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Ballet Talk for Dancers

College Visits


l2daisygirl

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I am planning on using a few free weekends to take my DD to campuses and graduate programs for visits prior to audition/application season. Can those of you who have been there give me your Top Ten List of questions to ask the Department Heads? I would assume the first would be...

 

1. "What percent of your grads secure paying jobs in the dance field?"

 

 

Can we continue the list?

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My first questions would be:

 

1. How many ballet and pointe classes do they have a week?

2. How long are the classes?

3. How many performances do they have?

4. Are levels determined by ability or are freshmen automatically in the lowest level?

5. What other dance forms will they have over the four years?

6. What dance academics will they have? (ie, History of Ballet, Pedagogy, Choreography, Music, Drama, Stagecraft or other areas of work in sound or lights or design, etc.)

 

Then perhaps I might go into the area of students who find work in dance following their degree. Unless it is one of the very few really top ballet programs, like Indiana, you won't find a high percentage of people in ballet companies. That is not saying there are not some, but I don't think the percentages are high. You will probably find some people working in some area of dance, which is fine, but not a lot in professional companies.

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3. How many performances do they have?

...And more specifically, how many performance opportunities will your DK have [as a freshman] [as an upper classman]? Stating that they have 3 performances a year does not mean your DK will be in them. If not (particularly for freshmen), is there a workshop or other performance?

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Is there an adjudication at the end of the year that would result in the student either be invited to continue in the ballet track or switch to the modern/contemporary track? Also, perhaps the best thing that you can do is schedule your visit when there is a performance, so that you can see the quality of dancers, body types, and quality of performance. Two of the schools that my dd was very interested in prior to visits were eliminated from her list after seeing their performances. While they were wonderful, they were very modern which was not what she desired in her college training. Also, look at faculty bios on the website as they provide insight as to whether the training will be classical vs. modern.

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Be sure and ask if you can do a dance minor (many kids change their minds about the major).

 

Also, IF getting a minor is an option, what are the chances the student can perform?

 

I agree with what's been said above....just because they say there are "3 performances a year" doesn't mean everyone performs, especially for underclassmen/freshmen. Try to get a true sense of the likelihood of performing.

 

Also, make sure to ask about the degree itself because the differences between getting a BFA or BA/BS can be significant.

 

What determines what level a student will be in? (Sounds like a dumb question, but at some schools, a student can be put in the 1st level regardless of ability.

 

Also, ask about their injury policy. D sprained an ankle a week before performances in November and had to take an incomplete in a ballet class to be made up later. Turned out not to be a problem, but you should definitely understand how they handle the credits issue.

 

Thankfully, D's school allowed a minor, performing has definitely been part of her experience, they "level" mostly based on ability (but has become more grade-level driven in the recent past, ie freshman vs sophomore, etc.).

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And ask about their double major policy. Dancers have to eat.

 

Most schools allow double majors but how many "outside" courses will they allow for credit once the student is enrolled? Taking summer classes at a local community college is one way to earn credits toward the double major, but some colleges restrict the number of credits transferred in and many require "permission" before taking the class.

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This goes hand in hand with what Taradriver was pointing out. I think that it is important to find out how flexible the dancer's schedule is in terms of adding non-dance classes. For a student who is establishing a Plan B, so to speak, it is necessary to question the ability to take non-major classes, minor in a different subject, or even double major.

 

This particular question came up for me personally when I visited several colleges that offered a wonderful dance program but few opportunities for enrolling in academic classes in other fields because of time constraints and scheduling problems.

Edited by WaltzingThroughMyDreams
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Many colleges offer several tracks within their dance dept. Be sure you understand the differences. For example, Oklahoma has a ballet performance track and a ballet pedagogy track. Students are accepted into one or the other, based upon their audition. At Arizona, there are nuances in class scheduling regarding the classes that you can take in each emphasis (ballet, modern, jazz), based upon your placement level for that term.

 

Many offer a BFA and a BS/BA track. At Kansas, everyone is accepted into the BA track and then after one year, the faculty determines who can move to the BFA program. This is significant as the non-dance classes required for a BA in the freshmen year are different than those for the BFA students, as the BFA is a conservatory program with far fewer non-dance requirements. In some cases, an exception will be made and a student accepted into the BFA program as a freshmen. If you are interested in a school where this is an issue, find out if they will make exceptions and if your dancer is likely to be able to start in the BFA track.

 

Some schools offer only a BS in Dance (Indiana), while others offer a BA in Dance. Several well known ballet programs do not offer a BFA at all (Indiana) and some do not offer a BS or BA (Juilliard). The academic requirements are vastly different from one to the other and this might make a difference, depending upon your dancer's academic strengths and interests.

 

BFA degree requirements vary vastly from school to school. Some call a program a BFA, while still requiring a pretty heavy non-dance academic load. Other schools offer a true conservatory experience with their BFA. Again, this could make a difference depending upon your dancer's needs and goals.

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Good points about the double major.....

At D's school, she was told explicitly that to double major in biology and dance, she would have to take summer school in order to graduate in 4 years. She had lots of AP credits, and even with those, it would have been required. As it turned out, she's chosen to minor in dance.

 

She's averaged 19 credits per semester to manage the biology major and her minors (dance, chemistry, psychology). But she was the busiest in her freshman year when she was trying to double major!

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Guest balletandsynchro

If the college program your dancer is interested is a BFA conservatory program, and the dancer is still interested in auditioning for companies, find out if auditioning is permissible. Many will not allow the dancer to do so, as the dance dept. wants the student to gain the benefit of the entire four years.

