Dance Teacher Tips

Are Your Students Questioning Whether or Not to Major in Dance?

Business major Nick Silverio found his dance community in Arts House Dance Company, UPenn's student-run company. Photo by Kevin Wang, courtesy of Silverio

When Nick Silverio was a senior in high school, he struggled to choose between dance and more academic pursuits. "I was torn," he says. On one hand, he wanted to perform professionally—but on the other, he was interested in business and entrepreneurship. After winning acceptances to both top-tier BFA programs and academic schools, he had a choice to make. "The deciding factor was that I didn't need a formal major to be able to dance," he says.


Today, Silverio is a senior studying business with a concentration in commercial dance management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School who dances in his spare time. After taking a gap year between freshman and sophomore years to perform in the Elf national tour and appear in Season 12 of "So You Think You Can Dance," he currently spends days off from his final semester in New York City, auditioning for Broadway shows. "I will hopefully one day run a business in the industry—or maybe not even in the industry," says Silverio. "This degree goes along with my long-term career goals more than, say, a BFA in dance."

Silverio's experience isn't unusual. With increasing availability of dance opportunities for nonmajors—as well as cross-curricular collaborations between dance and other majors—it's possible to major in just about anything and still have a fulfilling and extensive dance experience. Whether a dancer dreams of dancing professionally, wants to explore the connections between dance and other subjects or just wants to stay active and make friends, there's a way to meet those goals.

If you're looking to stay active and make friends…

A student-run company could be your perfect extracurricular. When researching schools, be sure to talk with current students in companies to get a feel for the time commitment—which can vary widely—as well as the stylistic focus and camaraderie of the group. "There's a certain mentality that comes along with being a dancer that allows you to bond with people who share that same drive," says Mary Catharine McKeithen, a senior biology major and health and human values minor at Davidson College who is also company manager of the student-run Gamut Dance Company. "Investing even a little bit of time can give you a sense of comfort and continuity from high school—it keeps things in perspective."

Silverio has found a fulfilling dance outlet in Arts House Dance Company at UPenn, a pre-professional-quality, student-run company that keeps him dancing 20-plus hours each week. "It's definitely a balancing act, between dance and academics, so we do it together," he says. "After rehearsals, we'll book a study room for five hours."

If you're into the intersection between dance and academics…

Look for a school that welcomes interdepartmental collaboration and independent study projects for upperclassmen. At Princeton, for instance, this cross-curricular focus starts with the school's faculty. "I chose to go to Princeton because I'd read an article about dance professor Susan Marshall working with an aerospace engineering professor on a project that looked at 'flocking,'" says Yasmine Eichbaum, a junior chemistry major who is also pursuing a certificate in dance. "They created a performance where the dancers were using the idea of flocking."

Schools that are pursuing this kind of work see collaboration as the exciting future of dance in an increasingly interdisciplinary world. "I created a piece for one of my performance labs that was inspired by things I'd learned in my neuroscience class about emotion," Eichbaum says. "Choreographing it allowed me to play with the ideas and learn about them even more."

All of that time in the studio can actually help academic majors like Eichbaum process ideas from their core classes. "Dance helps me balance my schoolwork and wrestle with certain ideas, maybe unconsciously or consciously," she says. "Sometimes if I'm working through a problem I can't understand in a class, after a rehearsal I have a clearer mindset."

If you honestly have no idea yet…

Don't panic! Creative and academic exploration is what college is for. "It doesn't have to be an 'either-or' thing," says Jenefer Davies, associate professor of dance at Washington and Lee University. Even students who enter college thinking they know exactly what they want to do end up discovering new options. "They might come with a desire to be a business major, and they start to realize, 'I could do marketing for dance or run my own nonprofit dance company,'" she says.

Even if you end up in a career that has nothing to do with dance, the time in the studio will not have been wasted. "All of the things that you learn from participating in dance can be applied to whatever it is that you're majoring in," says Davies, "whether it's collaboration skills, communication and using appropriate vocabulary, even organization and time management."

In the end, it comes down to trusting your gut. "You don't have to be a dance major—but you can," says Silverio. "There's really no wrong answer."

If you're interested in a dance career…

Look for a school whose dance program welcomes nonmajors into technique classes and other department activities. At Harvard, Washington and Lee, and Barnard, for example, the dance department invites students of all majors or concentrations to take part. At Harvard, other majors, whether biology or creative writing, can participate in even the most involved dance activities, like a semester-long choreographic residency. Many students find that this kind of intellectual diversity in the studio is an inspiring environment for creating new work.

The Conversation
Dance News
Carol Channing in the original 1964 production of Hello, Dolly! Photo by Eileen Darby, Courtesy DM Archives.

The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.

Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.

