BA or BFA?

Help students decide which degree is right for them.

Jacksonville University offers both a dance BA and BFA.

When Julian DeGuzman transferred to the University of California Irvine as a junior, he wasn’t sure how dance would fit into his career goals. But after a summer away at American Dance Festival, he realized he wanted to perform. When he returned as a senior that fall, he changed his bachelor of arts in dance to a bachelor of fine arts. Today he lives in New York City, performing in Broadway’s Newsies eight times a week.

Though both are intensive degrees that give dancers a leg up in their training, a dance BFA and BA offer different college experiences. Helping students decide which to pursue means considering interests they’d like to explore in college and after graduation. Because most schools offer either a BA or BFA (though some programs, like UC Irvine, have both), choosing also helps narrow the list of potential schools a student could apply to.

The biggest difference between the two degrees is the time spent in dance-specific courses versus academics outside the department. At George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, BFA candidates must complete 83 dance credits over four years—nearly double what is required for a BA. That means BFAs spend roughly 20 hours a week in movement classes (technique, improvisation, composition), and BAs 10. Depending on the dancer, these time commitments might feel over- or underwhelming.

Regardless, the quality of training is equal. “The choreography classes are the same, the theory courses are the same and ballet is the same,” says Brian Palmer, chair of theater and dance at Jacksonville University in Florida. “The proficiency necessary for level placement and the courses themselves don’t differ.”

It was the additional time spent in technique class and rehearsals that prompted DeGuzman to change his degree to a BFA. “I became more involved with rehearsals and had to collaborate with choreographers. And I knew I needed that on my resumé,” he says. “That comes in handy now that I’m assistant dance captain for Newsies. I feel more eloquent in communicating movement to new cast members.”

In general, BFA candidates tend to be performance-oriented dancers, while BAs are interested in jobs like dance programming, physical therapy or teaching. For instance, GMU program coordinator Marjorie Summerall points out that two recent GMU BFA grads dance with Mark Morris Dance Group; a BA graduate, who double-majored in dance and mathematics, is in grad school studying biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University, while teaching ballet in Baltimore.

Newsies dancer Julian DeGuzman chose the BFA to gain performance experience.

For students with additional interests, Summerall says the scheduling flexibility of a BA makes it easier to double-major or minor. And the additional academic load may make students more attractive to graduate schools and nondance employers. “Sometimes students develop a strong interest in another area of study,” she says. “They can better manage it with a BA and still graduate in four years.”

BA students also find more time to get involved in their university’s community through clubs or sports. “A recent BA graduate wanted both dance and crew in her college experience,” says Palmer. “She was at the highest technical level of dance and was very disciplined, but couldn’t fulfill the higher performance credit amount.”

Palmer says it’s important to stress to dancers that one degree isn’t more prestigious than the other; it’s about which is best for their training needs and career goals. “There’s always going to be a comparison when there are two degrees,” he says. “But it all depends on the experience a student wants.” DT

Photo by Michael Erdelyi, courtesy of Jacksonville University; photo courtesy of Julian DeGuzman

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Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

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Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

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Studio Owners
Courtesy Tonawanda Dance Arts

If you're considering starting a summer program this year, you're likely not alone. Summer camp and class options are a tried-and-true method for paying your overhead costs past June—and, done well, could be a vehicle for making up for lost 2020 profits.

Plus, they might take on extra appeal for your studio families this year. Those struggling financially due to the pandemic will be in search of an affordable local programming option rather than an expensive, out-of-town intensive. And with summer travel still likely in question this spring as July and August plans are being made, your studio's local summer training option remains a safe bet.

The keys to profitable summer programming? Figuring out what type of structure will appeal most to your studio clientele, keeping start-up costs low—and, ideally, converting new summer students into new year-round students.


Find a formula that works for your studio

For Melanie Boniszewski, owner of Tonawanda Dance Arts in upstate New York, the answer to profitable summer programming lies in drop-in classes.

"We're in a cold-weather climate, so summer is actually really hard to attract people—everyone wants to be outside, and no one wants to commit to a full season," she says.

