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College Ballet Programs: Details, Details & more!

Guest Momof3

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Guest Momof3

My sixteen year old who is a junior in high school has recently started looking at colleges, that offer dance majors. She has focused on ballet for most of her life, but as she gets older is being drawn towards other aspects of the performing arts as well.


She has stated that she would prefer to stay on the west coast, but is willing to explore. Does anyone have any experience with or suggestions for quality programs?


Also, when does the audition process usually start for most of these programs?


Thank you!

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Does she want a strong ballet based program, or is she looking for a different kind of program? Usually they audition for a college dance program during their senior year. Dance Magazine puts out a College Dance Guide, which is helpful in seeing what schools have what in the way of dance and related arts.

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Guest Momof3

From what she tells me she is looking for a program that offers a mix, but still with strong ballet training. I believe she feels that a background that has a variety of dance from modern, jazz to even hip hop will give her more of an advantage for employment later in life.


This past year at her High School, she took up theater tech. and found that also to be very helpful. Her many years of dance and knowing the theater was certainly an advantage.


Any feedback will be welcomed and appreciated!

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I would recommend that she look for a progam that is housed in the College of Fine Arts, as opposed to Education or PE. Those connected more closely to the theatre and music departments offer more opportunity for education in all the other aspects of performing. If she is interested in Musical Theatre, there is an excellent program at Oklahoma City University. The University of Oklahoma has a very good dance program, as does SMU, Indiana, Utah, and SUNY Purchase, to name a few. There are a lot more, but those are the ones I am most familiar with.

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There are some excellent dance programs in California. I did this exact reserach 10 years ago and in exactly the same circumstances as your daughter: mostly ballet training, discovering that other forms were also interesting. I've also revived my reserach in preparation for writing a handbook for the school I work for.


I ultimately went to Rutgers University in New Jersey, because I didn't want to stay in CA. However, since she does want to stay, look at UCLA, UC Irvine, and CalArts, first. Irvine has a particularly diverse program and offers students the chance to study abroad. UC Berkeley has a pretty good Graham-based modern program, but is a ballet vacuum.


Victoria's advice about looking for a program associated with the performing arts department rather than the PE department is good. However, a dance department that stands on its own without being under the umbrella of another department is best.


You should also look into what kind of degrees they offer. The most common distinctions are BA (Bachelor of Arts) and BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). The BFA majors are usually more performance oriented, an intenser program, and usually require an audition, but not always.


Also carefully look at how many and what kind of classes are required for the major. A program that requires only one class that meets twice a week plus a few theory classes is not taking itself seriously. And they probably aren't producing working dancers.


Get the College Guide. It is comprehensive and is full of great advice.

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LMCTech's advice about looking at the number of classes required in the major is very important. If you are a dance major and there are not daily classes required, forget it!


LMC, would the programs that stand alone and are not part of a whole performing arts or theatre/music school offer the student as much in terms of other areas of theatre? I know that Dance used to be part of the School of Drama at OU, but is now it's own School. But it is still in the College of Fine Arts. I'm not sure if the dance students still have the same opportunity to work in all the aspects of theatre or not.


The main reason I recommend a Fine Arts Dept. as opposed to PE or Education is that the Fine Arts usually employ professional teachers, some of whom may not necessarily be degreed professors but are former professionals. Some Colleges of Fine Arts recognize a professional career as the equivalent of a terminal degree, whereas the PE and other departments require a degree for the professors. (Nothing against a degree, just that a LOT of very fine teachers in things like dance, music, theatre and art are not college graduates, but have a long and successful professional career behind them.)

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Guest samba38

We've been looking at schools and got a sad surprise after spending hours at one promising place. At one state school (Inot calif) we dropped the dance dept. to learn, alas, that that dance dept. was in serious jepordy of losing its funding as states deal with the aftermath of shrinking budgets.

Sure wish we had called ahead not just to the school tour office and admissions but directly to the dance department to find out what short/long term changes were in the works before we hauled many miles from home. We still benefited from the trip in other ways -- you learn a lot about your kid touring schools.

From last summer's ABT SI at UC Irvine I can ell you that UCIrvine's program seems quite secure and strongly built into the university. The emphasis, as with most college programs, tilts to modern but they have solid ballet, particularly contemporary ballet instruction. And they have a top flight person on the conditioning/nutrition side of the school who works with the dancers as well. Plus a fabulous theater program and a beautiful new theater for performances. This gives dancers some maneuvering room if they should discover they want -- or need- to change from a performance major to some other dance/theater arts field.

That's my problem with Indiana. yes, they do get ballet graduates into companies but...and this is a big but... they dance from 11 to 5 daily so their academics must be crammed into morning and night and there's little hope of taking a second major in anything serious, particularly a lab science, premed, or programs that might lead to a graduate school.

And as far as I know there's NO serious modern. Who cares? you do if your ballerina gets hurt and finds herself halfway through college with not much to show for it. And you care because modern is a field of dance celebrated in college and welcoming to a greater range of bodies for those talented twirlers who find their bodies changing in ways that don't work in tu-tus.

