College Application Advice from Dance Program Admissions Officers

University of Southern California-Kaufman School of Dance's 2017 admissions team (Carolyn Diloreto, courtesy Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at University of Southern California)

Applying for a college dance program can feel like a guessing game. Should you highlight all your competition titles and awards? How important are your academic grades? And how should you act in the audition? Here's advice from admissions officers from some of the top dance programs in the country about how to make your application stronger.


Donna Faye Burchfield
Director of the School of Dance at The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The University of the Arts' Winter Dancer Series, choreographed by faculty member Meredith Rainey (They of Brooklyn, courtesy University of the Arts)

What stands out at an audition?

"We look for dancers who are curious, appear to be independent thinkers, and have an openness about them. They do a great deal of dancing every single day at UArts, so they must also be physically strong and technically proficient."

What stands out on a resumé?

"We're really open in our thinking about the backgrounds of our students. We try to see beyond style and genre by focusing
on how their training choices tell us something about what they'll be like as a student."

What stands out academically?

"While academics are critical, we don't review the student's transcripts until they pass the audition. We place particular emphasis on their performance in the writing, humanities, artistic, and history disciplines. We don't believe that standardized tests are relevant in assessing the appropriateness of a dance applicant."

Sean Curran
Chair of the Dance Department at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, New York, NY

New York University's Tisch Dance's Second Avenue Dance Company members Ji Hyun Kim, Janae Bonnen, and Carly Lepore rehearsing Trisha Brown's "Set and Reset/Reset" (Travis McGee, courtesy Tisch School o the Arts at New York University)

What stands out at an audition?

"It's not just about what you're capable of doing. We're also trying to figure out if you're trainable. Are you going to be open and receptive to our training? One thing I like to make clear is that we're looking to specifically produce contemporary dancers. Come, be inquisitive, be open, and have questions. Show us how you express your passion and joy."

What stands out in a solo?

"We don't want to see tricks. We don't want to see 32 fouetté turns or round-off back handsprings. We want to see you being yourself and learn more about what dancing means to you. I'm not interested in seeing you do steps; I'm interested in seeing you dance, and there's a difference."

What stands out in an interview?

"The interview is an extremely important part of the audition. Yes, you love to dance, but I want to hear about where you see yourself in the world. I want to see if a student has a political awareness, if they know why they want to dance, and if they have specific dreams in the dance world. I'm looking for applicants who are articulate and can express themselves, and who have questions. I also think it's important that an applicant does some research on the program and knows why they want to come to NYU."

What stands out academically?

"We have to rank the applicants based on how desirable they are. And it's a very difficult process, so we'll look at SAT scores and if it comes down to it, you may be bumped farther down on the list if your scores are lower."

Anne Aubert-Santelli
Director of admissions and student services at the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

USC Kaufman students in class (Ema Peter, courtesy Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at University of Southern California)

What stands out in an online portfolio?

"When reviewing dance videos, we're looking at technique and artistry—not just mastery but also potential. Solo work shows off the dancer's individuality and is a terrific way to get to know the candidate. Our recommendation is to highlight the strongest sequence, and the first 30 seconds are the most important to make a good first impression. The specific genres don't matter—we encourage candidates to submit work that reflects their unique artistic abilities."

What stands out in a video response?

(A one-minute recorded response to a question prompt is required for USC Kaufman's application.) "We know that the video response is the hardest part of our portfolio for most candidates, but it's important that we see how dancers articulate their opinions verbally. We hope that students find a way to connect with the prompt on a personal level rather than just repeating the content from our website and brochures."

What stands out at an audition?

"We reassure candidates that we don't expect them to master everything. We just ask them to stay engaged, even if something feels awkward. We want to be able to see risk taking and enthusiasm throughout the entire process."

What stands out on a resumé?

"Because we're not looking for any one type of student, we don't necessarily look for varied training, lots of accolades, or specific summer programs. The resumé is helpful in providing context. We also keep in mind the issue of access. We know that not all candidates have the resources, financial or otherwise, to do everything."

Garfield Lemonius
Chair and associate artistic director of the dance department within the Conservatory of Performing Arts at Point Park University, Pittsburgh, PA

Point Park University students during a performance (Jeff Swenson, courtesy Point Park University)
What stands out at an audition?

"We're looking for dancers who are intellectually curious, and who are curious about movement. Dancers who have a lot of training can sometimes have that passion trained out of them. So, we want to see dancers who still show that passion, even if they aren't as skilled as other dancers in the room. Be open and ready to try new things. Messing up is OK. It's the recovery that's important."

What stands out on a resumé?

"We want dancers to be versatile, so we look for dancers who come in with a broad range of experiences."

Susan Jaffe
Dean of the School of Dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Winston-Salem, NC

Gillian Murphy teaching class at University of North Carolina School of the Arts (Peter Mueller, courtesy University of North Carolina School of the Arts)

What stands out at an audition?

"The strongest applicant is able to easily pick up combinations and corrections. Students need to be very proactive and have a great work ethic. For example, if I give someone else a correction, a great student will take that correction on as well. I look for people who can stand in the front of the room and know the combination and the musicality themselves, and not be following others."

What stands out academically?

"Academically, they have to have over a certain GPA for us to be able to accept them, and once they're here they have to maintain a minimum GPA. So, we do place high importance on academics. But we find that, frequently, dancers are also strong academically because they have a great work ethic."

What stands out on a resumé?

"It doesn't matter where you've trained if you walk in the studio and don't look educated as a dancer. You can't lie in your dancing.
That is the proof."

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox