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Post Career and College Dance Programs


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I would like to know what anyone can tell me about the interest that a dancer might get from college programs AFTER he/she has danced professionally for several years.


For many aspiring dancers, their plans include dancing professionally for several years and then going to college. Some may want to get their degrees in dance, perhaps to enable them to teach at the college level, others because this is their area of knowledge and the straightest path to a college degree.


So, how do dance programs view dancers in their mid-20's who have 5-8 years of pro dancing under their belts? Are they welcomed into dance programs or are they seen as too old to "fit the mold", perhaps offering better credentials than the faculty? Perhaps because their pro-careers are behind them, instead of in front of them, they are not seen as good candidates.


There has been some discussion amongst dancers and educators here in our area about the purpose of college dance programs (are they there to train dancers for pro careers, train people to teach dance or just to perpetuate the college dance programs themselves) . The answer to my question may be at the root of this larger issue.


If they are welcomed into a program, does anyone know if they are likely to receive scholarships in dance or are these most often reserved for the traditional, 18-year-old freshmen (in spite of the fact that their abilities and experience might be far inferior to the older, experienced dancer)?


Just looking for some anecdotal information about any of your dancing kids or their friends. This is not an area that I have seen too much information about and in thinking further into the future than my child, I was just wondering about this...:confused:

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  • balletbooster


  • Garyecht


  • BW


  • Cabriole


Mmmmm..... Seems that this topic is of interest, based on the number of views; but apparently everyone else is as "in the dark" as I am about this issue:(


Ms. Leigh, I believe that you have some past affiliations with college programs. Can you shed any light on this topic?


Would I be better served posting this on the Adult ballet students forum, perhaps? Any suggestions on drumming up some answers/experiences would be helpful! Thanks in advance for any suggestions.:cool:

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Personally, I have never known a pro dancer to go back and get an undergraduate degree in dance, unless it was a teaching degree similar to the program at NYU. I would think that there would be very few dance programs that would adequately challenge a pro dancer. I have known dancers who took their degrees in supportive programs (stage craft, arts administration, etc.), but I would think that a pro in a college or conservatory environment could find themselves in a state of conflict, both with the students and faculty.

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Thanks for the response. I completely understand your comments about very few challenges being offered to a pro in most college programs. However, many feel that a college degree (in any discipline) can be their ticket to much broader opportunities within the business sector. Many companies in the business sector will not hire (or even interview) someone for their trainee programs, unless they have a college degree. Many do not expect the degree to be in their business area. They are looking for bright, young people who have proven successes that they can train for their business area. However, they absolutely REQUIRE a college degree for consideration. So, why not get that necessary degree in an area that is "easy" for you, that you love and that you can excel in? I know that there are a very large number of college grads out there who chose their degree program not for the challenges it offered, but because it was something that they were good at and interested in. Many had no intention of doing something specific to that degree area.


I have heard of older students going to college in their area of expertise and being given college credit for their years already in the field. Seems that this would be appropriate for professional dancers as well. I think I have heard of this being done in some cases, but I cannot recall any specifics for dancers. Anyone know anything about this?


If, in fact, there are not college programs set up to challenge a professional dancer at the bachelor's level and very talented high school seniors are encouraged to put off college and dance first, how does a pro dancer get an undergrad degree in dance, in order to move on to advanced degrees (masters or Ph.D.) in areas related to dance (or in any other field, for that matter)?


It doesn't make sense that they should not be able to get a bachelor's degree in their area of expertise, simply because they already know the material! There are a number of talented high school seniors who earn degrees from bachelor's programs where they are not challenged and already know much of what is presented in the curriculum when they enter as freshmen. Those students are usually welcomed into these other disciplines, given full rides for all the knowledge they already have upon entereing the program (based on their SAT/ACT scores) and are praised for their ease with the course material. Why is this not the case for dancers?


