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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Choices: Hindsight in College vs. Company


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Perhaps sparkles preferred to keep that to herself in thread. . . . . We encourage our members to reveal only the information they are comfortable revealing.


But, if you are interested in the college programs, we do have an entire Forum with dedicated threads for the ones our members have experienced and investigated. :thumbsup:



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Keep in mind that Alexandria Ansenelli went to Columbia after leaving the Royal Ballet. Alicia Graf also completed her degree there after DTH folded, and now stars at Ailey. A graduate of my prominent liberal arts college went on to join a ballet company in a major US city. It's not impossible to dance after college and there are plenty of older students in universities who bring other experiences to their studies. Maybe the most important thing is to go with your heart. If you have the opportunity of the dance job you want after high school, take it. If you know you'd be happier preparing for another future, there are lots of colleges where you can dance a lot without being a major.

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  • 2 weeks later...

As a dancer more than a decade out of college (with a BFA in Ballet), I just wanted to add my weight to the opinions expressed about the choice between immediately pursuing a job with a company right out of high school, attending a pre-professional training program, or attending college. Yes, this is and should be a very personal choice. At 18, I was not mentally or physically prepared for a career. I also just loved school. I made the choice to attend a top university for ballet, graduated in 3 1/2 years (had to attend summer sessions to do it), and ended up with a traineeship after auditioning during my last year. As we all know about the stressful work of auditioning for companies, it is often (unfortunately) who you know rather than who you are as a dancer; this played a large factor in how I landed my first "job". This is the case no matter what path one takes. And I say "job" because sure enough, it wasn't paid - but training was free, additional training in the school was free, shoes were provided, and there were opportunities to make a few extra dollars participating in educational outreach. Although it was an eye-opening experience for me to transition from the ideal world at college into the reality of the ballet world, I was prepared. I was prepared to have the stamina to work a restaurant job to be able to pay the bills. I was prepared to live on my own away from home. I was prepared to focus on myself without the need for oversight from an employer or parents. For me, my time at college was a whetstone. It not only sharpened my mental skills for a career in dance, it sharpened my mental skills for life. Ideally, this is the entire purpose of college, is it not? For anyone who is like I was at 18, not quite ready to have a career yet, I recommend this path. I have since had a successful professional career nationally with regional companies and have chosen to return to school - this time for my MFA. This is my few cents' worth. College worked for me. And I think in time, as a previous post mentioned, this trend toward hiring college-trained dancers may increase due to directors enjoying the mental and physical maturity that MAY come from these additional years of training.

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As a parent of a dancer who has chosen to further her training while attending college, this post was reassuring.

Thank you, ezzie57, for sharing your experiences. :flowers:

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Thank you ezzie57. Your post helps to reinforce DD's decision to persue college, and then hopefully a dance career. Like you were, I don't feel DD is ready to cope with the rigors of dancing for a company, mentally or physically, quite yet. A few years under her belt and some life experience, I think she will then relish the challenges that come with the professional dance world. Your perspective is priceless!

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  • 1 year later...

Thanks to all who have contributed to this discussion. I just told dd (16) that any downtime from this point on really does need for her to read through these types of discussions since we are coming to the end of the era where I tell her how she should want to approach life! :wink:


It occurs to me that all this needs serious contemplation, but at the same time, probably shouldn't be over-thought, since so much will need to be decided by instinct and response to shifting variables that are only revealed at certain stages of the journey.


I am curious to know more about the financial side of deferring college to later in life, however. Perhaps that is something best investigated on College Board etc.? I've noticed people mentioning the need to take advantage of scholarships that were only available right out of high school. I just wonder whether the financial penalty is lessened for a mature, independent student who suddenly doesn't belong to the middle class tax bracket of their parents, and might be able to access some need based assistance that might not have been available to them while they were still their parents' dependents?

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LovesLabor, you may be on to something about different financial options for older independent college students. For California residents, UC Berkeley has the Blue and Gold Opportunity plan (http://students.berkeley.edu/finaid/undergraduates/blueandgold.htm). If your family has income below $80K/year, all tuition is waived. For an older student that is not dependent upon parents, this might be a way to go. Of course, one would still need to get admitted to UC Berkeley. However, with Berkeley's "holistic" admissions approach, it would seem that a strongly dedicated dancer returning to school might be an interesting candidate for admission, particularly if there was a strong academic HS record in the past.

