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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Dance department "rankings"?


winddancer9

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Hello everyone! Does anyone know where I can find a list of the top ten/top one hundred/etc. dance departments in the U.S.? I've been able to find such lists for academic departments, but the only ones I've been able to find for dance are decades out of date.

 

I have the Dance Magazine 08/09 college guide, but honestly, I haven't been able to find rhyme or reason to what colleges they chose to include. For example: they list quite a few UC and CalState colleges, but they don't include UC Irvine which is by far the best dance department in the CA public university system.

 

I'm a junior who has to make colleges decisions in the near future, so any information would be extremely helpful!

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I am not sure about a list, but when I think of the top dance programs I think of UC Irvine in California. There's also Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University in Dallas (I danced in their studios once about 7 years ago and wow, those floors were sweet!), Indiana University, Butler, Tisch at NYU...

 

But honestly it depends. Do you want to teach dance? Do ballet? Jazz? Modern? Choreography?

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I work in the UK not the US higher education system, but there are "league tables" where you can look at the rankings of universities and courses within them. However, I think that the BT4D policy is that we don't do comparisons because everyone's looking for something different: each student is unique. And each degree programme offers something unique. But there is no one single aspect of a course or a university which procaims it to be the best!

 

For example, my personal ranking of universities in my field is basically on the quality of their research -- because that's what I do: my job is to develop my department's research -- but is this the single most important criterion for a 18 year old First Year student? I doubt it ...

 

When I do the Chair of programme talk to intending applicants at my institution, I say -- and mean it quite genuinely -- that the selection process is a two way thing. The intending applicant is looking to see if s/he will find what s/he wants & needs in the degree programme, as well as the academic staff interviewing/auditioning to see if the applicant offers what the course needs.

 

And what an intending applicant might be looking for is different in every case: the teaching is wonderful, and the university is small, in a small town, far from family. This may be perfect for one applicant, and a bad dream for another! And so on. So it's difficult to give a sensible list or ranking here on BT4D, because there are just so many variables. But a good start is to look at the threads o individual universities and their dance programmes.

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Personally, I would never trust any rankings of schools, departments, or programs. Just ask yourself how anyone would ever know if one school or department is better than any other? Is there really any meaningful difference between something ranked say 10th and 5th? If you think for a moment, you realize there is no way to know. Besides schools and programs generally have different ideas about what constitutes a good education. Ranking things requires that every single thing being ranked has the same observable objective.

 

My counsel for parents and teens in deciding on a college is to first consider the questions of private vs public and how far away you want to be from home. Then do some research. Look at catalogues. Talk with your guidance counselor. Find out what other people have done. Read what people say on this board.

Eventually you will wind up with a few possibilities. From that point on you have to visit the schools on your possibilities list. In the end, you’ll find a place that just feels right for you. Go there.

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Windancer, CSU Long Beach may take issue with your statement that UCI is, by far, the best dance program in the CA system. :yes:

 

It is difficult to compare dance programs nationwide. Some require all dancers to take lots of jazz and modern as well as ballet, others only modern along with ballet; some only have a Dance major, some have a Ballet major. They may all have dance in common but the similarities end there.

 

College Board and Peterson's are helpful, too. And the listings on BT4D are numerous and packed with good info.

 

You may want to start looking for dance programs at the so-called top 100 universities nationwide, but note that there are some real gems from 101-200. I would agree with Garyecht to some degree about the rankings, don't get hung up with the numbers.

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Thanks for the input and advice everyone! My apologies, CSU Long Beach. I meant no offense, I only meant to illustrate that the Dance Magazine college guide left a bit to be desired.

 

I completely agree that I shouldn't make my decision by the numbers, the reason I'm looking for such a list is to give me more of information about my options. A starting place, so to speak. To make sure I'm not overlooking a program that has a lot of potential for me.

 

I am definitely looking for a program with a strong ballet program, as I hope to dance professionally after graduating. At the same time, I wouldn't mind exploring modern a bit more. I love ballet beyond all reason, but half of the time dancing ballet feels as if I am fighting my body (my hips especially) while modern comes more easily. I still would like to pursue a career in ballet, but I want to be able to experience a bit of modern in college. The search is also complicated because I need somewhere that will allow me to double major!

 

Thanks again for the information!

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Ain't THAT the truth!

 

Here is what you have to factor in. Time after your dance classes to shower and get dressed again for the rest of the stuff you have to do. I wasn't a dance major, but I'd often take classes just for exercise and fun. I figured, hey great schedule! My regular classes, then dance, then I have the rest of the night to study on campus at the library. Yeah...well...if I wanted to either go home and shower and come back (the dorms were really far from the main campus) or lug around all my books and dance stuff and a change of clothes and my shower stuff and a towel. It became a huge, stressful thing. I did not expect it.

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I don't doubt that I will be extremely busy, especially considering my choice of second major is computer sciences which also is a pretty time consuming major. It may take me a little longer than normal to complete. Then again I'm pretty used being busy to that after juggling 3+ hours of dance a day and a million AP classes--time management is my area of expertise.

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  • 2 weeks later...
I completely agree that I shouldn't make my decision by the numbers, the reason I'm looking for such a list is to give me more of information about my options. A starting place, so to speak. To make sure I'm not overlooking a program that has a lot of potential for me.

 

From my daughter's experience in making a national search for the right college dance program, "a starting place" is not with an impersonal and biased marketing document like a College Guide or ranking list, but with master dance teachers (ones with national connections) who know you. My daughter started asking her summer intensive teachers about what programs might be good for her during the summer after her freshman year in high school. She also made note of what schools her fellow dancers had or were looking at and for what reasons. We then made use of her school breaks to go visit dance programs while they were in session so she could observe classes. In this way, many Big Name programs were eventually crossed off her list and, in her case, The University of Arizona was put at the top, even though it was not "highly ranked" in most popular sources at the time.

