Kristyn Brady is a Vermont-based freelance writer with a degree in dance from Muhlenberg College. She is also the communications director for a Washington, D.C. non-profit organization.
Choosing a college dance program is a super-high-stakes decision: You're trying to set yourself up for career success, and you're making a huge financial commitment. So it's no wonder the process feels rife with pitfalls. Here are the seven biggest mistakes dancers make in their quest for the perfect school.
Let's say this right up front: Everyone agrees that a talented dancer can move to NYC or L.A., start auditioning, and get booked without a dance degree. And graduating from a program doesn't guarantee that you'll have a successful dance career. So, what weight does a degree carry in the industry? "The reality today is that if you don't get a degree, you will be at a disadvantage," says Dr. Sally R. Sommer, director of the Florida State University dance department's semester-long immersion program in NYC. Proactive and engaged college students become more adaptable, thoughtful, and resilient dancers. Combine these qualities with a deeper understanding of dance history, practical experience with the professional expectations of choreographers, and access to a growing community of peers, guest artists, faculty, and alumni, and it's easy to see why a degree could mean more doors are open to you.
As a tap dancer, you're a student of history—whether you know it or not. Tap technique today is intimately connected to the great hoofers of the past. "Tap is incredibly personal, because all of these individuals have added to the public domain, the pool of steps you draw from," says Brian Seibert, dance critic for The New York Times and author of What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing. "You're constantly giving shout-outs to dancers who came before you."
It's also important to recognize tap's pioneers because they repeatedly broke down barriers, making tap accessible to everyone. "You don't have to overcome something to be here," says Tony Waag, artistic executive director of the American Tap Dance Foundation. "You're not the first black person or woman, you don't have to carry a certain card or have a particular lineage to succeed at tap. Gregory Hines used to say, 'If you have the shoes, you're in.' "
Come meet the artists who've shaped tap history. Because if you're a tap dancer, they're your family, too.
You may never have heard the term "swing." But as the performers who stand by to go on for several different ensemble roles whenever necessary, swings may be the most valued members of a Broadway cast—especially during flu season. Just ask Jennifer Dunne, a swing who's been responsible for six ensemble tracks in Chicago on Broadway for more than five years.
"As a swing, there are plenty of moments when you feel like you've got to rescue the show," Dunne says. "When everyone in the cast is sick, and there aren't enough people in the building to keep things going, that's when you really feel like a superhero. I very well might have the flu too, but I have to overcome whatever's plaguing me to perform for someone else."
Swings have not only triple-threat talent, but also super brains for choreography and stage directions. They may not get the accolades that come with leading roles, but these uniquely gifted performers form the support system that props up a show's entire cast—and they like it that way.
"Imagine if a vocalist sang everything in monotone," says Michelle Dorrance, whose company will perform its evening-length ETM: Double Down in England and Germany this summer. That's the equivalent of a performance without a diverse array of flat slaps, deep-bass heel drops and high, tinkly taps—it's one-note. Tappers "are dancers and musicians, and we have such a range of possibilities within a single step, from our sound quality and pitch to volume and dynamics," Dorrance says. "In order to be a sophisticated artist as a tap dancer, developing an ear for tonal clarity and understanding the physical execution it takes to create different tones is endlessly important." Here's what you need to know to go beyond the monotone.
Consistent turns are a must for aspiring professional dancers, but pretty much everyone struggles with pirouettes at some point. Luckily, since we're all beholden to the same rules of physics, there are concrete steps every dancer can take to reach his or her top turning potential. "Three is the new two when it comes to pirouettes, but the secret to turning is technique, not magic," says Bojan Spassoff, president and director of The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia.
Falling out of your doubles? Aspiring to go revolution for revolution with your class's star turner? No matter where you lie on the turning spectrum, our 360-degree guide to pirouettes will help you improve.