5 Pros Who Chose Non-Dance Majors in College—and How It Helped Their Careers

New York Theatre Ballet's Alexis Branagan studied English at Princeton. (photo by Richard Termine, courtesy New York Theatre Ballet)

College-bound dancers sometimes feel as though a dance degree is the only path to professional success. But while majoring in dance can be a great option, it's certainly not the only one. College should be a time of self-discovery, which often means exploring a variety of academic interests. We spoke with five artists who chose college majors completely outside the dance world—without sacrificing their postgrad careers.

Alexis Branagan, Dancer at New York Theatre Ballet; BA in English from Princeton University

Branagan with Erez Milatin in Richard Alston's "The Seasons" (photo by Richard Termine, courtesy New York Theatre Ballet)

During Alexis Branagan's senior year of high school, she hit a turning point. "My peers were getting ballet jobs, but I wasn't," she says. She ended up applying to liberal arts, conservatory, and five-year doctor of physical therapy programs. "I wanted to explore dance after college, but I also knew I had the intellectual capacity to succeed in an academic field," she says. When Branagan received a talent scholarship from the prestigious Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University, she thought the decision had been made for her. "But then I got into Princeton," she says, "and I couldn't turn that down."

At the time, Princeton's dance department was primarily modern-based. In an attempt to provide more ballet opportunities for students, Branagan co-founded Princeton University Ballet, a student-run company. She also began taking regular classes at the nearby Princeton Ballet School, and decided to major in English with a minor in dance. "The English department has a theater studies track that had a lot of crossover with the dance department, so the combination worked well," she says.

Branagan found it difficult to stay in top dance shape at school. "I really thought I'd be taking technique class every day, but the rigorous academic classes caught up with me," she says. But writing her senior thesis, which explored the relationship between dance and poetry, reignited Branagan's love of ballet, and provided her the push she needed to give professional dance a shot. "I gave myself a year after graduation to get a job, and within that year I got one with New York Theatre Ballet," she says.

While Branagan admits that pursuing an Ivy League education wasn't the most straightforward path to a dance career, she's happy with her decision. "The broad array of peers, professors, and choreographers I got to work with at Princeton definitely shaped the artist I've become," she says.


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