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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ivy League Schools with Ballet-Focused Programs


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Thanks Renata, there is very little information on their website. I assumed that the focus is more on contemporary dance than ballet.

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Mhm - oh well.


It really does seem that, while I keep up trying for a professional career, I will have to keep in mind that, if it does not work out, the best idea is, like someone else already said, to look for a good academic school with a good ballet program nearby.


Because, really - I love ballet, but if it doesn't work out, I think I could deal with taking one class a day, or some sort of much more limited schedule like that, provided that it was a good class.

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I had heard that the Yale dance department had a quasi relationship with the New Haven Ballet when Phillip Otto was the AD. Is that still the case?

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  • 10 months later...

I know nothing about Yale's dance program, but I do know about Princeton, and thought I would just put in a good word for it. Someone in my family actually works in that department, and I have watched some classes. The leval in the ballet classes vary, since no one has dance as a major, but a whole bunch of students take classes just for fun, and most of the students are very good! They also have the pro of being next to Princeton Ballet, and those who are interested in that can take clases their as well.

I reread this, and saw that I made little sense, and so I apoligise. If anyone is interested you can PM me, and I will try to saound as if I can actaully speak the english lanuage. :innocent:

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  • 5 months later...
Guest juliet03

Hi, just bumping up this thread for the juniors/seniors like me who are starting the college search thread. I am also loking at Ivies/top liberal arts college with very good ballet programs, where I could be a an academic major but still take advanced ballet classes on a daily basis. Does anyone know anything about dance programs at Cornell University or Vassar?


Also, I was wondering what you all thought about taking classes in the dance department at the schools mentioned at this thread while visiting, especially if not considering a dance major. Could it boost your chances of getting in? (As in recommendations made to the admissions office...:o )

Or at such schools as Brown, where it seems as though modern is the focus; i have had a few years of modern but have trained at a very prestigious ballet school for years so that is my strength- could that help or hurt me?


Any thoughts/opinions would be appreciated.

Thanks a lot.

Edited by juliet03
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Specifically to juliet03, take class at these schools primarily for your own informational purposes (getting a first hand idea about the facilities and nature of the training). Some Ivy League schools will look favorably on your dedication to dance, but it seems unlikely that attending the in person class will carry more weight than a video submission. If its nearby, a visit couldn't hurt, but I wouldn't travel around the country on such a quest. In most cases, I don't think these Dance Departments have the clout to make a deciding influence on admissions. I think they could weigh in favorably, but a video will do for this for you as well. I know nothing about Cornell--sorry to say. Vassar is supportive of dancers and offers classes. It would be up to the individual dancer to push themselves to a true pre-pro level, however. Poughkeepsie (spelling!?!) is a small town, and I am not aware of strong training options off campus that you would need to bring you up to your goal of daily ballet class at an advanced level. Brown's program is modern oriented, but I know one very talented ballet dancer there who has maintained her technique by taking class off campus at Festival Ballet of Rhode Island in the city of Providence. Hope this helps a bit.




For anyone else considering Ivies and ballet, it might be useful to check the section "Colleges and Universities with Ballet Programs" as you narrow down your target applications. I also posted some info there recently on the Yale thread and the Barnard (Columbia) thread. I will post soon on some of the other ivies or near ivies that my dds applied to. I would also advise checking the threads for Brown, Princeton, Swarthmore, U of Pennsylvania, Harvard, Amherst, Duke, Stanford, etc. I also posted some info on our experiences in a thread on how to prepare a video for these not always dance oriented ivy and ivyish schools. None of the Ivies can quite compare to the wealth of offerings (both number of classes and advanced levels of ballet training) provided at the special six or seven school whose graduates actually regularly secure professional positions. Almost always these Ivy League college dance offerings (when they even exist) must be supplemented with additional class off campus.


The best advice I can give is that I have seen on Ballet Talk and mostly BT4D the occasional (quite rare) posting by people who managed in a variety of ways to combine these lofty academic ambitions with equally lofty dance ambitions. It does require creative approaches, a lot of research, a lot of stamina, and plenty of determination. Since, as I have stated elsewhere, neither of my dds has yet gotten a professional position, I can't recommend our personal strategy as successful. Nevertheless, both my dancers still have hopes and plans to audition. Each has received some feedback indicating that they have a chance (or hopefully two chances between them).


