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College-level dance programs proliferate

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There's a very thought provoking article in today's New York Times. Yes, you have to register to read it and it will not be available forever, but it is well worth reading for anyone who is considering majoring in dance. Granted this article is written, in part about a modern dancer, Mark Morris, but it's also about dance programs and their value- or possible lack thereof.


I hope you'll find this worth reading and file it away in the "round file" (AKA the trash can) or in your college files. Read through it, there's more there than you might initially think - for anyone who is weighing their future plans and it speaks about specific college programs in some detail, the differences in liberal arts dance programs vs conservatories, etc., too. :)


Practice, Practice, Practice. Go to College? Maybe. by Erika Kinetz. This is one article in a series called "Making Artists" which examins the professional training of artists across a range of disciplines. More information can be found online.


P.S. It really is a good piece - and I know many will enjoy the last line, too. :blushing:

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Very interesting article, especially when read in conjunction with the Interview Ed McPherson posted in the Roxey Ballet thread (See



Point, Counterpoint. Seems it simply depends on who you talk to: The ones who have gone to college first, advocate college; the ones who did not go to college first, advocate postponing college.


How's a parent to know how to help counsel a young dancer?? :)

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Well, I very much concur with Brown’s Ms. Strandberg. Unless you are talking about things like nursing, engineering, or teacher education, thinking of college as an entry path to a specific job is a big mistake, no matter if it is studying dance or physics for that matter (what does one do with a BS in physics, when to be a physicist one needs to be a PhD?)


I heard Thomas Friedman (a NY Times columnist who has a book out on the globalized economy) on the radio the other day talking about globalization and education for a world where globalization is the norm. He believes that the value people will need is to know how to learn and create. His advice to college students is to find those teachers who create enthusiasm for you to learn and who essentially teach you to learn and create. He believes what those courses are (dance, physics, whatever) are essentially irrelevant. Dance can certainly provide an area for such. Yep, very much a liberal arts approach—education versus training.

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I had read this article earlier this morning, and printed it out before I came here! My daughter's teacher, and the owner of her small dance school graduated from Juilliard. No, she did not have a huge career as a dancer, but she has started her school, and she's a fantastic teacher. I may not know much about dance, but I know quite a bit about good teaching, and she's got it all in the teaching department. Is that because of her exceptional training? I don't know, but in my eyes, she's become a success in her chosen field. She gets to teach, choreograph, put on productions, and even still dance in front of an audience during her productions if she chooses to. She also teaches people to fly airplanes! She does it all - while raising two very little children.


I think she's a great role model for my daughter. She has pursued those things she loves to do, and has found a way to make a decent living doing them. She's one of the hardest working people I know, but she seems to genuinely enjoy what she's doing as well. Can't beat that.


Garyecht: I agree with all you said in your post. The degree itself, and the experiences and skills one acquired while pursuing that degree are the thing.

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I read the piece. It is quite interesting and and very informative. Much to think about. I think in the world there are very few dancers that make it. Really make it and here is where a lot of thinking must be done. And yes...I absolutely adored the last line. :)

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  • 9 months later...

Giving this thread a little 'bump' (I hope this is right; I'm still pretty new) since there are several related threads that are front and center right now in "Higher Education...", and I figure it's pretty much the same audience. Moderators, please move or delete if I am out of line.


As dancemaven mentions on the college/company debate, posters tend to recommend college and defering dance if that's what they have done or dancing and postponing college if that's what they have done. Well the good part is we're all good posters discussing our first hand personal experience not hearsay. So if it worked for us, that is what we have to share. I guess it's also interesting that there are not a lot of posters warning us to avoid their choice that they came to regret. That is, people who made a particular choice, but they cannot recommend it for others because it didn't work out. Maybe the disappointed ones are less likely to post, but I've seen enough posts even in my few months on BT4D warning people to avoid strategies they know to be risky. I don't think this is why there aren't a lot of disappointed posters.


I think the reason we don't see posters with terrible regrets, and we do see different people endorsing the different options is because more than one road leads to "Rome." This knowlege about the variety of ways to skin a cat or grow a dancer is another theme I've seen a lot of on BT4D. I think the "best" most reliable road to a professional dance career has been clearly laid out. In addition to a healthy dose of good fortune, it hinges on an acceptable level and quality of training that is extremely difficult to integrate with a full time college schedule. If this is so clear, why is "best" in quotation marks?


Well as we know, one size does not fit all. Sometimes parents are raising dks who are also academically driven, ambitious, and curious. What do we do when our kids want to have it all? I have 2 dks like this and wanted to share a few thoughts and recommend parents with this dilemma take the time to really peruse the relevant threads on BT4D--especially the "Career General Discussion" forum, "Higher Ed..." forum, and the "Colleges and Universities with Ballet..." forum. All are under "Dance Education."


How does one go about being a responsible parent to these children? Well we can postpone one experience or the other when decision time comes in high school, but there are a few other considerations I'd like to mention. Realism is the first attitude we have to maintain. Even in the best of all possible worlds the "top" ballet companies (top for my purposes here, meaning biggest budgets)—NYCB, ABT, SFB, BB, PNB, and the "top" colleges—Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT (same criteria—$$$—size of endowment with a slight adjustment) will be out of reach for the vast majority. But with the emphasis on reach, if you are aiming for this, certain decisions about academics and dance training must be made early on, and must continue over many years, if the full range of academic and dance options are to remain on the table long enough to make these choices possible.


My 2¢


#1-There are many more satisfying professional dance options beyond the five ballet companies listed; ditto for the five academic colleges.


#2-We can't have it all at the same time.


#3-Begin as early as possible to think outside the box for ways to be a good parent to support all your child's gifts and ambitions.


My dks have not yet achieved that professional job so I hesitate to recommend our path. We have had good success on the academic scene, so I could (and have on other threads) share our efforts in this arena if anyone is interested.


Personally who I would really like to hear from are the dancers, parents, teachers, school or company directors, college advisors, or any others who are also dedicated ballet folks and know what it takes to have a career. We know this is hard. Is it even possible to combine with comparable academics? If so, what are the things that make it possible?


I didn't have the heart to ignore my dancers' academic ambitions, and I still want to believe it isn't crazy to still keep their dance dreams alive. What do others think?

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I didn't have the heart to ignore my dancers' academic ambitions, and I still want to believe it isn't crazy to still keep their dance dreams alive. What do others think?


I hear you...my dd is younger (8th grade)...but the road is starting to fork the tiniest bit for us...dd also "wants it all" academically and in ballet. This year, she had to choose...either 5 nights a week of dance -or- the state Latin competition in spring. Was not an easy one for her... (Dance class won out, with the eternal optimism of the young that perhaps she could do that state language convention NEXT YEAR. We'll see....)


We just try to keep going on the philosphy (home grown): Dance hard, keep your grades up, keep your options open. We try to be sure she's getting access to both quality academics and excellent dance training, try to re-assess along the way...but as we go along this road, I think more and more decisions will need to be made.



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I don't think it's ever easy to balance ballet with academics -- both in middle school/high school, and beyond. Be prepared for your DK to not always get their 8 hours of sleep each night. :-)


<<Removed because comments were off-topic to this thread :) >>


As 2dds wisely points out, when considering dance versus college, one size does not fit all, as far as a solution. Personally, I want dd to keep her options open and pursue a fairly serious academic load in HS with college in mind. For me personally as a parent, it's just too "iffy" to allow dd to put all of her eggs in one basket and sacrifice academics for ballet.


And as far as ballet in college, I still personally can't see spending $20K-$40K per year for college tuition/room & board to study for a dance degree (though I know many are, or have, done it).