Tonawanda Dance Arts offers a children's program in which every class is à la carte: 30-minute, $15 drop-in classes are offered approximately two times a week in the evenings, over six weeks, for different age groups. And two years ago, she created her Stay Strong All Summer Long program for older students, which offers 12 classes throughout the summer and a four-day summer camp. Students don't know what type of class they're attending until they show up. "If you say you're going to do a hip-hop class, you could get 30 kids, but if you do ballet, it could be only 10," she says. "We tell them to bring all of their shoes and be ready for anything."

Start-up costs are minimal—just payroll and advertising (which she starts in April). For older age groups, Boniszewski focuses on bringing in her studio clientele, rather than marketing externally. In the 1- to 6-year-old age group, though, around 50 percent of summer students tend to be new ones—98 percent of whom she's been able to convert to year-round classes.

A group of elementary school aged- girls stands in around a dance studio. A teacher, a young black man, stands in front of the studio, talking to them

An East County Performing Arts Center summer class from several years ago. Photo courtesy ECPAC

East County Performing Arts Center owner Nina Koch knows that themed, weeklong camps are the way to go for younger dancers, as her Brentwood, California students are on a modified year-round academic school calendar, and parents are usually looking for short-term daycare solutions to fill their abbreviated summer break.

Koch keeps her weekly camps light on dance: "When we do our advertising for Frozen Friends camp, for example, it's: 'Come dance, tumble, play games, craft and have fun!'"

Though Koch treats her campers as studio-year enrollment leads, she acknowledges that these weeklong camps naturally function as a way for families who aren't ready for a long-term commitment to still participate in dance. "Those who aren't enrolled for the full season will be put into a sales nurture campaign," she says. "We do see a lot of campers come to subsequent camps, including our one-day camps that we hold once a month throughout our regular season."

Serve your serious dancers

One dilemma studio owners may face: what to do about your most serious dancers, who may be juggling outside intensives with any summer programming that you offer.

Consider making their participation flexible. For Boniszweski's summer program, competitive dancers must take six of the 12 classes offered over a six-week period, as well as the four-day summer camp, which takes place in mid-August. "This past summer, because of COVID, they paid for six but were able to take all 12 if they wanted," she says. "Lots of people took advantage of that."

For Koch, it didn't make sense to require her intensive dancers to participate in summer programming, partly because she earned more revenue catering to younger students and partly because her older students often made outside summer-training plans. "That's how you build a well-rounded dancer—you want them to go off and get experience from teachers you might not be able to bring in," she says.

Another option: Offering private lessons. Your more serious dancers can take advantage of flexible one-on-one training, and you can charge higher fees for individualized instruction. Consider including a financial incentive to get this kind of programming up and running. "Five years ago, we saw that some kids were asking for private lessons, so we created packages: If you bought five lessons, you'd get one for free—to get people in the door," says Boniszewksi. "After two years, once that program took off, we got rid of the discount. People will sign up for as many as 12 private lessons."

A large group of students stretch in a convention-style space with large windows. They follow a teacher at the front of the room in leaning over their right leg for a hamstring stretch

Koch's summer convention experience several years ago. Photo courtesy East County Performing Arts Center

Bring the (big) opportunities to your students

If you do decide to target older, more serious dancers for your summer programming, you may need to inject some dance glamour to compete with fancier outside intensives.

Bring dancers opportunities they wouldn't have as often during the school year. For Boniszewski, that means offering virtual master classes with big-name teachers, like Misha Gabriel and Briar Nolet. For Koch, it's bringing the full convention experience to her students—and opening it up to the community at large. In past years, she's rented her local community center for a weekend-long in-house convention and brought in professional ballet, jazz, musical theater and contemporary guest teachers.

In 2019, the convention was "nicely profitable" while still an affordable $180 per student, and attracted 120 dancers, a mix of her dancers and dancers from other studios. "It was less expensive than going to a big national convention, because parents didn't have to worry about lodging or travel," Koch says. "We wanted it to be financially attainable for families to experience something like this in our sleepy little town."

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