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Dancing for grades at university


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A year down the college decision road and dd is no longer a dance major. She is doing wonderfully at university and is very happy but is now majoring in something else (her other first love). Dancing for grades drove her away from the ballet major. She quit.


She did not get poor grades in dance. They were fine. But grading is both objective and subjective and she became increasingly frustrated. There has always been an academic debate in dance faculties when it comes to grading. I mean hardly seems fair to give a good grade to a dancer blessed with great facility but a so-so work ethic and a lesser grade to a dancer who works very hard but may not have the same natural ability. And communicating how the dancer is being graded can be dicey. Long story, but dd did not like it. This was something she never considered.


So, I am advising all of you seniors out there to ASK the ballet department about their grading policies before you make your decision. We were naive. We never thought it would be an issue.


This isn't a knock on the university dd attends, either, she is still there and loving it. And she is still studying ballet, as she puts it, "without the gorilla on my back." There is something to be said for majoring in something else at university and taking ballet at a pre-pro outside, even though the schedule is demanding.


Good luck to each and every one of you fabulous seniors!

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  • balletbooster


  • dancemaven


  • Taradriver


  • kikiswede


Last year, I was involved in developing grading criteria for a new degree in professional dance. The development is a difficult process as the assessment has to take the natural ability, the progress of the students, etc. into account. The "solution" was a continuous grade (achieved in class during the term, e.g. attendance, motivation, progress in class, ability to take corrections on board) and an assessment class (where student's ability to perform "on the spot", including both set and free element.


PS: I will PM you with some more details when I have more time.

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At NCSA, dance classes are graded in HS and college and become part of the permanent HS transcript for teens. The grading is highly competitive and As are very hard to come by. This is a source of great consternation for many academically talented students who come to NCSA with very high grades. My daughter actually had a teacher who told her class that he did not give As at the first of the year. This really threw them for a loop. :clapping: As it turned out, there were a few As given in the final term of the year and they were a source of great celebration for those who received them! :P But, for the majority, they had to learn to accept grades that were less than As and for many this was a first or an otherwise rare occurrence on their transcripts.


At both NCSA and at my daughter's university program, there are conferences and status reports that are given each term to let students know how they are ranked in a variety of areas, including but not limited to, technique and facility. At NCSA, there are also scores related to keeping your body fit and suitability for classical ballet, which can reflect body type issues. At both schools there are jury classes held in the spring where all faculty observe and grade the students based upon a set criteria that is strictly focused on various aspects of technique. At KU, these jury scores result in a numbered grade like a traditional test (1-100). So, there are many opportunities to gauge how you are doing and final grades should not be a great surprise.


For those who have not been in a graded dance environment before, all of this can be very disconcerting. One of the biggest shocks is that because you are a 'good dancer' it does not mean that your dance classes will be an 'easy A.' Often teachers are hesitant to give As at the beginning of the year or to freshmen, so that the student will see progress throughout their course of study. The biggest problem with grades for dance is simply that in spite of all the ways that dancers are scored to make the grades more quantifiable, there is still much that is subjective in that scoring. Certainly much more than how you score on a math or science test, where there is only one right answer to each question. But, it is really not that much different than how one might be scored on an essay question in less concrete subjects, where subjectivity comes into greater play and how your style of writing is perceived by the instructor who is doing the grading.


It is wise to discuss this issue before sending your dancer off to either a college or residency where dance grades will be reflected on their transcript.

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Hi Taradriver,


Thanks for raising this issue. It is not something that I would have thought about.




We didn't think about it, either. And dd was lucky to be able to smoothly transition to another major. Fortunately, she had college credits from high school so no time lost.


Going to college full time and taking 5-6 ballet classes a week in a pre-pro environment is a heavy load, but it actually may serve some dancers better. For many, it is what they have done all through high school.

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Grading ballet has been a very strong point of discussion in our hometown highschool program that is based on Vaganova training. (What is being discussed here can be applied to college curriculums as well. )


I was a founder for a performiong arts charter school in another state that did have a standardized curriculum based on specific technical skills. As a dancer developed they were able to perfect the skills and add to the skills in levels 1 - 6. It doesn't matter what body type a student is as long as they worked on mastering skills as set forth in the syllabus and rubric.


Then there is the interpretation and creative application of those skills...requiring another review and grade that is more subjective such as a grade for writing poetry or creative writing, (instead of math or science equivilent of technical skills.)


There were comments for effort, and for improvement.


If you check with your state you will probably find the State Standards for Dance and performing arts. I was surprised to discover that the high school here...that validates the ballet grades by allowing them into the overall cum...was unaware of the existence of the standards. I down loaded them and provided them to the Dean of Academics with a sample of a standardized curriculum that could be used as "bones" for developing their own. I guess it was too much work for them...and folks around these parts aren't excited about change. The resistance was unyielding.