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Msd, I think you've got the right attitude. Keep all the options open. When my daughter came to that "fork in the road", we had some serious decisions to make. Fortunately, the way things worked out, it was a pretty clear decision. She is continuing her training at Juilliard and fully intends to dance when she graduates. She had a fairly successful audition season and was offered an apprenticeship at a mid range ballet company. I am certain she could have landed a number of traineeships as well had she auditioned for more companies. Her main ballet teachers, felt she was ready to join a ballet company and advised her to do so upon graduating from high school. Although her teachers disagree, my daughter felt she was not yet ready for the companies she is really interested in. That is why she didn't audition for those companies(they are abroad). In addition, the opportunity to live in New York and study at Juilliard was something she could not pass up! Her ballet teachers, though a little disappointed with her decision, advised her to stay at Juilliard for a year and then audition again. I bring this up because I think it is another option that hasn't been discussed much. How about going to college and leaving before you graduate? My daughter is not really considering this as an option because at Juilliard this is not something that is really possible to do. However, I do know of other dancers who have done this. One girl in particular spent 3 years at Indiana Univ and just landed a 1st company apprenticeship at a very good size company. She has been auditioning every year since she graduated from high school and finally landed a good paying job! When her performing career is over, she can go back to college and finish her degree in business.


Another dancer, who I know quite well, accepted a traineeship at a good size company and tried it for a year right after graduating from H.S. He had been accepted to Harvard Univ. but really wanted to dance more than anything. So, he deferred his enrollment. After not receiving a promotion to the main company, I think his parents persuaded him to go to college. But, he is not giving up his dream altogether. He is continuing to train while at Harvard. This young man, has an excellent facility for ballet and is very talented. He simply needs some more training. I believe he will dance someday.


Here's the logic. If you have an unsuccessful audition season in your senior year of high school, then college is certainly an option you should be prepared for. If your priority is to dance, then pick your college very wisely. If you plan to dance in a ballet company then a college such as Indiana Univ is a logical choice. If you leanings are contemporary or modern, then there are several colleges out there that would be excellent choices. Even if you major in dance, you can still purse studies in other areas.


I think that the harsh reality is that the great majority of dancers in college dance programs are not going to make it to a performing career. However, there are other careers in dance that some will pursue. Others will perhaps decide to change their path completely. Yes, there are many roads to Rome. Some decide along the way to change direction and maybe end up in Florence or Venice! So, what would be wrong with that?




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I don't know what it would be like to navigate this territory if a pro career were a true possibility. I would think it would be very hard to decide. But, as much as I was raised to value academics above all, I'd put my eggs in the career basket if my kid had a true shot at the big leagues.


Within a short time -- two, maybe three years -- it would become MUCH clearer if the dream were going to materialize. By that time, if she hasn't gotten hired -- or at least gotten serious nibbles -- she's not going to be. And I see no downside to putting off college for a couple of years. College is by and large wasted on the young, anyway. :)


Conversely, if the decision is made to go to college ... well, then, go to college. Commit to that. By all means keep up with the dancing, but realize that the future is no longer a dream, it's here and now.


I guess what I'm saying is that through high school, we like to encourage our DK's to keep their options open. But I think that by age 18, it's time to choose which path to pursue. And this is a pure guess, but I'm guessing that for 99% of kids who have their eyes open , the decision is reasonably clear. (On this point, I refer people to Lisbit's terrific post on the After the Intensity of Training in HS thread.)


I guess we were fortunate, in that it was clear that DD's academic potential outstripped her ballet potential. There was never an "if" for us, only a "where" -- and, as with all kids, a "why". Like gogators, I would not be happy about spending $30K+ for my kid to study dance in college -- unless, perhaps, she had a very clear vision of a career in arts administration or something, and her course of study ranged much farther afield than studio courses.

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Our daughter graduated from high school with an advanced /honors diploma. Feeling she was not ready for a company at that time, she only did one company audition in her senior year. She was offered a possible trainee/apprentice position that required attendance at a summer intensive. She passed on that, went to CPYB and then enrolled there year-round that fall. She attended CPYB's intensive again last summer and is there again this year in the full-year program. Last year, she didn't do any academics, feeling she wanted to focus entirely on dance without the worries of school. Guess what? She admitted she missed academics, so this year, she's enrolled part-time at a college. Next spring, she's hitting the company audition trail. The two years of post-high school dance training combined with living on her own in another state have enhanced her maturity so much. Now, she is not only better prepared in her technique, but she feels that a job offer this year is something she is ready to take on.


