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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Performance-oriented College Dance Programs


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I'd like to echo Treefrog's suggestion that you not limit yourself to colleges with strong ballet programs, but consider colleges where you can attend a good, local studio.


Given my daughter's experience at the University of Arizona, I'm getting a sense that colleges with strong ballet programs are not only becoming very competitive, they're becoming almost cutthroat. I'm seeing a growing trend for the programs to seek out freshman dance majors who can be placed directly into the top level of ballet. This way, the programs have the widest selection possible when it comes to casting Big Name Pieces by Big Name Choreographers that influence the local Big Donors to cough up Big Bucks. Some of these top college dancers soon realize that the only thing they're getting out of the program is lots of performing experience (overlooking the benefits of a college education, in general) and start to wonder why they aren't "out there" being paid to do the same thing. So they leave to go perform professionally, whereby the dance programs then benefit, again, by listing them with their successful "alumni," thus bolstering their prestige.


So in the case of the University of Arizona, I really doubt that you'd want to be a dance major there if you aren't seeking to dance professionally after college. They do offer students the option of pursuing a minor in dance, and all students have plenty of opportunities to be cast in student choreography pieces, but you shouldn't expect to get too much attention from the faculty, or even much bonding with the dance majors. My daughter's roommate is a dance minor, but she's mostly focused on her academics, still deciding between majoring in education or foreign affairs, so this lesser focus on the dance program works for her.


I think you'd stand a better chance of getting strong ballet at a good dance studio than trying to get it through a college as a non-dance major, even one with a strong ballet program.

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I got a similar impression when I was just looking into some of the "big name" college programs- that they were all about the performance experience and not about growth and getting an education. Maybe that's alright for some, but I know I need a little more finishing first and I want to have an education. I want a career in dance but if I were to attend one of those programs, I might as well just take a couple of years off from school and train in an intensive pre-pro or company attatched program- and I'd be saving quite a bit of money!


Instead, I've geared my focus to liberal arts schools that have good ballet, offer a dance major, would allow the possibility of a double major, and that are in areas where I could find high quality classes that I could supplement with as/if needed. My (almost, still awaiting the approval of my college counsellor) finalized list has a mixture of schools on it, some of the bigger names and some other smaller, but good programs. I plan on applying to Fordham (partnership with the Ailey school), NYU, SUNY Purchase (probably the most like the scenario described by Pierrette), Goucher, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Skidmore. They all seem to want to turn out dancers with a head on their shoulders- taking education outside of the studio as seriously as education in the studio.

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Wow. I'd like to know if others at their college dance programs feel the same. Interesting.


Perhaps I need to clarify that none of my previous comments reflects my daughter's feelings about the UofA dance program, as this is her first semester in the top level of ballet, and thus she is growing as a dancer. As a dance major, she has much better access to the faculty compared to the dance minors. She is also greatly enjoying her academic classes.


It is my daughter's roommate from last semester who was placed directly into the top level of ballet as a freshman and who now seems bored in class. She is also not pursuing a serious load of academic classes that would allow her to graduate in four years. At least two of that girl's peers from the elite freshman group have not returned this year and are working professionally. All last year, the elite group would hang out at my daughter's place and complain about why they were there.


This past summer, my daughter attended a program that included two students from the University of Utah. Both those girls were not looking forward to returning to school, due to the competitive nature of the program. Then, last week, I was sharing my daughter's tense feelings about the current UofA ballet castings with the mother of a dance grad from yet another program and she said it was like this at her daughter's school as well.


I guess I was also obliquely saying that it's really, really hard to get accepted to UofA's dance program as a major, and if one is looking for the studio experience where one is tops in their studio, then being a dance minor is not going to match that experience.

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My DD just finished her first week at Purchase. Their conservatory program is certainly one that focuses on performance and dance education with much less emphasis on other academic pursuits. However, I don't think anyone who applies there would be surprised, as acceptance into the dance program IS acceptance into the college. They do have top-notch freshman students, I guess, although they are certainly not all phenomenal... And to the best of my knowledge every freshman is placed in a freshman level. There are 2 levels per grade (ballet and modern, each)... There may be an occasional exception that my daughter is not aware of, but... freshman seem to be placed in freshman levels (they did mention that some dancers in 1B - highest level of freshman class, could be dancing at a higher level than some of those in 2A - lower level sophomore).


DD struggled with the decision to attend college. She wanted to train at a professional school in a post grad class. Since she would be leaving home for either, my husband and I persuaded her to try college for a year (she is barely 17). We were more comfortable with her living on campus (leaving her car at home), and training where we felt she would get good quality instruction in a different climate/culture.


While she is disappointed that she can't take more academic classes, she is very pleased with her dance instruction, she feels challenged and is excited about that. I don't think she has any regrets with the decisions that were made!


*The students getting a BFA in dance take 30 credit hours of liberal arts classes and 90 credit hours of dance related classes. including ballet, modern, pointe, partnering, etc. and music, improv, dance production, etc.

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