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Studio Owners
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Many a studio owner might agree that the idea of maternity leave is laughable. "So many people say, 'I was back after two weeks—we had a competition,'" says Meagan Ziebarth, a former owner who sold her studio two years ago. "If that works for you, and you feel great, wonderful. But I feel passionately that having a baby is one of the most transformational life events, and you don't need to put that kind of pressure on yourself and accept that that's the norm."

So how can you take the maternity leave you want and make sure your studio doesn't run itself into the ground? We asked three who did it for their best advice—including what they wish they'd done differently.

Be OK With Crazy

Suzana Stankovic and Natalia.

Suzana Stankovic
Wild Heart Performing Arts Studio
Astoria, New York
Enrollment: 500 (drop-in)
2 years in business

Suzana Stankovic signed the lease on her New York studio a mere 10 days before she gave birth to her first child. The space she'd been renting hourly for private and group lessons unexpectedly became available for a lease takeover, and, despite the timing, it felt like the right decision. "I said, 'This is happening for a reason,'" she says.

For the first two months after her baby was born, Stankovic recovered (she'd had a C-section). She held a soft opening in mid-November (2 1/2 months postdelivery) for existing students and officially opened her studio—with a drop-in class format—to the public the following January (4 months postdelivery).

  • Figure out your childcare. "It's the most important thing. You've got to figure that out, whether that means visiting daycare centers and finding one you're comfortable with or involving your entire family," she says. Stankovic's parents are retired and live near her, luckily, so they became her nannies. "That's the major reason I was able to do this," she says.
  • Expect to feel different after giving birth. "When I had my baby, and it came time to leave her and go to work, it was very, very difficult," says Stankovic. "I wasn't prepared for that. I was texting my mother constantly: 'Is she OK? Did she have her milk? Is she colicky?' It was hard to be fully present, initially. Be prepared for the effects of sleep deprivation and not eating well and the postpartum blues."
  • Have a support system in place. That's how Stankovic got through the roughest times, postbirth. "Have a friend or your husband or partner," she says. "And know that the very difficult times are temporary. They do abate. And if they don't, there are resources. There's help out there."
  • Be OK with crazy. "I would plan my lesson and do my combos in the shower," she says. "On my way to the studio, I'd finish up my grand allégro in my head. I'd send e-mails in the middle of changing her diaper—I'd write two sentences, change the diaper, write two more, then hit send." The result of so much multitasking? "I realized, 'Wow, I can do so much more than I thought I could,'" says Stankovic. "I'm ready for anything."
Editor's List: The Goods
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Here at Dance Media, we think everyone's list of New Year's resolutions should include reading more 💁♀️. And aside from reading Dance Teacher magazine (which should, of course, be a resolution in and of itself), we recommend some seriously wonderful dancer memoirs.

Here are three interesting books we think you should check out (or re-check out) in 2019!

Share your favorite dancer memoirs in our comment section! We can't wait to hear what you're reading!

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When it comes to Broadway, Becca Petersen does it all. Not only is she a swing learning multiple roles for Mean Girls on Broadway as well as understudy for the principal roles of Cady Heron and Regina George, but she also plays an administrative role as the assistant dance captain. When she's not onstage dancing one of the 10 different tracks she covers, or acting out two of Broadway's most notorious mean ladies, she's in the audience, taking notes in order to clean choreography in the next rehearsal. "Once the show opens and the creative team leaves, the dance captains, stage managers and associates keep things running," Petersen says. "I help teach choreography to newcomers when there is turnover and make sure the dancing looks good from day to day."

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When ballet star David Hallberg sought out the medical team at The Australian Ballet to help him recover from his ankle surgeries, one of the things rehabilitation specialist Megan Connelly had him learn was to jump from his hips. By doing so, he learned to put less stress on his lower legs and feet and access the powerhouse group of muscles surrounding the hips, most commonly referred to as the glutes. While many parts of his rehab were particular to him, understanding how to properly engage the glutes is something many professional and pre-professional dancers can stand to gain from.

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Joanne Chapman teaching turns (photo by Dan Boskovic, courtesy Joanne Chapman School of Dance)

Think back to your newbie dancer days. Can you remember your introduction to spotting? It might've involved staring hard at your own reflection in the mirror as you wrestled with your first pirouette. Or maybe your teacher had you put your hands on your shoulders as you attempted a series of half-chaînés across the floor.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Lauren Barry, courtesy of Diaz

When it comes to teaching Pre-K to fifth-graders, behavior issues are inevitable. Whether it's a child who wants to run around the room or a student who just flat-out refuses to follow instructions, knowing how to respond can be challenging. Compound that with the added obstacles of a K–12 school environment—where you may have an unusual dance space to teach in, limited class time or students who are just not interested in dance—and taking care of behavioral problems quickly and compassionately becomes even more essential.

Here, two Pre-K–5 teachers and one mental health professional offer their best strategies for dealing with four common behavior issues.