What we found most frustrating was the advice that it was pretty much college or professional ballet. Older dd graduated from an Ivy last year and has been getting down to last cuts for classically oriented modern companies and continues to train and improve in classical and contemporary ballet technique. I see a maturity in her artistry that definitely wasn't there when she graduated from high school. She is planning on one more year of auditioning as she simultaneously applies for graduate school in dance. Since she has gotten close in several auditions, and has had encouragement from teachers we trust, she hasn't yet given up (although the audition circuit is particularly gruelling for such a dancer). This dd is open to (and trained in) dance styles other than classical ballet, although this is still her main technique.


It's still hard to accept the advice that attending any college (other than the magic 6 or so ballet-oriented colleges) would mean a ballet career would be virtually impossible. This filters down even to middle and high school when dedication to academics (the dedication necessary to enroll at an Ivy) was viewed by some as lack of dedication to ballet. I have seen some dancers actually cast aside academics early on, turning a blind eye to the realities of the profession because they simply live and breathe ballet. It is difficult for academically ambitious dancers to compete with this single mindedness, but we managed. It wasn't easy, and half the battle was believing it could be done long enough to seek and embrace the creative solutions.


We followed the advice I mention in my other posts to search for the best possible academics (i.e. Ivy League or comparable) with access to the best possible pre-professional level training. Several Ivies provide this at least in theory. This advice was given years ago by a ballet-knowledgeable jazz teacher. If one goes this route, excellent summer intensive training is absolutely essential as well. Another factor is the option of taking a year or two of college before dancing professionally and finishing up slowly ( night or/and online) or, with a leave of absence, finishing after dancing. This second choice is the one the younger dd hopes to pursue. She too is a first year student also at an Ivy. This daughter is less open to other styles beyond ballet.


All this is not for the faint hearted, but none of this ballet stuff is. Similarly, applying to the most selective colleges these days is equally challenging. If a young dancer/student can pull both of these off, it's like passing through the eye of a needle. I hadn't the heart to throw cold water on all those dreams. I still don't. We found it encouraging to realize there are a range of possibilities. Although the jury is still out on my dancers, I have read here on BT4D about a precious few who have accomplished both. I have also spoken firsthand to dancer/scholars and their families who have addressed this college/dance dilemma in a variety of ways.


The most heartening thing for me has been the expanded sense of possibilities I have learned about. If we pull this off for my dds, I keep threatening to write a book and share what I have found out with other dance families. Obviously this path is not for everyone, but it does exist, however narrow and twisted it may be.


We always hear about how short the dance career is, and how college will be there. I certainly understand the wisdom in this advice. But it seems to me prudent to maintain strong academics as a plan B as well as part of our responsibility as parents to provide appropriate opportunities (like the comparable dance opportunities) for our academically gifted students. I also think it can be very hard to return to college after a certain age if this involves the same now gruelling admission process college has become, when it is launched at an age when the retiring dancer may have little patience with a system usually designed to handle eager to obssessive teenagers fresh out of high school. This has its downside as well--maybe not to the same level as the dance career delayed to the point where it becomes nasty, brutish, and short. Yet, being a 30 year old first year college student who has grown unaccustomed to the academic routine, is not without its disadvantages.


Sorry this post is soooooooo long. This whole process is almost as hard to describe as it is to go through! I hope this has been helpful to at least a few folks.


Best of luck to each and every one of you.

Edited by 2dds
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To 2dds:


Thank you for your long and thoughtful post, and please keep us posted as to how this goes. Many of us with children younger than yours are very interested in how this works out for your family.

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Thanks dds for an insightful post. It is very helpful to those of us who have children in the same situation. We appear to live in parallel universes.

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I've been through two Ivy League universities (undergrad and PhD and also post-doc; 15 years total) and a professional ballet career. I'm sorry I didn't add to this discussion last year.


First of all... Ivy League students do from time to time end up in quality professional ballet careers. Sybil Watkins started dancing at 16 and went to Harvard. Google her to see what she's been up to since then, she is quite amazing --- better today than when she danced for the Harvard/Radcliffe ballet group, as one would expect with age and experience. I got two years of excellent reviews in the papers as well but nothing like Sybil. My big exploit was to raise the Rat King from a bit role to a fierce dancing role that got notice.


Jose Mateo was mentioned above. He went to Princeton. Actually, he took is first dance class at Princeton, and his work is now well respected in the dance community. But no, he didn't have such a great performing career. He is unquestionably an excellent teacher, but he probably never attained a very high level of movement in his own body (he figured it out too late for that). Someone asked about creative ways to include dance in an overall education. Mateo is actively asking those questions and looking for workable models.


