Understanding Dance in Higher Education

By Anderson, Jennifer | Dance Teacher, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Understanding Dance in Higher Education


Anderson, Jennifer, Dance Teacher


A guide to helping your high school students plan out their next four years in college

For any high school student, the pressure to get accepted into college can be overwhelming. But for dancers, that pressure is twofold, since they must contend with the additional stress of deciding whether to spend the next four years majoring in dance and, if so, how to find the best program for them.

If you're a private studio or K-12 dance teacher, your juniors and seniors may look to you for help at this critical time in their lives. Armed with some basic knowledge, you can help clear things up and steer them in the best direction. When students are deciding on the right college dance program, it really comes down to what fits them individually.

Getting Started

First things first: What type of dancer is your student and what is she looking to pursue after high school? Take note if her love of modern dance exceeds all else, or if she lives and breathes ballet. Does she want to focus on honing her choreography skills, or simply know that there are a variety of ways to remain involved in dance on campus while majoring in psychology?

Andrea Paris, creative director of the Los Angeles Ballet Academy in California, holds a summer conference with her rising seniors to get a feel for what they want. "We sit down and map out what they're interested in and what direction they want to go in," she explains. Having this conversation can help students start thinking about what type of program they are leaning toward. And don't forget to discuss other variables, such as budget, how far away from home they're willing to travel and if they prefer a large or small school. Sometimes writing everything down can help them see what they want more clearly.

You might even want to consider starting a program like the one at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas. "We have a mentor committee of professionals in our community who go through mock auditions and mock interviews with the students and give them feedback," explains Lily Cabatu Weiss, head of the school's dance department. "They ask them questions about their goals so they can evaluate whether they need additional help." If a student needs help, he or she is given a personal mentor to check in with once a week.

If a program like this is not possible at your school, take another note from Cabatu Weiss and make the commitment to check in with your students from time to time, as early in their high school careers as possible. "Set up a forum or informal dialogue about their goals, because they are going to shift as students progress," she advises. Lynn Herrick, owner and artistic director of The Dance Refinery in Indianapolis, Indiana, also puts seniors in touch with alumni from her studio who are recent college graduates or current students at various universities.

The Conservatory Route

Is your dancer focused on achieving a performance career? "Ask students where they see themselves professionally," advises Cabatu Weiss. "If they're not looking at all for academics, they should look at a conservatory." These institutions offer intense studio training coupled with theory courses and a strong emphasis on performance. Students graduate with a BFA and generally go on to dance professionally. Within these schools, students can often select which genre of dance they wish to major in, such as ballet, jazz, modern or musical theater.

Ballet and Biology

If a student has strong academic interests, or wants to explore an avenue in the dance field that doesn't focus on the stage, like pedagogy, choreography, dance production or dance therapy, look at nonconservatory dance programs within larger universities. This is where many students and teachers alike can feel overwhelmed and confused, because there is so much out there. But you just need to know where to look.

Tom Ralabate, an associate professor in dance at the University at Buffalo, stresses understanding the specifics of the school. …

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