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Ballet Talk for Dancers

College Dance Programs and Body Type


dancerwithwings

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I'm at the beginning of the application process for colleges with strong dance departments, as I want to major in dance. I know realistically, I don't have much of a chance of making it professionally, due to my body type. I have a rather large chest on a petite, thin frame and I've recieved guidance from teachers that have confirmed I won't make it professionally. However, I don't want to give up dance, and I'd like to pursue a career in dance, either choreographing or teaching, so it seems logical to major in dance and continue dancing intensively through college.

 

However, a lot of the colleges I'm interested in, require an audition. My question is, during the audition process for various college dance programs, especially those who are ballet based, how much of a role does "body type" play in acceptance? It seems that now, a lot of dancers coming out of dance departments are seeking and finding places in companies. So does that mean that the focus of college dance programs has become turning out professional dancers, rather than those who would work in dance, but not necessairly as dancers? Would these programs be reluctant to accept someone who probably wouldn't dance professionally?

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I suggest looking at pictures of students in the dance program that are posted on the websites of the programs you are interested in. Also, many colleges have their dance performances posted on You Tube. That will give you an idea of what the students look like.

 

My advice as a parent is not to obsess over your body type. Go audition for as many programs as you are interested in and let your passion and quality of your dancing speak for itself. Best of luck. :)

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There is nothing in Katie's post that would make me think she is obsessing about her body type. In fact, she sounds as though she is comfortable with her body type and is just being practical.

 

Katie, I commend your teachers for being so frank with you. None of my daughter's former teachers would admit that body type was an issue for becoming a professional back when she was a 32-34DD. In her case, she was just plain miserable having a chest that size: always in pain from bouncing, bra straps that cut into her skin day and night, and emotional scars from being constantly viewed as a sex object. Even the jiggle from brushing her teeth was uncomfortable. It wasn't until after her breast reduction that she learned that the doors to a professional career were now open to her. The differences in how she's treated now compared to before has caused her to adopt some pretty strong opinions about how talented yet well-endowed young dancers are treated. She would also applaud your teachers for being frank with you.

 

I think the reality is that body type plays a significant role for some programs and less so for other programs. Certainly judging by the freshman class at the University of Arizona this year, body type (meaning thin, ballet bodies) has become a significant factor. Some of the other ballet programs hold weigh-ins and tell students to lose weight. My sense is that the more that modern dance is valued in the program, the more diversity of body types will be accepted. This was certainly true of my daughter's experiences with the University of the Arts and the University of Michigan.

 

If you're hoping to perform in college, then you should definitely try to see the performances of each program you're considering. Even if a program accepts a wider range of body types, the performances will tell you what types of dancers get cast in the shows. This can be a significant factor in how well you like a program. The more performance-oriented the program, the more it's run like a company with a pecking order of favorites, down to those who are rarely cast. From what I've heard, ALL of the ballet-focused programs are performance oriented with a goal of turning out professional dancers.

 

What isn't clear, though, is what you and your teachers think of your prospects for being a professional modern dancer. Not all large chests bounce as much as my daughter's did. And for all I know, you could just be a size C. I think the more open you are to a modern-based program, the better you'll like your college dance experience, because it's no fun being a second-class citizen at one of the strong, ballet-based programs. The University of Michigan is extremely strong in teaching choreography, with many opportunities to perform in student-choreographed shows. (They have a new department chair, so I hope this won't change.)

 

I'd also recommend checking out Point Park University. They have a strong, triple-track program in ballet, modern and jazz, PLUS they offer a concentration in dance pedagogy. My daughter has a soft spot for them because they accepted her into their summer intensive when she was still a double-D, yet she was placed in the upper ballet level where she received excellent instruction and was liked by the ballet teachers. My daughter was later accepted into the college program, but that was after her surgery. Nevertheless, Susan Stowe is still the chair of the dance department and I believe she would honestly tell you how dancers of diverse body types fit into their program.

 

In general, I agree with cricket's advice to let your passion and quality of your dancing speak for itself because you never know when you might be an exception to a rule. However, I know that my daughter is happier by understanding and accepting the fact that she still doesn't have the ideal body for ballet, which makes rejections a lot easier to take. She goes into auditions with more of a "que sera, sera" attitude.

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I'm sorry, I didn't mean to imply I thought Katie was obsessing... just not to worry. Now that I've read Pierrette's post about her daughter, I can totally see the difference between what a "rather large chest" might be. My D thinks her chest is "rather large" at a 32B, which is a far different issue than a 32DD.

 

There are some very good dance programs out there that either don't require auditions or may be more accepting of body types - one that comes to mind in your state is Goucher.

 

There is an excellent college board http://talk.collegeconfidential.com that has several discussions about dance majors in the "Arts Majors Sub-Forum" - it may be another good resource for you to find programs that fit your needs.

