Where Do We Go from Here? Life after Performing Arts High School

By Croft, Clare | Dance Magazine, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Where Do We Go from Here? Life after Performing Arts High School


Croft, Clare, Dance Magazine


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Choosing a college can be an onerous task. For dancers graduating from performing arts high schools, who have spent years balancing dance and academics, college selection can be even more complicated. Should college be a place where dance is the main focus, part of a liberal arts curriculum, or extracurricular? Is college even the right choice, or is it best to jump right into company auditions?

For students who aim to dance professionally, many schools advise applying to college, rather than auditioning straight away. "It's been my experience," says Ellen Rosa, dance department chair at California's Idyllwild Arts, "that companies today are looking for someone who's a complete package: someone who's an adult and who can take care of his or her body." Among seniors in a graduation class, she adds, "maybe one or two have that level of maturity."

College dance programs are growing in number, size, and variety; they include conservatories, BFA tracks in four-year institutions, and BA programs that fold dance into a liberal arts curriculum. Michelle Mathesius, chair of the dance department at LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in New York City, advises professionally oriented students who need further training to audition for conservatories. Rosa says that students with strong technique but weaker academic records generally consider conservatories, where academic demands are less intense. For those more interested in academics and double-majoring, they recommend four-year BFA or BA programs.

Once a student chooses a type of program, more in-depth research begins. Cameron Basden, director of dance at Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy high school, encourages students to visit many colleges and ask lots of questions.

Researching the faculty is key. "A school is only as good as the people teaching in it," says Daniel Lewis, dean of dance at Miami's New World School of the Arts. "If the faculty came straight from an MFA and have no professional experience, it's very unlikely they have a lot to offer unless they've been teaching for at least 10 years. We also look at who's chairing the department. Is it someone who has a vision and can explain how and why they're training dancers?"

Lewis advises students to look into course offerings in arts administration, pedagogy, and choreography too, reminding them that there are many ways to stay involved in the dance field; careers in big companies aren't the only option. "I've been trying to convince kids for years that you don't have to be a soloist in a major company," he says. "If you've got talent, you're going to do something. Lots of our grads are managers of dance companies, writers, agents, etc." LuAnne Carter, chair of the dance department at Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), has a similar outlook. …

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