Again, I wonder if this doesn't get back to the question about the goal of college dance programs. Are they trying to prepare students for professional careers? If this is the case, it seems that most are not being very successful. Very few of the college programs I have looked into can boast many professional dancers in their list of grads who came to them directly from high school. While we are seeing more and more pros with degrees, those are often being attained in tandem with their pro careers. For those that attained a college degree prior to a pro career, I am also noting when I read company bios that they are often in areas other than dance.


Perhaps college dance programs are actually in place to train people for dance-related professions, not actually for pro careers. If this is the case, then shouldn't anyone who wants to get the basic degree in dance, in order to prepare themselves for an advanced degree in administration or notation or choreography, be welcomed into the dance program? How is this different from getting a degree in science or math, in order to demonstrate your competency to attain a medical degree?


I do agree that an older pro dancer might find themselves in conflict with the faculty in a college program. But, isn't this part of the college experience? In other disciplines, students are encouraged to challenge, discuss and evaluate the ideas that they are presented by their professors. They don't have to agree with their instructors (goodness knows I didn't agree with all of mine or even most of them!) As a student, their job is to give that information back to the professor on tests, whether they agree with it or not, demonstrating their understanding and mastery of the subject matter. I think every college grad will tell you that they received a fair amount of "useless information" during their college career and very often they found that their real expertise in their degree area came when they got out on the job, as a trainee, intern or actual on the job training.


The same should be true for dance, in that the student may not agree with the instructor's ideas, but they are supposed to reflect those ideas in their dancing, (while in the program) and they are evaluated on how well they know the material and can demonstrate it. Once they have their own credentials, just as is the case in other college programs, they are free to go out and find their own jobs in a college program or a pre-pro school and share their own ideas with incoming students.


Sorry for the long-winded response, but this topic brings up lots of questions for me. I hope it does for others as well. I would love to hear from others on this topic. It is a very multi-layered topic, so feel free to respond to any or all of the questions that it raises.


Karen, we may need to get on the phone and do some research on this! I don't know if we would get straight answers from colleges or not. Good question, though!

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Let me expand on the info I have. I am deliberately leaving out the names of specific programs/colleges, because policies appear to flucuate with staff/administrations, etc.


I have known pros who have received some credit for professional experience, get the basic core subjects at local/junior (2 year) colleges and then have actually been offered teaching fellowships while pursuing their Masters in dance, so they get a Masters in 4 years (or less) of total college.


However, if the dance classes are not of the standard the dancer is used to, I can't believe that this is an easy way. Any dancer, pro or not, will tell you that months spent in classes that are unpleasant, can feel endless! So much depends on the faculty, and alas, in many dance departments, the faculty is primarily adjunct and subject to considerable turnover (something any potential student should investigate thoroughly before enrolling).


Again, I do feel that there are a few programs that 'fit the bill'; several in the New York area (where this is more common) and a sprinkling elsewhere. The dancer should speak directly to the department chair, and not rely on the views of the admission personnel.

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Thanks for the good information, Cabriole!


Thanks also for the excellent perspective about the less challenging classes, from a professional's point of view.


This is all very helpful!:cool:

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Although it may be true that an older professional dancer may not be at all challenged by some dance classes he or she may take in a college dance program, that lack of challenge probably does not generalize to non-dance classes that make up the program. There are bound to be core courses and other courses that may be required that will likely prove quite challenging I am sure. And I do think that in many schools, a professional could get credit for some classes based on his or her experience. But that leaves a whole lot of classes left to take to finish a degree.


Personally, I think it is a mistake to think of a college education as an apprenticeship for some job. Very very few undergraduate degrees lead directly to a job. Engineering, teacher education, nursing, accounting, that is about all I can think of. And even in these areas, many people do not take jobs in the area. For example, only about 20% of teacher education graduates ever go on to teach. I don’t know about nursing, engineering, or accounting, but I am sure that not everyone with a degree in the area winds up working in the area.


In my way of thinking, education is about learning, being exposed to new ideas, developing one’s reasoning abilities, and growing as a person. What one major’s in is irrelevant, other than that people do tend to major in subjects in which they are interested.


If one really does want a theater job, my sense is that managers in the theater who can hire people prefer people with theater experience. A former dancer has that and that alone probably establishes that individual’s ability (or lack there of) in the manager’s eye. A degree may help, though I think it would depend on the job.

