonprofit management, focusing on arts administration.
Since retiring from Ailey, Mack has stood at the front of the room as an educator. She's currently based in Houston, where she's wrapping up teaching commitments as an adjunct dance instructor at the University of Houston and as a visiting assistant professor of dance at Webster University in St. Louis. Dance Magazine spoke with Mack about her appointment as director of The Juilliard School's dance division.
How are you feeling right now?
I'm deeply honored, I'm incredibly excited. My head is absolutely spinning from the buzz. My family's from the East Coast, my brothers live in New York City, and my sister is also a dancer, so all of this is just so exciting for me and my family.
What was the selection process like?
It was an open, national search. I went through the application page on Juilliard's website and submitted my cover letter and resumé. Then I went through a three-month process, going through rounds of interviews, writing a vision statement, meeting students, meeting faculty. It was quite involved.
Do you know if you'll be teaching as well?
I'm not sure if I will have a regular class, but I would love to be in the studio. That is a place where I feel that I can connect the most with the student body.
What value do you see in dancers going to college?
I think, today, dancers must be equipped for an ever-changing landscape. The field is so different, even from when I was performing. Job opportunities, it seems, in large dance companies are starting to narrow, and dancers have to be equipped with versatile training and entrepreneurial skills in order to stay relevant and employable.
I want to empower young artists to step boldly into the world upon graduation knowing that they can create their own opportunities and their own realities if they are not presented immediately.
And I think that the role of higher education is different than that of a professional training program. My charge at Juilliard is not only to make sure that the dancers are physically capable, but that they are thought leaders and they are provoking thinkers and they are citizens of the world.
Artistically, what are you hoping to see in the next generation of Juilliard dancers?
I would like them to hold on to the historical perspective that the training has provided them. If dancers are trained very rigorously in the foundational techniques of classical ballet and modern dance, that gives them a very special sense of themselves and of performance techniques. Moving forward, these dancers are also poised to be leaders in a new sort of contemporary modality of movement, and I see them continuing to push the envelope of physicality and finding new ways of creating dance.
As an African-American woman, what does this position mean to you?
So much. I do realize that this is a historic appointment, and I believe that hiring a woman of color to lead the dance division into the 21st century is a signal to the world. And I believe that under the leadership of Damian Woetzel and provost Ara Guzelimian, it is clear that they are not interested in the status quo in dance or the arts. They are ready to see all of the possibilities and invite all of the different voices in the Juilliard community. And I believe that these guiding principles will permeate through the institution right down to the students.
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They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.
Stressed about the application process? The Dance Magazine College Guide is here to help! As the one and only higher ed resource exclusively for dancers, the College Guide effortlessly guides you through every option available, whether you're looking to get a dance degree or simply want to keep dancing in your college life. Find the program that's right for you.
College is all about investing in your education, but it's also the perfect time to meet a ton of people. The intense nature of a college dance program means you might have the chance to collaborate with anyone from visiting choreographers to MFA candidates to alumni—and those people can help lay the groundwork for your professional career. Dance Spirit asked two pros how they built lasting professional relationships that started in college.
Sonya Tayeh led a master class for Pace students in May.
(photo courtesy Pace)
Calling all high schoolers: Pace University's Commercial Dance BFA program will host a weekend intensive for prospective students on its campus October 17–19. (And yes, you read that correctly: You can get a degree in commercial dance.)
Unlike a typical college tour, Pace's weekend experience will get you moving. You'll take class with members of the university's dance faculty, including Jess Hendricks and Ginger Cox. If you're a high school senior, you'll have an opportunity to audition for the university's dance department that Friday. There will be two Q&A sessions with the program's administration and students, and you'll get to see Pace dancers perform work by guest faculty members Andy Blankenbuehler and Mandy Moore. Registration begins September 17.
Busy that weekend? Many college dance programs host summer or winter intensives for prospective students. Our September issue includes essential information for more than 150 college and university dance programs, including the degrees offered and contact information. You can also get the latest college dance news delivered right to your inbox by signing up for the free DanceU101 newsletter.