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After doing the audition rounds last year with dd, I can honestly say that we saw a variety of body types during the auditions. We also saw more variety in the college ballet classes we observed.

 

Make a list of schools you find attractive. You'll probably find most, if not all, discussed on BT4D. Lots of info available right on the board.

 

I'll second another poster's mention of Goucher's dance program. Also in Maryland, is Towson University, which has a dance program. Many other schools on the board if you feel the need to get further away from home. Good luck!

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I think we're back into the confusion of how people define a "ballet based" program, which is the term Katie used to frame her question. I define "ballet based" programs to be ones like Butler (from their web site: "Dance majors at Butler acquire a strong technical training based on the central focus of ballet...") and University of Utah's DEPARTMENT OF BALLET, as well as those that offer full-fledged concentrations in ballet (meaning fewer classes in modern). If we're talking about any college program that offers ballet classes along with modern classes (which is all of them), then of course you're going to see a variety of body types. TCU, for example, clearly offers a ballet major. Cal State Long Beach, on the other hand, requires more modern classes than ballet classes for their BFA in Dance. Can we please back up any general statements with specifics in answering questions like these?

 

:) I apologize for sounding nit-picky, but I don't understand why this board lumps virtually everything listed under our "Colleges and Universities" section as having full-fledged "Ballet Programs" while clear-cut distinctions are made concerning what constitutes a summer ballet program. My daughter regularly attends the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance in the summer, where she gets daily ballet technique and got to perform repertoire by William Forsythe and Jirí Kylián. But you won't see that program listed here on Ballet Talk because The Powers That Be would classify it as a modern-based program. Personally, I'm delighted that we share information about the entire spectrum of college dance programs, but I think when distinctions are made in the questions, then distinctions should be made in the responses. That's just me and I'd like to hear what others think about this.

 

[PLEASE read my tone as confused and questioning and not at all critical. My confusion about how we discuss college programs has been pent up a long time and goes well beyond this one thread.]

 

Katie, in addition to checking the individual threads of the colleges you're interested in (and posting your question to see if anyone on those threads knows the answer), I also recommend searching for dance students at those programs through MySpace and contacting them directly for additional first-hand information.

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Pierette--thank you for trying to focus the conversation to help the original poster. However, I did want to add that in my time here I have not seen a thread opened or reviews of the SI program at San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. Only a member with first hand experience could have opened one, so I wish you had. Neither moderator or adminstrator closed a thread about that program in a move of power. If you have first hand experience about a program that is based in ballet but may be off the radar, then we welcome you opening a thread, adding a review and starting the conversation.

 

As well, our Parent Moderators are very open to PM's discussing what would make portions of the board more informational to our members. We bounce ideas off each other quite often when members bring things to our attention. We welcome your concerns and do not take them as nit picky or overly critical, however, there isn't a reason to allow yourself to get "pent up" without first using the channels we allow for you to contact us to discuss things that you wish could be addressed.

 

With that said, this thread is about College Dance Programs and Body Type and we should get back to that here. When my DD was auditioning two falls ago, we found at the Ballet Based programs that she auditioned for there were in fact a wide range of body types auditioning. She has friends at Butler, TCU, Suny Purchase, University of South Florida, Lines, and Utah. And most of them have varying body types and all seem to be doing well. The dancers we know at University of Arizona and Oklahoma are not dance majors so we cannot comment on what happens in those programs and since she is not at one of those colleges, I should not comment any more than I just have in that regard.

 

Dancerwithwings--If I were you, I might check to see which of the colleges you are interested in auditioning for has a pedagogy division. Those with only a Dance Performance major might be limiting in their acceptance of varying body types. But those with other options such as Butler with it's Arts Administration and Pedagogy majors within the Dance Department may be more open to varying body types.

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Many college programs that offer modern and ballet classes require all of their students to take some courses in both, regardless of their major or focus. If you visit a ballet class at these schools, you are going to see dancers from both disciplines in the same ballet classes, in most cases (NCSA is the only college program I know of where the modern majors have ballet classes separate from the ballet majors. There are also some schools, like Indiana, that have open ballet classes for non-ballet majors and separate classes for ballet majors). But, in the vast majority of college dance programs, you are going to see a wider spectrum of body types in most college ballet classes than you would in a pre-pro school where everyone there is focused on ballet training.

 

My daughter is at a school that offers a non-audition BA in Dance and an audition-based BFA in Dance. All students in both degree programs must take an equal number of classes in ballet and modern. They can then choose their focus by selecting additional classes in either ballet or modern, along with other forms of dance that are offered like Baroque, jazz, etc.

 

But, when it comes to performing, the lines are much more clearly drawn. They audition each semester for their showcase performances. This fall, the show has two ballet pieces, one jazz and two modern pieces. The teachers selected dancers for the ballet pieces who are strong ballet dancers. They selected dancers for the modern pieces who are strong in modern. The body types selected for these pieces follow the traditions associated with ballet and modern.