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Garyecht, you are right that classes outside the ballet major may indeed pose a challenge to students. However, I have noted that the requirements for a BFA vary widely from school to school. I have found a couple, that are considered top dance programs, that require only about 15 hours outside of the fine arts dept. in order to get the degree!


I agree with your assessment about the purpose of college and also your assertion that people often do not pursue careers in their degree areas.


I do think that it is important to note that while getting a job in the arts world is not dependent upon a college degree (and it probably does not actually do much to help someone who is applying), within corporate America, it is almost essential for any 'white collar job'. Most corporations will hire non-degreed people for clerical and even supervisory positions, as hourly, non-exempt workers. But, in order to be considered for professional positions, an individual MUST have a degree. So, for those who are transitioning out of the arts world and into the corporate world, that piece of parchment actually does carry alot of weight!

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So, for those who are transitioning out of the arts world and into the corporate world, that piece of parchment actually does carry alot of weight!


Not only that, but parchments in different majors carry different amounts of weight in the corporate world. Dance degrees bring you in on the very bottom rung of the corporate ladder --- enough to get you into a secretarial job ahead of someone who didn't go to college.


That is why a retired dancer seeking a job outside of the arts world might want to major in something other than dance.

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All good posts - and I agree with you citibob, about the value placed upon different versions of the college degree by corporate entities... But let's assume said "older" dancer in his or her 20's ;) to late 40's, and is now ready to retire from performing...over the years has taught, here and there...privately or as an adjunct, as Cabriole mentioned is often the case, but now really would like to get on that full-time, payroll enhanced, college ballet teacher...maybe even director, someday, track.... Then what? I suppose that's when the degree method that Cabriole has suggested might come into play - get those credits for life experience, work on some of the basics at the undergrad level and then transfer in as a graduate student...? Or as Garyecht writes "There are bound to be core courses and other courses that may be required that will likely prove quite challenging..."


I'm sure it can be done...but how often? Not that I expect an answer... I do know that there are, and have been, well known ballet dancers who've securred good, college level jobs - without a college degree...but I do not think this is the norm (unless they're really quite well known)... It has to be pretty tough starting college at age 45 and beginning with Western Civilization, Economics, etc., and then having to take ballet with a class full of 18 - 20 year olds...maybe this is where the "life experience" credits come in?


balletbooster, are you still really after the answer to your question about "the interest that a dancer might get from college programs AFTER he/she has danced professionally for several years"?


My guess is that a college could be quite excited by having a retired, professional ballet dancer at their program for publicity's sake...but I also can see how fragile, resident, egos might get bruised. :(

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Actually, it's easier for a retired pro, even from a smaller company, to secure a teaching position in a college/university without a degree than to teach in a high school (where licensing in more of an issue). Many colleges will accept professional credentials in lieu of a degree (I have first-hand knowledge of this). It is generally accepted in the arts where one's professional credit serves as one's 'portfolio' so to speak...

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Here is a sample of dance teachers and their backgrounds...these happen to be from Barnard College in NYC - Bios It does appear that most, if not all, have performed professionally...at least the actual dance teachers, that is.


Of course, this is a bit of an aside but thought it relevant.

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I know that Jeremy Collins, former principal dancer with ABT, was attending Indiana University as an undergraduate student a few years ago. He should have graduated by now. He was enjoying a very successful career at ABT when a year or two after he was promoted, he abruptly retired and began pursuing his degree from Indiana University. I saw a video of his performance of Concerto Barocca in one of their concerts, perhaps it was 1998 or 1999. He was at that time pursuing an undergraduate degree in dance.


Perhaps it may not be of great interest to a former professional dancer to attend as an undergraduate in a dance program however at some of the universities they will give the dancer lifetime credits to apply towards the BA therefore cutting the years of study down a bit. I know many dancers who have received degrees through this path. Thomas Edison College at Rutgers University did have a program set up similar to this in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although the did not have a ballet major at the time.

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