Your College Has No Dance Major. Now What?

USC Kaufman Students in Class (courtesy Glorya Kaufman School of Dance At University of Southern California)

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.

Danielle Iwata

Colgate University class of 2015

Current Private Sector Initiatives Program Associate at Americans for the Arts

Danielle Iwata performing in Dancefest at Colgate University in 2013 (photo by Ashlee Ballard, courtesy Colgate University)

I didn't apply to college for dance. I chose Colgate for its strong community and academics. But every semester, students put on Dancefest, a huge show where dancers of all styles perform. I joined Dancefest and realized there was no reflection of that dedication in the facilities or curriculum.

That drove me to start the Colgate Dance Initiative after my first year. I reached out to students involved with dance, asking if they'd be part of a movement to make dance an academic offering. We wrote letters to administrators and professors and went to the president's office hours. We made videos, had photo shoots, grew to an organization recognized by student government, and collaborated with campus groups.

We finally got a dance faculty member, Professor Tanya Calamoneri, the fall of my senior year. Her classes were significantly overenrolled, and we got exciting figures to back up our claims about the demand for dance. But of course there was red tape. Departments and trustees were receptive but unwilling to make dance a financial priority.

If you don't want to go pro but do take dance seriously, look at schools with strong extracurricular dance programs. I learned a lot being at a university without a dance department because I was so engaged in advocacy that I did my own research. There's freedom in not having a program: We did random, fun things with dance. I hadn't thought of arts advocacy as a career until my involvement in CDI. Colgate alumni in dance helped me translate my extracurricular dance-advocacy into my current job. Many of us who graduated are still dancing frequently, so going to a school without a dance program didn't inhibit my dancing and my artistry. It's a question of your willingness to create opportunities.

Teddy Watler

University of Chicago class of 2017

Current apprentice at Oregon Ballet Theatre

Teddy Watler during his senior year at the University of Chicago (photo by Quinn Wharton, courtesy Watler)

I'd been invited to stay year-round at the San Francisco Ballet School, but applied to colleges based on academic intensity, deciding on the University of Chicago. All dance at UChicago is student-run, including the University Ballet of Chicago, which I joined freshman year. I started out dancing a lot before transitioning to teaching class and setting work.

I chose to audition for ballet companies during senior year. Artistic staff at auditions either assumed I'd been a dance major or liked that I brought a different perspective. I can't think of an instance in which not majoring in dance was a detriment. People worry about committing four years to college right after high school, but the time will pass anyway, so invest it how you'd like. On the other hand, fellow dancers who didn't go to college say they're stressed about what's coming after retirement. There's reassurance in having your degree already. Down the road, I feel there'll be opportunities to leverage skills I gained in school to give back to dance or use dance to impact others.

Schools without dance programs—particularly if they have financial resources—can be open to supporting students with the drive to pursue what's not on campus. When friends were coming through on tour, or when friends in The Joffrey Ballet were available, I'd arrange master classes with university funding. Many resources aren't immediately apparent but can support your dance training.

A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "There's No Dance Major. Now What?"

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