Violette Verdy is a stupendous teacher. (Not all performers can teach, these are different gifts and some, like Ms. Leigh, are doubly blessed, others are not). she's also a delightful person and the kids are wild for her. But... as evidenced on her interview here on Ballet Alert, she has no knowledge or interest in modern.

That's the career most college grad dancers wind up with and kids who have no prep for that in a college dance program are at a disadvantage in the job market if they don't get a ballet company post. And few do.

(Forgive my trade-school mentality but I do think it's worth while learning where all the grads wind up, not just who gets the glorious company spots. Are they employed or enrolled in grad schools? I worked my way through a private school because it had a great placement record so my bias is clearly based on the shakey ground of decades-old experiences.)

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Samba38, thanks for the good advice on doing a thorough check into the dance departments of the schools your dancer is interested in. Can I ask which school you found out had a dance dept. in danger of losing its funding? With a high-schooler of my own here in CA, I'd be interested in knowing.


Nice to hear that UCIrvine has a solid program. The new theater sounds wonderful as well...my high schooler's main interest is ballet but also likes modern and jazz - and she likes to sing. Don't know what she'll end up doing, but college is in the picture and a well-rounded program might be a good, practical choice. Is the campus at UCIrvine a nice one?

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Guest justamom

Samba 38, I have a daughter who is currently a freshman ballet major at Indiana, and while she is very happy there, she also realizes that this isn't a program you should go into if your focus isn't preparing for a career in ballet. She is able to squeeze in three classes per semester of her "outside field" at the most, so it certainly isn't the most efficient way of getting a non-dance education if that's your primary goal. However, the program is tailor-made for her.

As a senior in high school, she wanted a ballet career but didn't audition for companies because she wanted to experience college at 18, not at 28. After auditioning at several major college ballet programs, she felt that Indiana was the best place for her and she still very much believes this. The training is excellent, the teachers top-notch, and the performing opportunities are great. As of now, she feels much more ready to take company auditions, but plans to spend at least another year at Indiana first. Sure, she may never get a spot in a company and I may be paying for a couple of extra years of college, but it's worth every penny when I see how well she's turning out. It is true there is no modern, but she gets a little in the summertime

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On a more general note. Any comments on how going to college out of high school fits into a career in ballet? My son, who is currently a high-school sophomore, looks like he is going to take some time to develop his full-adult strength. I am not sure if he will be ready for a company directly out of high-school. When I mentioned going to college (in dance) for one or two years while he continued to mature to one of his teachers she said that would be harmful for his career and would not be a good choice. I know that modern dancers can take the college path, how about ballet dancers?

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Frequently boys will be late bloomers as well as girls and for boys there are a different set of problems/issues. His teacher may think that it might be harmful to his career, but it will also be harmful if he is growing and throws his back out and has to take six months off.

This is a time of great muscle development and bone-strengthening. He will need weight-training as well as frequent classes, as this is the time when he is going to be developing partnering skills. He is going to have to work hard *and* be careful--I know that sounds contradictory, but I hope you get my drift. If you are in an urban area, I see no reason why he couldn't take college classes and ballet classes as well.

He is going to change an enormous amount in the next two years and he will need fallbacks on both the physical and intellectual sides. I look at most 16 year old boys and look at them again when they are 18 or 19 and there is a world of difference. There is not the onus for males to join companies when they are 18, as any good director will know that their bodies continue to grow and change until their early 20s, in many cases.


I don't think you need to be in a hurry to do anything for another year at least. If you and he are happy with the training he is having, I would advise you to see where he is in two years and then take another year for ballet/college classes. If he's physically and emotionally ready for a company, then go for it--he can also do college classes on a reduced load while he is there. Many professional dancers do this, and if he's out for three weeks with a knee or a back or a shoulder, he'll have something productive with which to occupy his time as opposed to just sitting around the studio watching rehearsals and feeling sorry for himself.

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Juliet, thank-you for your very helpful reply. It is a difficult time for my son as he has grown quite tall but is still not strong enough to do much of what men are expected to do. But- boys in ballet is another thread all on its own!


Good idea about taking college classes "on the side."

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Most boys mature slower than girls, it has to do with their growth patterns. Many boys choose to go to a professionally affiliated program for a few years (like PNB, SAB, Houston or SFB), before they audition for companies. This is often preferable to going to college because at a pro school you are being seen on a regular basis by people who matter in the industry. Most ADs don't go to college programs on a regular basis. Of course that is a generalization and there are many exceptions.


Victoria, in regards to your questions about stand alone programs. I found that the programs that were not simply a part of a theater major were better organized because they had a chair that was devoted to just dance and not distracted by other disciplines. Most are under the umbrella of some kind of School for the Arts set-up which will usually provide many opportunities for study outside dance performance. There is a lot of politics in the world of college dance and theater and I worry that dance majors that are in fact theater majors with an emphasis in dance are getting the short end of the funding stick.

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