I guess my story should say "to be continued"... She made up her own path, and we're supporting her, but it does get difficult sometimes because you're always wondering...what if?. The audition results will let her know if it's time to go for a different goal. Bottom line - she didn't pick full-time college dance and she didn't do academics for a year, but she will have several college credits next spring between her current college courses and credit for hs school advanced placement courses. There are definitely many ways to pursue academics and dance after high school. I'll keep you posted....



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These posts are really interesting and thoughtful. I think having kids in dance makes the choices MUCH tougher-college or not. I am a parent with a dance major in college and have to differ with those who feel they'd never pay all that $ for dance in college. My daughter chose her particular school, major, along with pre med on top of it all. Without the dance she could do her pre med studies in three years but chose to do it this way toward her goals. To us college is a great opportunity not to be missed, and why not continue to dance where the training is superb and new opportunities are everywhere?

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If I am understanding you correctly, I have to disagree with you Treefrog. I think that you are saying that there is no point in going to college as a dance major. Have you seen the latest issue of Pointe Magazine? Virginia Johnson, Editor wrote "The hype that a dancer has to be ready for a company by the time he or she is 18 or it's all over is just that-hype. In today's world, artistic directors are looking for dancers who have the skills and maturity to fit into a professional environment, which means that it may be to your advantage to take the time to invest in developing a broader understanding of yourself and the world." For various reasons, some dancers are not company ready (or not ready for a major company vs. a smaller company) during their senior year of high school. I do not think the decision to give up dance altogether has to be made upon high school graduation. For dancers with a real potential to dance, additional training can be just what is needed. In the first month of her college dance program, my daughter's horizon has expanded by leaps and bounds. One has to be able to self evaluate themselves or enlist the advice of experts when the time comes for making this critical decision.


We know several who are going to college and continuing to train. Some are even dancing in regional companies while going to college. Some dancers we know of who are in their mid twenties now, decided to continue training without going to college (I would not advise my daughter to take this route) and have just landed paying corps jobs! I think there are some dancers out there who just have to dance no matter what. The thought of having to support our kids after they graduate from high school may not be too palatable for some, but I personally do not think that paying for a college dance program is a waste of money. It doesn't have to cost $30,000 either as there are many fine in state institutions.

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I am also in agreement that it is certainly worthwhile for people to pursue degrees in dance, and will pay for my DS to follow whatever path it is he chooses at the time, whether that means a degree in dance, or even one in sculpture or architecture, two other fields he has consistently shown interest in.


I am a painter, with a double degree in painting and art history, and plan to go after another painting degree in the near future. I did not attend an art school, but instead went to a state university, and received a broad liberal arts education, which is what I think is what parents and prospective students should be considering--the breadth and depth of a liberal arts education vs. what you get at an art school. There are trade offs--art school (and conservatory) students have much more studio time, but don't get the benefits of a well-rounded education. Liberal arts colleges and state universities provide less studio time for most students, but will offer a greater array of challenging and mind-broadening courses.


I have read several comments on the board that speak to the importance of a dancer's ability to think, and in my experience as an artist, this is entirely true. The most interesting performers and artists are those who can bring more to the table than just their technical skills. They must be able to think critically and express their ideas verbally and also through their chosen media.

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If I am understanding you correctly, I have to disagree with you Treefrog. I think that you are saying that there is no point in going to college as a dance major.


That's not exactly what I intended to say. That path clearly works well for some, and I'd never presume to prescribe what everyone should do.


But, if it were MY kid, I would want him or her to commit one way or the other at the post-highschool juncture. Either go full out for a pro career, or decide to pursue something else in life. And again, if it were my kid, going full out for a pro career would mean doing a finishing year or three with a pre-pro school. It's a lot cheaper, for one thing, but also it's a lot more focused on the training and it would give the kid a better taste of what it is to live the life of a dancer.


Once my kid hits college -- whether right after high school, or after giving the ballet career a go and finding it's not working, or after a long and happy pro career -- I would want him or her to commit to the academic subjects. In my view and tradition, that's what college is for. Of course, I would also want him or her to enjoy a rich extracurricular life in dance.


Just my 2 cents.

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