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4 Dance Grads on Why Dance Training Is LIFE Training

Photo by Dan Batten, courtesy of Helen Phelan

You've probably seen articles on how dance prepares you for anything making the rounds in your social-media circles. The discipline, creative thought and communication skills learned in a dance class are coveted in (and often missing from) the broader workforce. And it's a good thing, too, because for even the most talented, it's virtually inevitable that, at some point, dancers will need to support themselves with a side job. So how exactly do the skills acquired in a college dance program transfer to other fields? Four graduates told DT how their degrees prepared them for much more than dancing.


Maggie Bailey, BA, 2014

College of Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina

Currently: MFA student, film and media production, University of Texas at Austin

"Understanding bodies and movement and energy really helps my filming and editing—knowing when to make cuts and giving actors something to do with their bodies," says Bailey. "I work with composers—I have experience doing that from college, talking about music and how to communicate a feeling." Photo by Alex Masi/Swng Productions, courtesy of Bailey

Dance-degree takeaway "Dance is more than just moving your body around," she says. "You learn social skills and team-building skills, and you can market yourself with those. You can say, 'I know how to take and give correction, how to hold a large group of people's attention.' A lot of people don't leave college with those skills."


Ansley Davis, BFA, 2016

University of Southern Mississippi

Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Currently: ensemble member and part-time teacher with the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and working in childcare

"Even if I'm not dancing at that moment, everything I did in college is showing through," she says. Photo by Darian Blake Hill, courtesy of Davis

Dance-degree takeaway Time management and organization, thanks to juggling classes, rehearsals and an active social life on campus. "I learned how to make sure all aspects of my life are in order, even when navigating a new transportation system and a new city," she says. "And when I'm nannying, I'm making sure all aspects of [her charge's] life are on track, in coordination with what her parents want for her."


Jessica Stroh, BFA, 2015

University of South Florida

Tampa, Florida

Currently: dancing part-time in New York City with modern company BodyStories: Teresa Fellion Dance, plus managing an ever-changing rotation of freelance jobs

"You have to basically be a director," says Stroh of managing a complex NYC dance career. "You have to make choices and find a balance between what works for you creatively and what works for you financially." Photo by Stephen Delas Heras, courtesy of Stroh

Dance-degree takeaway "Keep up relationships with people you knew in college," says Stroh. "Reach out to professors and people who are doing things you might be interested in. You never know what one opportunity may lead to."


Helen Phelan, BFA and BA, 2013

Elon University

Elon, North Carolina

Currently: full-time Pilates instructor in Brooklyn, New York, while planning to earn certification in integrative nutrition later this year, to launch her own wellness company in the future

"One day I realized that it wasn't just a day job—I really enjoy teaching," says Phelan. "I realized I was much more a fitness instructor than a dancer, and I felt OK with that." Photo by Hayley Hill, courtesy of Phelan

Dance-degree takeaway "Every class I took for the dance major has influenced my Pilates teaching," she says. "Even the less obvious things—narrative story lines help you become empathetic; pedagogy teaches you to be patient and compassionate when commanding a room; improv teaches creative problem-solving."

Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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