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  • 1 year later...

Hi everyone. Can we get this thread going again? After the SI 16yo DS completed recently, he was offered a spot (when he is ready) at the BFA (academics of course not yet dealt with). This catches me by surprise. I hadnt considered that he wiuld do a degree. I had assumed he would do some years of full time study after 18 and then start auditioning. I have read this whole thread with interest and would like to hear more about the college vs full time dance decision. I have always assumed he would do a degree later in life..... This has thrown my whole mental map into disarray!,

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It has been great to read everyone's stories. It gives me hope that, at age 12 , we do not have to have everything mapped out...although it is all still overwhelming!

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Thyme, here's my two cents:


I did opt for a very highly regarded ballet BFA program after high school. I graduated high school top of my class, winning all sorts of academic awards. Not going to college never crossed my mind, although I did plan on pursuing a professional dance career after college.


I went to college, however, having NO idea what I would want to do when I finished dancing. After my freshman year, I decided I would eventually go back to school to get my MFA in dance and teach at a university. Therefore, while I was minoring in a foreign language and going through the Honors College, I didn't pursue a dual degree or take any unneeded electives, because all I needed was my BFA. (Not to mention, despite scholarships and parents' financial support, out-of-state tuition is too costly to be taking "extra" classes).


Fast forward to my post-graduate life, where I did land a job and was dancing professionally. I decided teaching university-dance could potentially land me at a small university in some little town and that I would instead go to law school, which would allow me to work wherever I wanted and which doesn't require a specific bachelor's degree. So, again, I didn't bother taking any other college classes while I danced because law programs don't require specific bachelor degrees.


Fast forward to now, where I'm currently freelancing while I slowly weasel my way out of dancing professionally. This moment has definitely come sooner than I had planned, but I don't feel comfortable with the lack of financial stability that comes with being a dancer. But I came to discover that job prospects for law school grads are rather dismal right now. I ran the gamut of other options for second careers, which turned out to be quite difficult. Physical therapy fell by the wayside because the pre-reqs alone would be about two years before applying to a PT program and accruing massive loans. My math interests would require entirely new bachelor's degrees (engineering or astrophysics). I'm toying around with a new option, as well as the option of opening a studio in the future, but it's been tough to get to this point. Luckily, I'm on faculty at a local college, which allows me to take a certain number of credit hours for free each semester, so I can play around with pre-reqs.


But big things to think about:


1) Don't fork over huge loans for a BFA. I actually had a full ride academic scholarship to a highly regarded, but triple focus, in-state school, and yet chose to leave the state for a purely ballet program. I kick myself still over this "immature" decision, as I didn't have a high regard for other dance forms at the time.


2) If you're certain you know what you want to do after dancing, great. But realize if you're following a pre-med path, or something in addition to the dance degree, and then DO dance professionally, when you go to move into med school (or whatever) you probably won't remember any of the academics you learned and will have to invest time and possibly money to review/retake.


3) My parents were able to pay for all the expenses not covered by scholarships, but my mom has said now that she wished they'd just paid to send me to a post-graduate training program/trainee program, because so many of my main "after-dancing" career interests require totally different bachelor's degrees, making my BFA pointless. My unwillingness to do a new bachelor's program at this point in my life has definitely limited my options.


4) If you have post-dance academic interests, think about what your dance degree will do for you. Law school, MBA programs, etc are things that don't require specific undergrad degrees. I even thought about earning a Master's in education and teaching high school. Unfortunately, in the state where I live, teachers barely make more money than I made/make dancing and teaching ballet. There were dancers in my BFA program who danced professionally and are now starting from scratch in new bachelor's programs or had to invest more money in pre-reqs to apply to grad programs that are outside the arts sector.


5) I have spent my career with regional companies (mainly one) which generally have milder schedules. I have seen my share of fellow company dancers who have found the time to take college classes, and graduate, all while dancing professionally. The nice thing for them is that they chose these majors after having a couple of years of professional dancing under their belt and were sure about the academic paths they had chosen.