 

So, if you attended a ballet class you would see a wide variety of body types. But, when you attend a show, you will see those body types separated into the styles of dance that they are most suited for and in which they have focused their training.

 

If body type is a concern, you need to attend a performance. You can learn a great deal about how the various body types are viewed by doing this and you will also see where the school's emphasis is by viewing their rep!

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dancerwithwings, it seems that in college dance the emphasis is less on body type only. It's more about the whole package of the dancer. I hear some schools will still go overboard with the weigh-ins (gosh-I hope not most). Where a big bust is problematic in a company, you shouldn't have to worry here. Mostly the report is positive.

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If body type is a concern, you need to attend a performance. You can learn a great deal about how the various body types are viewed by doing this and you will also see where the school's emphasis is by viewing their rep!

Yes, precisely. And I'd also like to add that a department's approach to casting colors everything else that goes on in these performance-oriented programs. It sets in motion the entire political dynamic of how everyone relates to everyone else: in class, out of class, in rehearsals and the social fabric that determines who gets picked for student choreographed pieces. My daughter has seen this at three university programs where she was a student and she's also heard it from many of her dance friends who attend other programs.

 

I'd like to draw your attention to two posts by balletboyrhys and ConstanzaElisabeth on the Utah thread that demonstrate this totem pole effect. Based on what my daughter has observed in her own programs about casting priorities (not necessarily concerning body types), we know full well how both of those portrayals are "true." Programs are lousy when you're at the bottom of the totem pole and they're great when you're at the top. They're even great when you know that some students choose to leave because "most people" don't experience being at the bottom.

 

This dynamic that exists with every performance-oriented program is not revealed in the program literature and it can't be seen by observing ballet classes. And, unfortunately, you're unlikely to get the truth out of a bottom totem pole student if you happen to nab them in the hall to ask whether they like the program. The actual castings in the faculty and guest choreographer pieces are very revealing. Don't let people tell you that student choreography pieces count the same as "performance opportunities" because neither the dance majors or the faculty treat them the same. Depending on where a student stands on the department's totem pole, they will receive a qualitatively different dance education just as professionals in the same company experience qualitatively different careers. You can't compare dance programs like you can the ones for your academic majors. While a dancer might get accepted to a range of programs, you need to consider where you/they are likely to fall in the hierarchy. While there are definitely advantages to being at the top, there are also some benefits with being in the middle. But balletboyrhys gives good reasons for avoiding being at the bottom.

 

P.S. I apologize for using a term to refer to our moderators and administrators that conveyed a negative meaning for some people. I was borrowing the term from the field of TV show production to simply mean "'the behind-the-scenes people who make decisions," as in, "The Powers That Be have decided to take this show in a darker direction this season." As balletbooster pointed out, college ballet classes are run differently compared to pre-pro schools and I was trying to ask that we acknowledge those differences. Her post did a great job of clarifying this issue.

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Speaking as a former dance major at Butler University(1988-90), my decision to leave was most markedly made because I got sick of hearing how I needed to lose weight. Mind you, I was midrange on the charts for my height already, but rather than being large busted, I am more of a pear shape. I completed my degree at the University of Iowa where I received an EXCELLENT dance and academic scholarship and received parts in all the ballet performances as well as dancing solo roles in the opera department productions. When I was at Butler, every meeting with my advisor ended with me going back to the dorm in tears over the weight issues, and I vary vividly remember seeing her eat grapefruit for lunch followed by a cigarette.

 

About 2 1/2 years ago I took ballet class at the University of Iowa given by Basil Thompson, God rest his soul. He took over the position from my ballet teacher there. It was an eye-openning experience because there were dancers of every shape and size in the advanced level 3 ballet class. Modern and ballet are given equal emphasis at U of IA, and one of the dancers when I was there who was most long and lanky and Balanchine looking was frequently given leading roles in modern pieces. She continues to dance with a professional modern company in NYC and is in her late 30s.

 

One other dancer who was trained at U of IA before I arrived who was trained under my teacher, Francoise Martinet, was petite and a bit top heavy. She danced for several years with Tulsa Ballet before joining Joffrey Ballet which is where I believe she still is.

 

I think that the whole body type thing is as much a company-based initiative as anything. Let's face it, someone like myself who is 5'2" is never going to get into a Balanchine based company. But there are a lot of companies with more diverse looks like Joffrey. As for colleges, when I made my decision to leave Butler, the attitude I had to take with myself and others was that "I am PAYING THEM for an education". If I were receiving a paycheck from them, it would be acceptable to let them dictate how they wanted me to look. Especially when paying private school/out-of-state tuition, get your money's worth in LEARNING and don't take ---- about your build whatever avenue you decide to pursue.

 

---------edited by moderator to remove identifying information about advisor.

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