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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.

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Higher Ed
Anna McEvoy-Melo on the Columbia University campus (courtesy McEvoy-Melo)

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.

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Higher Ed
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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.

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Higher Ed
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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.

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How To
Class at the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance (photo by Ema Peter, courtesy USC)

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.

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