6) That being said, I don't regret my time in my BFA program. The nice thing is that those big university programs have excellent facilities and often can put on better productions than, for example, a regional ballet company, because every resource you need is at hand. The networking provided by the students, grad students, and faculty is wonderful. I also HUGELY matured as a person, as I'm sure everyone does while they are in college. College is a "safe place" to transition into adulthood. I think moving directly into "adulthood," had I opted to go immediately into a company, would have ended up really intimidating me.


7) This can also depend on the university. I know of a dancer who majored in dance and was also able to major in a science (not an option at many programs due to the amount of time labs take), danced professionally while playing around with her science degree, and is now retired from dancing and pursuing science at the grad level. But this takes a lot of research and a huge confidence in the choice of your second degree, not to mention the ability to maintain your level of knowledge of your non-dance degree so that you're sharp enough to go straight into a grad program in the future.


8) At the end of the day, if I could do it all again, I would have attended the in-state program, given I had a full ride. If the in-state university hadn't been an option, then I would hope I would have chosen a trainee program instead, and gone to college while/after I danced professionally. Now, it's too late for me to pursue my other passion (astrophysics) because I don't want to devote the years it would take for a bachelor's, a master's, and a PhD.


This hopefully doesn't sound dismal! I think most dancers choose to stay in the dance/entertainment business, so there's no reason for them to have a different, more academic, degree. I know plenty of dancers who now only freelance, or only teach, or own Pilates studios, etc, and they're doing fine. I'm still considering staying in the dance/arts business because I feel I'll have a bit of an identity crisis without dancing, but it's always a toss up between that and working in a field that pays really well and has great benefits.


Hope that helped even a bit! Again, just my own two cents. I'm very grateful for the opportunities I've had and the career I've had, regardless of how I got here.

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DD originally thought she'd do the post-grad training route and started a 2-year training program once she finished high school. Before she started the program, I had insisted that she apply to colleges and visit. She did, but she had been adamant about this path for several years--all through high school and we were resigned to accepting a 'college later' scenario. Imagine my utter surprise when she accepted a spot in a BFA program that spring to start the following year.


It was her dream BFA program, but the school's academics left much to be desired. She found a couple professors (non-dance) whom she admired and learned a lot from, so she stacked her electives with their philosophical and practical classes. She started planning and mapping out her route for getting from 'here to there' quite early and learned a lot in the process. She was all set to start putting the plan into action the fall of her senior year, then just weeks from purchasing her overseas plane ticket she was injured. That injury turned out to be serious.


She had significant academic scholarships at the university and came out of school with no undergrad debt.


She graduated, then started a post-baccalaureate program to prepare for med school. The post-bacc programs are non-degree seeking, so there are no subsidized loans or scholarships available for them. There are, however, regular student loans than can be taken out. Luckily, DD did not need to take out any loans. We were able to cover the cost of the tuition. She did very well in the courses and initially was very excited about the new direction. However, as her injury healed and she found she was able to increase her dance time, she lost interest in the science courses and renewed her efforts to get back to auditioning. She felt strong enough to begin auditioning again and left the post-bacc after two semesters (with exceptional grades---but feeling like her soul was being sucked out of her).


Once again, she was tentatively and selectively auditioning for dance contracts and feeling stronger. Then an injury occurred that revealed a condition in her hip that rendered it impossible to continue contemplating a full-time dance career (hip dysplasia). She had begun thinking that law school would be her post-dance plan and had begun preparing for that. The day she learned of her hip injury, she signed up for the LSAT. That fall she was in law school. She will have school loans for this degree.


She had gone to law school with some idea of what she wanted to practice and do with her degree. She took an abrupt turn once she got acclimated and has found an area she is as passionate about as she was about dance. It is an incredible thing to see.


She will have school loans, but she has been researching since she began thinking of law school as to how to minimize the amount and how to pay them back. She is planning a public interest career, so low pay, but significant help is available for loan repayment/forgiveness.


I have asked DD a number of times whether she regrets some of the choices she made (and we acquiesced in). She unhesitatingly says 'NO!". The path she took made her the person she is today and she wouldn't trade a thing----well, probably the initial ankle injury and the ultimate discovery of the hip dysplasia). But not the BFA.


