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Ballet Talk for Dancers

How much modern/contemporary needed for college dance admissions


lemlemish

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If dd(15) is looking at possibly doing a dance major at college, what are the expectations of her non-ballet dance ability/training?

 

She has done modern only at SIs (So what it that - maybe 5 or 6 classes a summer?). She recently began taking a weekly one hour long contemporary class. She didn't take jazz or lyrical or anything as a little kid. We thought that 3ish years of contemporary would be plenty, but the thread about U of Arizona emphasized that they were really looking for much more non-ballet training.

 

What is the typical background of dancers entering college for dance these days? And is this different for kids taking another path - second company, post grad year,etc.?

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Good question! I wouldl ove to get some input on this as well. Especially for U of A - I was under the impression they had a very good ballet track there.

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I think if you go to each of the college web sites and look at their audition descriptions, you will start to get an idea which schools may want to see a strong modern component in their dancers. Some schools will tell you that modern will be part of the audition along with a ballet class (like TCU, NYU, University of Arizona, and Boston Conservatory). Those same schools tend to keep all forms of dance in the same department. Other schools (like University of Utah and Indiana) actually maintain modern as a totally separate department. As the mother of a dancer who is auditioning for colleges this year, I would definitely recommend at least one intensive with a strong modern influence. Many of the schools seem to include an improv section in the audition and/or they may even want to see a short modern solo. A dancer needs to be comfortable enough with modern dance to be able to these things.

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As a college dance program graduate and current professional ballet dancer, I'd say it definitely depends on the program you are looking into.

 

Not all programs require seasoned skill in more than one genre of dance, as UA does. I graduated from the University of Oklahoma ballet program and, since joining the professional ranks, have encountered dancers with degrees from other respected university dance programs. Generally, the colleges that tout themselves as "ballet" programs only require a ballet audition. OU is this way, as it has a completely separate modern program, as does University of Utah. Likewise, Butler, Mercyhurst, and Indiana (to name a few) require strong ballet training for admittance. In such cases, it is expected that strong classical candidates will be trained in modern/contemporary while they are in attendance at the program, and are not required to be at the same level of modern dance as the dancers in the modern program (if there is one). This could be a great option for dancers who are strong ballet dancers but lack modern training, as these programs will provide that additional training.

 

For the other programs, I do think that other training helps a great deal. I don't feel it even needs to be specific modern-dance training either (Limon, Graham, Cunningham, etc), it could simply be general contemporary classes. Modern/contemporary dance is all about movement quality, so, for me, the most important thing is that the dancer is comfortable with non-classical movement. If this quality is innate in the dancer, then summer intensives, workshops, and master classes may be enough. If you are specifically looking into a more modern-based program, with required solo or improv auditions, then steady, at least once-a-week training would be an immense help.

 

When I auditioned for college dance programs, I didn't have more than maybe three modern classes total under my belt. The only audition I did that included a modern portion was for UA, and I actually received very good feedback from the professor leading that portion, along the lines of, "You're clearly not trained in modern dance, but you have a movement quality that I can work with and that would be conducive to the program here."

 

Essentially all the ballet majors I encountered had fairly traditional ballet backgrounds, but many ballet schools do include jazz, modern, or contemporary classes in their schedules, so nobody was completely devoid of other training.

 

I will say, many modern dance majors come from competition studio backgrounds, giving them that extra sense of abandon when they dance. But that feeling of "go for broke" dancing can come out of a dancer who is OR isn't strictly classically trained. My best advice for a classical dancer who is considering an "all-around" program would be to make sure you have other types of classes under your belt so you feel comfortable with that type of movement. But as for strict modern training, that's actually difficult to find outside of a university, post-grad, or professional setting, and I don't think any dancer would be expected, going in, to be able to showcase the differences between Horton technique and Graham technique, etc.

 

I can't speak for the dancers auditioning instead of post-grad or second company spots, though I have noticed through the years that there is a lot of crossover (dancers who do a year of post-grad, then a year as a trainee, then go to a college dance program, or vice-versa), but I think it's important to make yourself be the best dancer you can be for ANY audition and, in this day, that means being able to dance barefoot/in socks/in slippers as fearlessly as you do in pointe shoes. Even if it's not necessary skill to showcase at the actual audition, I can guarantee it will make a difference in your success afterwards.

 

I do wish I'd understood this information as a student. I actually made my college decision based on wanting only ballet training, and not a triple-track. While I don't regret my decision for a minute, and it landed me a professional career, I definitely think sometimes about the additional professional doors that would have been opened to me if I hadn't been so "anti-modern/jazz" as an 18-year old.

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One of my former students is now at the University of Arizona. She and all the dancers at our highest level at my studio take ballet six times a week, pointe twice a week and a modern class (Horton-based) once a week. We do not have jazz classes. Our dancers do have the opportunity to work with outside choreographers that work in a more contemporary genre, usually once during the year.

 

The lack of jazz training or multiple modern classes did not hinder her acceptance at the U of A. I feel most college dance programs are looking for well trained classically based dancers, knowing with that strong base they can explore, grow and mature as dancers in a variety of dance styles.

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Glissade_jete and Temps de cuisse, thank you for your perspectives. We are in the thick of college audition prep and appreciate the words of experience. From a practical standpoint, unless you are home schooled or attend a performing arts high school, there are only so many hours available for classes beyond ballet. Our DS has experienced/been exposed to enough contemporary/jazz to have the skills to be a good candidate for future dancing in these areas. If you read NYU's FAQ's they are very clear that they are looking for dancers who have the aptitude for contemporary not just the experience. I think your comments speak to this approach as well. Thanks again for your input.

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Off the top of my head, I can state that I know 6 ballet dancers who had only ever taken a few guest modern dance classes in their school that were accepted into Tisch. In each case, they were strong ballet dancers who "go for broke" in auditions. Half of those dancers hadn't prepared a modern dance solo, but danced a ballet variation. What they all did was show great energy and concentration in the modern class and didn't appear hesitant even though it was unfamiliar. In every case, they were asked if they'd mind that Tisch was more modern-based and when they answered no, they were accepted. I've always thought that great ballet training and a willingness to not be afraid to work hard in unfamiliar territory during an audition goes a long way in those modern auditions. That particular group of dancers also were all accepted into Boston Conservatory and other college dance programs that emphasized modern, not ballet. So I don't think much modern training is necessary for a strong ballet student in such auditions; it's the energy shown and willingness to try hard during a modern audition that makes the difference between acceptance and rejection.

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That being said, if you are auditioning for a program that includes a modern class and improv and are a dancer that will be thrown by feeling you do not have a sense of what is going on, it's best to be prepared, by exposing yourself to as many other styles as can be fit into one's schedule. Feeling prepared can boost confidence.

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