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Nathalia Arja in George Balanchine's "Emeralds." Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet

Whether it's a wardrobe malfunction or a spectacular, opera-house–sized fail, onstage mistakes happen to everybody. See how these four professionals survived their worst mishaps—and what they took away from them.

Sterling Baca

Baca in Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Pennsylvania Ballet

"There I was on my very first day at the Metropolitan Opera House: on my hands and knees, center stage," recounts Pennsylvania Ballet principal Sterling Baca. He had joined American Ballet Theatre from the ABT Studio Company two weeks prior and didn't see a crucial casting sheet for the Don Quixote dress-tech rehearsal until minutes before it started.

In a domino-like sequence of unfortunate events, Baca had managed to get only half-dressed, and he missed his entrance and his character's dance with Kitri. Then he remembered too late that he was also supposed to catch Basilio's guitar. He turned around from setting down a tambourine to see the guitar already soaring through the air. He dove for it, but it grazed his fingertips, hit the floor and broke.

Baca had some literal and metaphorical pieces to pick up and apologies to make to the wardrobe and props departments, artistic staff and his fellow dancers. Luckily, everyone understood that he was new and "showed mercy," he says.

The Lesson: Although Baca can laugh about the incident now, he warns that "it only turns into a joke when you don't do it again." His advice? Double- and triple-check every single piece of paper on the call board.

Dance News
Photo by Natalie Fiol, courtesy of University of Illinois Dept. of Dance

This academic year marks the 50th anniversary of the dance department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In 1959, when the dance program was part of physical education, its head Margaret Erlanger invited Merce Cunningham for a four-month residency—the first of its kind on a university campus. Since then, U of I has been known for its vibrant dance programs, faculty, facility and innovation in the field. There is much to celebrate.

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Studio Owners

In December I attended Ballet West's Nutcracker in Salt Lake City. The show started about 15 minutes late, and during intermission one of the company's PR reps came to apologize. He let me know that the backstage/stage area was too cold, based on the union's rights, and that it had to warm up before the dancers could perform.

This idea really struck me. I hadn't thought much about the rights dancers had to a backstage that was warm. Having spent most of my life as a comp kid performing on concrete floors, it never occurred to me that I should protect my body from an environment that might be harmful to it. We just danced wherever we were told to.

Ever since that performance last month, I haven't been able to get the idea of union rights and studio kids out of my head. Every dancer, professional or not, deserves a safe space to perform. I reviewed union benefits for the Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the Actors' Equity Association (AEA), and determined a list of five rights I believe studio kids should be entitled to. I'm not advocating that they unionize, but, dance teachers, make sure you're taking care of your kiddos!!

Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page what you think about union rights and studio kids!

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Site Network
Photo by Jim Lafferty

It's a humid afternoon in New York City, and I'm sitting in a crowded restaurant on 29th Street and Seventh Avenue waiting to interview an artist I've admired since I first started dancing—this is a major fan-girl moment for me.

When Mia Michaels arrives, she enters with the kind of confidence and energy that makes people stop and take notice. She greets me with a warm hello and a tight hug. For an artist with a resumé like hers, I'm surprised by how easy she is to be with. "Do you mind if I get a coffee?" she says immediately. She's going to need it—after our interview, she'll rush directly to her cover photo shoot before teaching a master class at Broadway Dance Center this evening. Tomorrow, she'll be walking the New York Fashion Week runway for the Chromat fashion label, and later this week she'll be on a flight to Chicago for another master class, before finally heading to Tahiti for the first vacation she's had in months. "It's been a very intense year for me," she says.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Successful studio owners know that bringing in guest artists is a good idea, whether for a two-hour master class or a weekend spent choreographing recital or competition routines. Your students learn new styles, get exposed to different teaching approaches and have the chance to network with professionals. But it can be a challenge to bring in the guest you want—paying for airfare, lodging, meals, hourly teaching rates, choreography fees—while keeping your bottom line in the black. But there are ways to economize, if you're willing to think outside the box.

1. Go local. Can't afford to bring in Justin Bieber's biggest backup dancer? Ask a college professor or graduate student from your local university dance program. Or if you live within driving distance of a bigger city, take advantage of resources there to save on airfare and accommodations. "We're in Connecticut, so there are many cities close to us—New York City, Boston," says Gabby Sparks of Sparkle & Shine Dance. "I can find people you wouldn't imagine within a 30-minute drive."

2. Take advantage of downtime. Scheduling master classes during off-peak times—when an artist might be home for the holidays, for example, or during the summer, when the convention circuit cools down—could cut you a break in their fee.

3. Take it outside. Hold your master classes off-site to encourage students from other studios to drop in. By opening the class up to the general public and taking away the possible stigma of having to visit your studio's stomping grounds, you'll up your master-class enrollment. "Other kids just don't want to walk through your doors," says Christy Curtis of CC & Co Dance Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Studio Owners who try TutuTix for their Spring 2019 recitals can get a $222 Visa Gift Card. Click here to learn more.

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