Colleges and universities in the U.S. offer an attractive option for high school graduates interested in continuing to dance while advancing their academic credentials.
If the college route is one of interest to your dancer and your family, then let me share what we learned during the college dance audition process.
College searches, in general, are time-consuming and full of hurdles. Adding a specific focus to the search adds a layer of complexity. For our family, taking a measured approach, identifying manageable and sequential steps, helped reduce the size of the effort.
1.) Figure out the Basics
Is the dancer most interested in classical ballet, contemporary/modern dance, or another form of dance? University level programs often separate their dance majors based on style of dance, generally distinguishing between classical and contemporary options.
What aspect of dance education most interests the dancer? Again, universities often differentiate within their programs by placing dancers in tracks such as Performance or Pedagogy (which is the method of teaching dance). Additionally, programs may offer, or even require, a specialty interest in areas such as Choreography, Lighting, or Costumes.
Research the type of degree offered. Degree programs for dancers generally are a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (BFA) or a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA), with the BFA considered the more prestigious of the two. Exceptions exist, such as the BSOF (Bachelor of Science in Music, Other Field) offered to classical ballet majors at the elite Jacobs School of Music at Indiana Univ.
Schedule a dance-related career counseling appointment. Arrange to meet with Ms. Patricia Hoffman, Founder and Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet Society and ask for an evaluation as to future dance opportunities. Take time to understand and process the specific guidance offered as to the general level of professional direction to take as an aspiring dance professional.
2.) Determine the size of the Program
Schools vary in their level of training and instruction. Generally speaking, the smallest dance programs have a Dance Division, the medium-sized programs have a Dance Department, and the largest programs have a School of Dance.
Dancers will need to address two additional components of each program. First, does the program focus exclusively on dance and fine arts, or are students encouraged, or even required, to take general education courses. Second, will the dancer’s personality respond better to “starting at the bottom” and pressing toward growth, or would it be better to aim for the “top of program?”
3.) More than one application may be required
Universities generally require two applications, to be completed simultaneously. For universities and larger colleges, high school graduates will likely have to submit a General Application to the university/college in addition to a dance-specific application. The two applications have entirely separate components, documents, deadlines and fees. The review of each of these applications is also done separately as are considerations for financial aid. Both applications must be successfully completed prior to a final offer of admission.
4.) Build a dance resume today!
Record-keeping is best done now. Depending on the application, our dancer was asked more than once for each segment of information listed below.
Studios: street address, phone number, website of every dance studio attended
Classes: dated by month/year for every type of dance class in the past 5-7 years
Summer Intensives: dated by day/month/year, location, name of instructor, type of class
Master Classes: dated by day/month/year, location, name of instructor, type of class
Performances: dated by day/month/year, name of piece, choreographer, location
Regular instructors: professional performance credentials for instructors in the past 5-7 years
Taking time to update a document or spreadsheet with this info. after performances and at the end of the summer avoids the panic of trying to remember such details years later.
Photos and Videos. Nearly every application requested two photos – a head shot and in the pose of 1st arabesque. On occasion, a video with a solo piece, a variation, and/or the answer to why the dancers want to participate will be required.
5.) Be mindful of academic schedules
Build flexibility into the high school schedule. When planning for the upcoming academic year, do your best to have Mondays and/or Fridays as lightly scheduled as possible, in order to minimize the impact of college auditions and campus visits. Travel early in the semester when possible.
Be aware of that collegiate schedules are different. Take advantage of Spring and Fall breaks in order to observe dance classes, rehearsals, and even performances, as long as the college is in session. Be sure to check both the general college schedule as well as the dance program schedule. Looking at an empty dance classroom is much less exciting than observing a specific level and type of collegiate teaching.
6.) Schedule and budget for a two-day initial campus visit per school
After spending years and thousands of dollars, be sure to spend time and money to finish the high school dance career well. Ideally, spend two days on the initial visit, focusing first on the dance program and then on the campus at-large.
Day to focus on Dance. In advance, contact the dance program office and request the opportunity to observe currently enrolled students and compare their technique to their class level. With a list of prepared questions, request a 15-20 min. Q&A session with a member of the dance faculty or staff. A best practice is for the dancer to ask the questions while the parent takes notes.
Day to focus on the campus. Schedule a campus tour through the Admissions Office. These tours are led by student ambassadors who showcase academic buildings as well as the dinning hall, library, student center, athletic facilities, and dorms. Plan on spending 3-4 hours on the campus tour.
Expect the listening, absorbing, and evaluating to be exhausting. As soon as each visit is completed, find a quiet place and write down observations about each portion of the visit or the details of each visit will start to blur together in confusion.
7.) Evaluate the initial campus visit
Decide whether or not to continue the school’s application process. In some cases, the initial visit will suffice and the dancer will no longer be interested in that school. Should you return for a dance audition, you will know how long it takes to get from Visitor Parking (often a major issue on campus) to the correct studio. We saw a classical ballet dancer discover that she was waiting outside the modern studio for her audition, creating unwanted last minute stress.
8.) Prepare for the audition visit
Include an extra day for rest after travel. Schedule a full day of rest prior to the day of the audition, which means taking an extra travel day. Dancers are sensitive to changes in climate, to the need for sound sleep and nutritious meals, and to the impact on flexibility after long car rides or uncomfortable flights.
Explore local establishments. During the initial visit, make sure that your hotel is quiet, clean, and safe. Check out local eateries offering a nutritious menu. Find the local ballet studio used by the college dancers and faculty. Attend an open class if possible, and replace any ballet items damaged or lost during travel.
9.) Calendar options for auditions
College dance auditions have traditionally been offered in January and February, often on Fridays and Saturdays. Recently, schools have begun to offer auditions in October prior to the Nutcracker season and sometimes taking advantage of their state’s fall breaks and/or Columbus Day weekend. Following an audition, the staff will usually inform the dancer of their status, and on occasion, the dancer may be invited back for another audition slot.
10.) Summer Intensives and Semester Abroad at colleges
Most college dance programs offer Summer Intensives. However, be mindful that enrolled college dancers aren’t generally on campus during the summer. Like you, collegiate dancers are seeking to gain additional dance experience elsewhere. Also, the summer faculty may be guest faculty from other institutions or from ballet companies.
Semester abroad to dance in not a likely option. For classical ballet, such opportunities would require an equivalent university-level classical ballet program, something not currently offered at European and other foreign universities.
In general, the expressive arts are undergoing a tremendous pace of change. A dancer who has developed additional skills beyond a specific dance aptitude will be able to leverage their multi-dimensional areas of expertise. One university dance professor remarked, “Most professional dancers did not expect to be where they are today, so developing an additional specialty proved crucial to their being hired with the dance community.”
Dancers at the Colorado Ballet Society have excellent technique and performance training. Those interested in the collegiate route will build on their dance expertise while being inspired and encouraged to expand the breadth of their skills, demeanor, confidence, and maturity.
(Photo of Kristin and her daughter Julia. Both photos taken by Donna Lorrig.)