 

In my opinion, Spring Break of one's junior year is the last, best time for an aspiring college dancer to be making campus visits, as the on-campus audition experience is not the same. It's also necessary to establish a baseline of observations from which you can compare and contrast your experiences as you make the rounds of college auditions. For example, while most college auditions have a strong ballet component, you need to see for yourself just how much ballet comes into play in the normal operations of a program. If possible, go to see shows at all of the schools you are considering.

 

What makes a program a good fit for you will have very little to do with what the brochures, guides and web sites say about it. The teachers are one extremely important factor, but does the literature say whether they are going to be there for the next four years? The University of Michigan had three of their top faculty members away on sabbatical last year. I don't know what my daughter would have done had that been her senior year there. I also have to say that politics and favoritism are another important aspect of the most competitive programs. If the literature says that performance opportunities include participation in the departmental dance company, you need to find out who gets accepted in the dance company. For some students, being the Top Dog at a lesser "ranked" school might be more beneficial than being forever stuck in the middle of the pack or near the bottom of the totem pole at some of the "top" programs. If you're never cast in shows, you're not getting the same educational experience as the favored students.

 

And, speaking as the mother of a "professional" dancer who is struggling to make ends meet - and who has passed along a lot of stories of her fellow "professional" dancers - it seems to me that if you can picture yourself pursuing any other career besides dance (especially ballet) you'd be much happier in the long run. This economy is making many of the best, ballet-focused, dancers that my daughter knows drop out of the business like flies. A few are switching gears to pick up more diverse dance styles in order to increase their options. From everything that I hear through my daughter, there is no one who can "pursue a career in ballet" these days who has double-majored in a college dance program. Personally, I don't think it's realistic. And it has nothing to do with time-management skills.

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Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and experiences, Pierrette. As always, it’s encouraging to hear from someone who has been through this process before me.

 

I’ve had a casual dialogue with teachers and other students for a few years about various programs, but perhaps it is time to start getting more serious about these conversations. I’ve been attending performances at universities within driving distance regularly (in fact I saw one last weekend), but a limited budget has forced me to significantly narrow down the list before making visits to distant campuses. That’s exactly what I’ll be doing this Spring Break. :D

 

Did your daughter end up attending University of Arizona? That’s one of the places on my not so short short-list at the moment.

 

I know that pursuing a career in ballet is never easy, most especially not in the current economic climate. If there was anything else I could be happy doing I would do it, but I know that if I don’t try to dance I will regret it my entire life. My desire to double major does not stem from conflicting interests, but from a desire for a safety net. I am acutely aware that it is nearly impossible to support yourself as a dancer, and I’m hoping that with a computer sciences or informatics degree I will be able to work freelance or part time jobs in programming, web design, or networking to help support myself. And hopefully the seemingly endless AP classes I am taking at the moment will help ease the burden of a double major and allow me to focus a bit more on dance. You are not the first person (or the last, I’m sure) to advise me against this path, and I appreciate your concern. Please rest assured that I am choosing this path only after careful consideration of the significant risks and challenges involved.

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Winddancer, you sound like an intelligent person who has put a lot of thought into your decisions. If your main motivation for computer science is a backup income, I hope you do consider that with the current changes in the economy, some skills that formerly gave people a secure safety net no longer are a guarantee of work, especially freelance as there are many people with these skills looking for employment. The more information you can get about who is being hired for what and why, the better decisions you can make. Also, looking closely at college programs to see what classes are required for the major and what courses are allowed to count for general education might help you decide. It seems like both computers and dance require an ability to demonstrate performance and fill specific needs, not just the possession of a particular degree, and I hope whatever program you choose allows you to meet your goals and get closer to the future you desire.

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Just wanted to add my two cents about the double majoring issue. We are in the middle of college auditions. Someone has asked the dance dept. about double majors at every one of the auditions that we've been to so far. Each school has replied that there are dancers double majoring and has given a percent of how many they believe are following that path. Some were very high, 85%, and some were more around 10%. Knowing that this is an important issue for so many families and dancers, I personally wish that they would find dancers in their programs that are double majoring that would be available at the auditions to really tell it like it is when trying to accomplish this and how they are making it work for them. We were at an audition on Friday where the school brought in 3 current students to answer questions of the many parents in attendance and not one of the three was a dance major. All voice and music majors. That was a bit frustrating for the parents of dancers, but it was still interesting to hear their take on the school. I've decided that when this is all said and done to send a note to the schools with the suggestion of having dancers available in the parent meetings to answer questions.

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winddancer: I wouldn't stress out too much about visiting schools. Spend your time researching the programs and getting as much info about them as possible. In a perfect world, you'd be able to go to each school and spend some time there before applying, watching classes or a performance. For most of us with dancers, this is not going to work because of the financial costs and simply that it is so hard for dancers to miss time in the spring or whenever because of rehearsals, etc. Because you have to go to the school to audition, you can check it out then. We've tried to set it up so that we're not rushing in and out of a school when there to audition. While my DD is in auditioning, I'm walking around the school taking pictures and checking it out. Most of the schools we've been to so far have tours set up during the time that students will be there for auditions. If you've done your homework and you know this school is one that you're interested in, you can simply count your audition as your "visit". We did some of this backwards. DD applied to some schools that she was interested in for a variety of reasons, only to realize when reading about the audition and talking to others in the dance world that this was not a program that would be a good choice for her. So, it seems like you are on the right path by asking lots of questions now. I do think it's good to be able to check out a school that you're interested in if possible, just don't see the need, for example, to fly to NY from California just to visit the school if you're going to have to go there to audition anyway. If it works out to visit without it being a separate trip, that's great!

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