However, the one thing we both agree upon is that a BFA is not something one should take a bunch of school loans to obtain. Assuming there is a paying job for the dancer post-college graduation, it is unlikely to be paid well to give them much flexibility in terms of paying off their school loans or doing post-graduate work. In addition, I do not believe school loans are available for a second undergraduate degree. So that makes it difficult to return and change course.


Several of DD's BFA classmates landed dance contracts, more in Europe than in US. Several do project work and work minimum wage jobs in order to repay school loans. These friends often feel stuck---they can't afford to take out more school loans for an advanced degree and they can't get better paying jobs without more (non-dance) education.


The BFA helped DD move on fairly seemlessly when her injuries shut the door on her dance career. But only because she was not saddled with undergraduate loans and she had great academic records.

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This is so good to hear! At 19, DD chose to attend college and accept a generous scholarship over continuing ballet. She opted not to accept the BFA school offer, so as to pursue a degree that she feels will better support her in the future -- premed. DD's experience in the US is that there are very few dancers who go right to the corps when 18. There were not very many good offers for her to continue dancing, unless she (or her parents) was willing to pay out of pocket for continued training, room and board, etc. etc. However, she was offered many great scholarships to many great colleges. Life can choose for you here. Ballet life was not offering future opportunities; colleges were knocking at her door. She chose not to dance in college, because she did not want a degree in Ballet, she already achieved mastery in that subject. She had spoken with many BFA graduates who were still struggling to find employment, or were offered the same trainee/apprentice positions she was offered at 18!!! Not a good investment. She wanted the true college life experience, after giving up her high-school experience to pursue ballet, and much of the social life that goes with it. She also has the desire to help people; and med school is an option. The closer she came to the ballet professionals and seeing their world, the less she felt that life was for her.


Yes, it was a dream when she was younger, but the ballet world killed that dream for her. It is a super-saturated market now, with few promising openings and opportunities. Many people who know of her accomplishments in ballet performance are shocked and aghast at her decision. It is/was not an easy one. But the investment in a college education seems like a better choice for her future.


She is a new person now -- much more healthy in both a physical and mental way! She is doing activities that she never could do before, for fear of injury. We call her DD 2.0!! A big stress has been removed from her mind and her body. Financially, we are better off as well, thanks to the academic scholarships. She is also teaching ballet to young students at a local studio.


Again, she still loves ballet, but she saw the 100s of people auditioning for very few spots. It was disheartening. There is a lot of talent out there right now being passed up for lack of openings in ballet companies. Dancers are dancing longer and shifting companies mid-career or even dancing with two companies at once!. This eats up opportunities for younger dancers. Who knows? The market may change again. But for now, she is choosing a different life, or a different life has chosen her.


Good luck to everyone at this same crossroads!

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DD is fresh out of high school. She went into her senior year with a plan that she would audition and apply to colleges for both ballet and non-dance related degree and then see where her chips fell after her auditions. Her plan was to first accept a trainee/post grad firm offer with a ballet company...then if that didn't pan out she would accept a "come for the summer before we give you a year round option" offer and accept a college ballet program as a back up in case the going for the summer didn't work out.


Well she did end up getting a trainee offer during audition season so that is where she went for the summer and also accepted the trainee position. Doing so...she was able to accept a college program that offers online classes that will allow her to pursue her bachelors degree in something non dance related that she is also passionate about. The program runs on quarters versus semesters so it actually works really well around The Nutcracker schedule. In addition, it's a school she would love to attend in person so if something happened and she had to stop dancing she could move to the actual campus.


She realizes she always has to have a back up to a back up plan. She's not a ballet prodigy...just a girl who LOVES ballet and works very hard in the process. I hope she can make it work for as long as she's able but I'm happy she's realistic and has other passions she'd be almost as happy pursuing.


Much luck and love to everyone. I'm a believer that ballet has given all dancers a foundation for whatever path they chose. They are all hard working and determined with great time management skills!

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  • 1 year later...

A post has been removed. Please remember that our threads here are for first hand experiences and not hearsay or "I know someone".

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