Regarding Mateo's company, it is actually very flexible and can take up as much of one's time as a student as one chooses. Students at Harvard and MIT have participated in his Young Dancers Program, Apprentice program and professional company, depending on level. One dancer I watched went from open class to Young Dancers Program to Apprentice over the course of her college career --- but I did worry about her grades, especially the year she took delight in performing in ALL 28 Nutcracker shows, during final exams of course! She loves to dance very, very much. Mateo's studios are right across the street from Harvard.


And don't forget Pilobolus, which came out of a program at Dartmouth probaably similar to the Oberlin program described above.


The path to professional dancer for the Ivy League student happens maybe because of, maybe in spite of, the opportunities provided by the school. Harvard offers a dance program of very decent artistic quality. It's mostly modern dance, but they seek to do a decent job with ballet as well, and they're able to hire quality faculty and seems to be well funded (for a dance program). It's an opportunity for students to explore and grow artistically. In Sybil's case, it served as a springboard to a professional career. The highlight of my time there was when we performed some choreography (from Texas, I believe) to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. I think it was good that we imported professional choreography rather than trying to do our own. There's only so much you can do as a student.


I went to Yale for undergrad, which doesn't really have anything of the quality of Harvard's dance program. Yaledancers was a snobby modern dance group, which needlessly turned me off from modern dance for a decade --- and they had no interest in letting ballet dancers perform with them. Yale does not really have a dance program, nothing at all like Harvard's. New Haven Ballet is also more of a local school, not a professional company. But New Haven has some really wonderful dance artists, and those people gave me my foundational love for dance growing up (and going to school) there. However, my skills didn't progress beyond Dolly Dinkle until I left New Haven, and my training wasn't good enough to sustain dancing without injury, so I stopped halfeway through my time at Yale.


Nevertheless before that happened, I found one other Yale student who was passionate about ballet, and we would put stuff together between us --- pas de deux and stuff. We would perform it with Dancworks, which was mostly students doing Jazz and hip-hop and stuff in the dining hall. Danceworks didn't take itself too seriously, while Yaledancers took itself VERY seriously, probably TOO seriously. Looking back... Yale was the first time I was able to do splits (and I'd been dancing since I was 5).


Meanwhile, my dance teacher at Yale, who was a normal dance teacher with a professional ballet career behind him, told me: "you don't want to be a professional dancer. You kids at Yale are so smart and have so much opportunity, you should do something else." Hard words for a ballet-obsessed 19-year-old to hear. And I eventually became a professional dancer (for a while) anyway. But in so many ways, he was right. I ultimately did not dance professionally beyond the point that it would irreparably damage the benefits I gained from studying at a place like Yale.


Yale has launched its own share of professional dancers. Nell Breyer comes to mind, she danced with Yaledancers at the time. She's gone on to other stuff (as have I), and her career was modern dance. But you can Google her to see what she did. Her father is also well known. My partner took her junior year off of college and pursued training in NYC at David Howard's studio. She didn't pursue it after that, and didn't ever dance with a professional company --- although I'm sure she could have, had she postponed medical school.


My nextdoor neighbor growing up was always sure she wanted to be a ballet dancer. After she went away to an SI at age 16 and was offered an apprenticeship, she decided she didn't want to be a ballet dancer. She decided on a career as an actress and went to Carnegie Mellon. Well, she's extraordinarily talented and she did quite fine in her acting career --- acting, singing, dancing, traveling. Among other things, she performed Shakespeare in his hometown. Then one day, she decided she'd had enough. She left it all behind and enrolled in graduat school --- International Relations, I believe.


So why do I tell these stories? Ivy league students who end up in dance careers seem to have a lot of interesting stories --- sometimes because of what their university provided them, sometimes in spite of it. A common thread for any Ivy league student is a deep interest in the world --- not just dance, but the whole world. For that reason, most (but not all) post-Ivy league dance careers are short. It is hard to contain the mind long enough to dance well, and at some point, one decides it's time to do something else with that mind and education. But I for one have no regrets that I found a way to spend the time I did fully committed to dancing, every day, every week. It was a special experience. But I found that there are plenty of men who could do for the AD what he needed at least as well as I could --- but I have other visions and skills that are absolutely unique. So it was not a good use of my talent to remain in professional dance for too long.


Common to these stories, I think, is the desire to be it all and to have it all. One ballet teacher I know observed that Harvard students want instant results; why does it take so long to train the body to do something? I definitely wanted it all, and I found I could have a lot more of "all" than I ever thought was possible.