So I have dropped the effort. It was sad that brilliant high honor students were getting C's or low B's without any standardized method of tracking their technical development. It was done on a subjective artistic ruler. I believe serious ballet students should certainly be open to that in an after school pre-professional program, but perhaps not necessarily during the day if it is going to pull down students in their overall cum or hurt them in their standing with their graduating class, not to mention hurt them in scholarship awards. It IS OK if they are graded with something standardized.



I have a wonderful sample curriculum/syllabus/rubric on hand and can tell you how to find one by PM if wanted to anyone curious.

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At NCSA...The grading is highly competitive and As are very hard to come by.

I'll just add that not only are they hard to come by, but each class (technique, pointe, partnering, contemporary) are graded individually. So it may be a matter of 4 dance grades affecting the student's GPA, not just one. :thumbsup:

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Since this is on the Higher Education forum, let's keep the comments to dancing for grades in college. NCSA would be ok because it holds both a college and high school program and comparisons can be made in how they do things (thanks balletbooster), but let's keep the remaining high school residencies off this particular thread. Thanks!

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Taradriver, I am so surprised by this. I thought that college BFA programs in which students enter by audition would NOT grade students by body type (by that I mean body type/facility). That is, students accepted to a dance program should have already met a certain standard---particularly, the potential to have a performing career in that area. This standard might be fairly strict for ballet. It seems particularly unfair for a college program to grade on body type, as by the time a student enters college, body issues pertinent to ballet facility would be already pretty well established (turnout, flexibility, feet...). On the other hand, work ethic, movement quality, musicality, line, ability to grasp combinations, ability to perform certain movements or steps, technique, cooperation in working with others, are things that could be graded more fairly, as improvements in these areas are possible independent of body type. Maybe I'm delusional or naive on this...


In any case, Taradriver, thank you for pointing this out as a potential problem. It is pretty disheartening to think that even after getting through all the auditions, accepted students would continue to be judged/graded on physical attributes that they cannot change.

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Taradriver, I'm sorry to hear that the dancing major didn't work out for your daughter, but it sounds like she has made a decision that is right for her--my daughter at Cal State Long Beach is also thinking of dropping her dance minor--not so much because of the grading, but because it is so difficult to fulfill all the dance requirements, the general ed requirements and her major requirements in 4 years. She may continue at an outside studio, but she is wrestling with stopping all together. Good luck to you both!

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Guest balletandsynchro

Like balletbooster's daughter, mine was at a ballet residency. for High School for two years, and because of this, was more familiar than many of her colleagues at Butler Univ. about the juried ballet exams. Butler has juried exams for ballet in the fall, the week after the Nutcracker performances, and again in the spring, the week after the Spring Ballet performances. There are also a number of conferences with the dancer's advisor, and two others with the teachers and Dean of the dance department. In this way there is feedback coming to the dancer over the course of the school year.


My understanding is that it is not easy to earn A grades in the dance classes at Butler, and the students are indeed aware of that through their counselling meetings. However, that is not to say that it is impossible to earn an A in these classes, and those who do earn them are thrilled! :thumbsup:


For any dancer who is planning to attend any University as a dance major, it is imperative to ask about the grading method, even if only to have peace of mind. It is always nice to have an idea in advance of what to expect!


Personally, I agree with balletbooster: the subjectivity would be similar to grading an essay on more esoteric topics.



Edited to add: From what my daughter tells me, technique, work ethic, and facility are all topics of discussion at the conferences.

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I remember thinking it was completely stupid to grade us for dance classes, and as such, I never worried about my dance grades in college. I was only concerned with casting, how much attention I got in class and whether or not I could do more pirrouettes than someone else :thumbsup: At Butler, I would said that the grading process (at least when I was there-- and it's been a few years and some faculty has changed) was reasonably predictable-- they gave high grades to the dancers that they liked and lower grades to the dancers that they didn't like. Often there would be a particular attendance policy or such that could automatically drop your grade-- I found that in general if you worked hard and followed whatever policies were put out for each class, you did fine (A or :thumbsup:. Though I have to say, I remember getting a C- in Spanish character. Yes, it's still possible to have a pro career and get a C - as a dance grade!

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Just an aside question: Do companies ask for grades when a person auditions?




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No, companies do not ask for grades. However, not all students who are dance majors funnel their total reason for being in college to getting a company contract later. Many are there to get their selected Plan B double major or minor in place as well, in many of those "other" interests a GPA does matter. It also matters for keeping academic scholarships and even some dance scholarships.

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