For years, young dancers fresh out of high school who wanted to further their education were faced with a choice: join an internship program or enroll as a dance major at a four-year college. These days, the options are vast, ranging from one-year postgraduate training programs and second company positions to unique partnerships between dance academies and reputable colleges. While attitudes towards college-going dancers have changed, future professionals now have a multitude of paths to choose from.
What are my options?
Postgraduate training program:
This can range from a several-year work placement to a one-year independent study at a renowned dance school. Since these opportunities come in nearly all shapes and sizes, dancers will need to do some research to find one that fits their goals.
• Who is it for?
The post-secondary dancer who seeks more technical training, performance opportunities and emotional growth before embarking on a professional career (but not yet seeking a college degree). These can serve as an ideal transition from student to professional, says Boston Ballet School Principal Margaret Tracey.
Four-year university program in dance:
Whether you want a liberal arts education or the resources of a reputable research university, a college program allows you to earn your bachelor’s degree while specializing in anything from commercial dance to pedagogy.
• Who is it for?
Dancers who have academic interests that they would like to develop while pursuing their dance education. It can be a great option for students who need a bit more time to decide if they want to turn professional, as well as for those who want to explore dance with a more academic approach.
BFA Joint Program:
Collaborations between ballet companies or dance schools and universities have multiplied throughout the country. From the partnership between the Richmond Ballet and Virginia Commonwealth University to the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, these options combine rigorous training with the opportunity to earn a college degree and make connections in a company.
• Who is it for?
The disciplined student who is capable of undertaking the highest caliber of dance training and the rigors of a university school curriculum. “In a way, I think students applying to this program need to be motivated in more ways than one,” says Ailey/Fordham BFA program director Melanie Person. “They don’t have a myopic view of life.”
Igor Burlak, Courtesy of Boston Ballet School
I am ripped. How can I choose?
1. Write down your goals.
Having a clear idea of your career aspirations will help you seize an opportunity that can get you there. If you have a particular company at heart, consider an intern program related to it. If you are interested in becoming a dance teacher, research colleges with a dance education degree.
2. Participate in an intensive summer course.
Take advantage of summer programs offered at universities and dance schools. These can work as a trial run to familiarize yourself with what a school has to offer.
3. Think long term.
A dancer’s career does not last forever. If you don’t pursue a college degree now, will you go back to school in the future? Develop an action plan for how you will make the transition at the end of your professional career.
Check your readiness
Even if you already know you’d like to pursue a career in dance and feel your technique is up to snuff, don’t forget to take stock of your emotional maturity before you jump into the job market. “Too much, too soon can be very difficult emotionally for a young dancer,” Tracey says. “It’s almost never a problem to wait a little longer.” College and training programs designed for pre-professional students can help prepare you, body and mind.