But in the end, I found, I cannot have it all. Compromises always must be made. Dancing well takes time, and engaging in a quality academic education takes time. This is the fundamental conflict for the dancer in an Ivy league school. And both dancing and education are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities (unless you postpone the education, which some people do successfully).


In my own case, I compromised my social life. But I also compromised networking in my graduate program. I ended up with a PhD and a dance career but no job prospects in my field. Yes, no job prospects. Transitioning through that reality after graduation was difficult. I eventually found my way back to Wall Street, which is how I had funded my education and dance training to begin with.


At the same time, I ended up growing in so many dimensions through the ballet, and it became my community. I never expected that at my age I'd have no academic contacts but be an integral part of a high-profile arts organization. But that is what has happened. It's OK, I suppose, I was doing things that were right for me, rather than trying to fit myself into a mold (which is painful). Anyway, now that I'm no longer dancing for the ballet, I am participating in the organization in ways that add a lot more value than I ever could have as a dancer. And I'm free to do my own dance projects; even if they're medicore, I hope they'll be creative and expressive at maybe inspire others to greater work.


I have come to believe that dance as a major is not really suitable for an Ivy league education. Why? It's because of the nature of the liberal arts education. A liberal arts education is an amazing thing. It is broad, varied, and leaves you with no skills in particular (but a brilliant outlook on the world). You study history, politics, science, art --- anyting that catches your fancy. Students generally follow a liberal arts undergraduate education with a professional school in their chosen field of interest. That is the time at which they really acquire professional skills and build professional networks as doctor, lawyer, scientist, etc.


The liberal arts education is not there just to stimulate your mind so you can read interesting books waiting for your time in rehearsal. It is there to develop leaders, people who will think creatively to address the (as-yet unknown) challenges that face our society in the future.


Professional dance training is by its very nature a professional school. The point is not to know a bit about lots of kinds of dance; the point is to be an operational expert on one kind of dance so you can be hired in a professional setting. Significant time spent on a professional track as an undergraduate greatly diminishes the value of the liberal arts education. Ivy League schools are not about to introduce a major that suberts their fundamental academic focus, nor should they admit students to the university who are not interested in seriously engaging in a liberal arts education.


BTW, this is the same reason that Ivy League football teams are basically not competetive. Yale is a liberal arts college focued on academics; serious football players with professional aspirations go to a real football program at a Big Ten college, where they can make the NFL pick. Ivy League colleges do NOT need to be the best at everything, or even good at everything.


Of course dance can be and is studied in non-professional ways at the undergarduate level in the Ivy leagues. I've mentioned the student dance groups above. Not surprisingly, they don't reach to professional standards; if they did, they would require too much time of their memebers. But I believe that if dance is pursued with excellence, there is value in participation, whether it's something you do twice a week or full-time. That is certainly the case with what I see at Harvard, and Harvard has managed to launch a number of professional careers even without being a professional school --- typically among highly motivated and talented individual dancers.


Also, dance and theater-related academic fields are studied in the Ivy league schools. Harvard has an extensive library dance collection --- one of the biggest in the world, I think, right up there with the NY Public Library. It's a great resource for any dance scholar. But this is not dancing --- for the dancer who wants to actually BE in the studio and on the stage, reading about other people who danced in the past is just not the same.


One good idea if you're ready for an apprentice program with a professional dance company is to get admitted to college and defer matriculation for a year. That gives you another year of dance before you have to decide if you want to remain on the professional track or go to school. I know one student who did that at MIT; then he deferred for more than a year and had a professional dance career. Seven years later he re-applied, was re-admitted, and went off to study engineering.


So, for any student interest in lots of things and in love with dance --- there are no easy choices here. If you can go to an Ivy League school, I highly recommend it; it is a choice you will never regret. But it is not the best education for everyone. Your path through life as a dancer will probably be unusual but interesting and fulfilling. And most of all, your undergraduate education WILL give you the foundation needed to pursue your own vision, whatever it may be.

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  • 1 year later...

