Students in ballet class at Chaffey College (Jeff Harris, courtesy Michele Jenkins)

3 Reasons You Should Consider Community Colleges

College dance programs are popular for aspiring performers and choreographers, but the expense and time commitment of a four-year institution can seem daunting. If you're feeling overwhelmed, consider attending a community college dance program. Community colleges offer two-year programs in which a student can receive an associate in arts degree (AA)—a preliminary step toward earning a bachelor of arts (BA) degree. Dance Spirit explored three reasons why community college might be the right move for you.

They're Small and Flexible

As a freshman in a four-year program, you might feel lost in a sea of dancers. Community colleges offer smaller class sizes of about 15 to 25 students and allow a ton of flexibility with scheduling.

Michele Jenkins, head of the dance program at Chaffey College, near L.A., mentors students who are performing locally while also pursuing their AA in dance. “Many performers in the local Inland Pacific Ballet Company or in community musical theater productions can take Chaffey courses at the same time," says Jenkins.

Racheal LaBonte—who received her AA degree from Anne Arundel Community College near Baltimore, MD, for dance and exercise studies before receiving her BFA from Towson University—performed with the DragonFly Dance Experiment and helped take care of her family while attending community college classes.

They're Affordable

The cost of college, including housing and meal expenses, can be a burden for many students. Community colleges allow students to work part-time or full-time, in non-dance jobs or in performance gigs, while living at home and attending classes tailored to their work schedule. Community colleges also offer substantially lower tuition than four-year programs.

They Act as Springboards

Community colleges offer diverse performance, teaching and volunteer opportunities to help students determine their career paths. “Performances and community outreach are very important at Anne Arundel," LaBonte says. “We have a chance to teach or choreograph at local high schools as well as attend American College Dance Association events." Like most students who receive their AA, LaBonte was able to jump right into the junior year of her bachelor's degree program, and those experiences made her transition to Towson University an easy one.

Lynda Fitzgerald, head of the Anne Arundel Dance Department, embraces the diversity of styles that students bring to the college, and says student choreography classes help expose her dancers to a variety of career options. She's also seen the foundation community colleges can lay for students who want to go pro. “After finishing at Anne Arundel, one of my students received a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School, performed in a New Orleans ballet company, received a BA from Butler University and performed on the national tour of Movin' Out," Fitzgerald υυ says. LaBonte is now an adjunct faculty member of the dance department at Towson. She hopes to earn a master's degree in dance movement therapy and counseling. “My ability to speak about my own experiences and share with my current students is a direct result of starting in a community college," she says. Fitzgerald agrees. “It really is a family."

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