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Just back from orientation (and class scheduling!) with dd for her BFA conservatory program. She was also told a double major would take longer than 4 years. They said summer school and 18 units per semester could speed things up a bit. But they don't recommend 18 units (which is the full conservatory program plus 3 academic classes) for entering freshmen. They strongly recommend only 2 academic classes the first semester. I can see the wisdom in this from a parent perspective.

 

Get all the info you can!

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As it is wise to listen to advisors for your first year, after that they may not be the most helpful. At many schools with BFA programs, they say it will take more than 4 years to complete a double major, yet at my school and others where I have friends who attend, there are numerous students who complete two degrees with no summer school and no extra tuition. You have to take a lot of things into your own hands and a question I think is very important to ask is whether the school/department you are interested in will let you switch the sequence of classes around and avoid prereqs. How accomodating the university will be, not just the dance deparment is very important.

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At Arizona, students choose a track (jazz, modern or ballet) after one or two years (can't remember for sure) and based upon the faculty's approval. So, prior to that they will be taking an equal emphasis in all of these dance areas.

This isn't exactly right. There aren't really tracks at the University of Arizona. (That's why my daughter chose this school.) Students just need to reach the highest level, for at least two semesters, in at least one style to graduate. Prior to that, they need a minimum of two classes (2 credits each) of ballet, modern and jazz technique (for a total of 12 credits). What they do with their remaining 8-12 credits of required technique (i.e., some students can kill two birds with one stone because they go directly into the top, 400-level) is up to them.

 

My daughter (and, I imagine, a significant share of the students) takes an overload of technique classes and has already reached the 400-level in all three styles and will continue to take all three styles. Being able to take an overload also means that students are able to bulk up on any particular style. So, if they wish to create a ballet focus, they could take jazz Fall and Spring their freshman year and fill the rest of their schedule with any ballet class that they have access to. For their sophomore year, they could get their modern requirements out of the way and, again, bulk up on ballet. The only students who would actually have an "equal" emphasis in all three areas their freshman year are those who are deemed entry level in all three areas and thus can't pad their schedule with different level classes. (But they could still add Pointe.) However, this program is known for recruiting very strong dancers, especially in ballet, so a sizeable part of the freshman class goes directly into the 400-level classes. This means that they have access to the 300-level ballet on T/Th, which gives them daily ballet.

 

So the faculty approval is for class levels, not for "tracks." If anything, Arizona prides itself on being a triple-emphasis program, so they're not about to discourage anyone from taking as many different styles as they want.

 

So, getting back to questions....

You might be interested to know how many ADDITIONAL classes they're allowed to take - both in ballet and/or dance as well as in academics. Another thing that I love about Arizona is that I pay the same amount of tuition whether my daughter takes 19 credits or 26.

 

And I agree with BluebirdMom that the injury policy is really important. When my daughter was at the University of the Arts, they didn't allow sitting out and counted all injuries and sickness as an absence. "X" number of absences lower your grade and after 10 absences you had to withdraw and get an incomplete. This policy contributed to my daughter becoming more and more injured and she came very close to having to withdraw. Arizona allows sitting out according to specified guidelines, so my daughter has been less injured.

 

Balletandsynchro mentioned whether auditioning is permissible. I don't know of any program, including Juilliard, where students can't do auditions. They just can't miss classes - period. Therefore, all programs will ban outside performances. However, every single program I can think of has students who leave the 4-year program early to pursue professional work. This means that they all attended auditions. Frankly, I believe the programs brag about these employed students and include them as "alumni" who found dance work. Is there really a conservatory that forces students to stick around and turn down possible employment?

 

Casting policies are probably one of the stickiest issues and I doubt that the faculty will give you a straight answer beyond saying whether freshmen can or cannot perform. I think you'll need to get the real dope on casting politics from actual students. Saying "all students get to audition for all shows" is not the same as saying that all students have an equal chance of performing. Also clarify whether the performing opportunities are faculty and guest pieces or student choreography. There are many cases where students are marginalized and rarely get access to being in faculty pieces or becoming a member of the "company" and their experience in the program will be very different from those who are favored for roles.

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Pierrette,

Thanks for the clarification regarding courses vs. tracks. The point I was trying to make (not very well, apparently :( ) was that if a freshman is placed at the entry level, they will be taking equal credits/emphasis in all three dance areas during their freshman year. I think I will move this portion of your post over to the Arizona thread as well. I would like to keep this thread focused on the questions that should be asked when making visits, rather than detailed explanations about various schools.

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I wrote a long PM to balletbooster to explain that her generalization about Arizona still isn't exactly correct, but for the purposes of this thread, I want to clarify two points.

 

The term "equal emphasis" in college dance programs gets used a lot, usually to mean both modern and ballet, but sometimes to mean ballet, modern and jazz. But just because a program OFFERS an equal emphasis, that does not automatically translate into what CREDITS students must take (in terms of what's required and when), are able to take (in terms of class placements, scheduling, and class limits/priorities) , or may choose to take (in terms of supplemental electives and program flexibility). "Credits" and "emphasis" are not synonymous.

 

Unfortunately, knowing details about some dance programs goes hand-in-hand with your ability to ask questions. Those embarking on college tours will find that they ask better questions with each subsequent school that they visit. And you're going to be kicking yourselves that, in the end, you're going to be comparing apples with oranges because you failed to ask the same set of questions at each place. I guess it will only be later in the process when you realize that there are layers of complexity beneath each pat answer offered by Department Heads. Talking to students, and seeing how their individual experiences vary, will give you a fuller picture. But since that will probably have to wait until the fall, it may help to study up on some of the finer points of the various schools in order to be ready to ask follow-up questions.

Edited by Pierrette
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