I currently attend Berkeley and although it is neither an ivy league or a liberal arts college, it does have very strong academics and I hope my insight is relevant and helpful. I am an architecture major and for those of you who do not know, being an architecture major is very demanding and requires hours of work in architecture studio. Being a dancer also means that I am spending hours in the dance studio. Unfortunately since Berkeley does not have a ballet program (though it does have a strong modern dance program), I have had to attend outside schools and still struggle to find appropriate preprofessional training. Nearby programs, such as Berkeley Ballet Theater, are great, but the preprofessional division is for students under 18 years of age. The Academy of Ballet in San Francisco takes older students such as myself, but a daily hour commute there and an hour commute back can be really taxing, especially when I have tons of academic work to do as well. I constantly wish that I attended a school with a strong ballet department right in the college, but as a senior in high school, allowed my academic-focused parents to influence me a bit too much. As a result, I feel very much behind in ballet at my age, though I do the absolute best I can.


So my point is, yes you can attend classes nearby, but it is difficult and if you are looking to become a professional dancer, it's probably best to attend a school with a very strong ballet department. I know that no academic major is "easy", but it'd also probably help if you choose a major that does not require quite as much outside work and dedication as architecture (or engineering), which is, unfortunately for me, my favorite thing to study outside of dance. Of course, I'm thrilled with the friends I've made and what I've experienced here in Berkeley and while I feel like I have a much greater appreciation for dance and enjoy it much more than when I was a high school student, I am not quite as satisfied with my technique or the amount of training I am able to receive. So choose wisely!

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  • 9 months later...

I noticed that this thread hasn't been active in quite a while, but I find it very useful, especially citibob's post about the decisions to be made. I am in much the same situation (and I am sure that many dancers are, considering how our perfectionism tends to leak into other aspects of our lives). I find myself feeling very conflicted about my future and wondering whether I will be able to find a "happy medium." I'm entering my senior year in high school, so the time to decide my future is now. I love dancing and especially performing, but I am also a highly curious and intellectual person who would love to pursue the challenge of an Ivy League (or similar) education.


I thought that I would post on this topic both to point it out to other high schoolers who may not have seen it. Also, I would like to encourage anybody else with advice or a personal experience to share it with those of us who are making one of the biggest decisions of our lives.

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Thanks for bringing this thread back Cygne! I thought I would post an update on my own situation since it mirrors that of so many dancers on this board struggling with the college vs. dance conflict... I just graduated from high school and am taking a gap year before starting at Princeton in the fall of '09. My situation differs slightly from that of others in that my focus in dance isn't necessarily to be a professional, but instead to dance as much as I possibly can and see where that takes me. To that end, I'm spending my gap year traveling in India (not dance-related, but hoping to study Bharatanatyam or Kathak dance while there!) in the fall, and then attending Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company's post-graduate dance training program in Israel in the spring. Obviously I will continue to dance at Princeton, but I felt like maybe this would get some of my hunger to dance ALL THE TIME out of me! At any rate, I would suggest that other people on this board consider a gap year as a way to get in another year of even more intensive dance training before starting at a college. While this would not be conducive to a ballet career given the age factor, I really think this is a solution that will work well for me and help me figure out what I want out of my college dance experience. In fact, even though I haven't officially commenced my gap year yet, I would encourage this option in general. While I am beyond excited about eventually attending Princeton (and living vicariously through a friend of mine starting this fall), I feel like taking this year to have experiences I missed out on in high school due to my dance training will be so beneficial. I am so excited I found this way to get to travel to Israel and India and also dance during my gap year!!! Sorry for the gushy post, but I'm leaving in two weeks and I JUST CAN'T WAIT!! :)

Anyway, I would really urge dance students to consider this option, particularly if you know you will be attending a school with such difficult and intensive academics.

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Wow, dance_through_life, that's wonderful. How are you financing all this travel? I must admit, I'm jealous. I'm considering different options--I'm pretty sure that I want to go to an Ivy or liberal arts college, just for the intellectual stimulation. Although if I got in somewhere like Tisch or Butler, I would have a very tough decision on my hands... Anyway, my most likely decision is whether to attend a college where I can major in dance (i.e. Barnard, Smith) or try to go to college and train simultaneously. I would love to dance professionally, but I'm not certain that I'm willing to make some of the sacrifices in terms of academic/intellectual development. I'm just too darn curious! This year I will be "doing it all"--dancing 15+ hours a week while taking a fairly rigorous course load at my high school and trying to stay involved with all my clubs, etc. I plan to apply to the full spectrum of schools (within my interests, of course) and see where that takes me. My main criterion is that I be able to take daily ballet classes and also continue studying academic subjects. Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that.


Oh, by the way, I am considering applying to Princeton (for fall 2009). So maybe we will end up in the same freshman class! If I get in, but that's another matter. :wink:

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