Higher Ed: 3 Ways High School Dancers Can Get a Jump-Start on College

High-schoolers who participate in Rutgers University’s summer program are mentored by a grad student.

Over the past five years, pre-college summer intensives—a chance for high-schoolers to live out their college dance aspirations a few years early—have blossomed. “As students begin to conjure in their minds what a BFA experience might be like, this is a way for them and their parents to live out that imagined possibility,” says Donna Faye Burchfield, who directs the school of dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The students’ time on campus introduces them to the dance styles they would study and the personality of that particular dance curriculum. “It’s also about students wanting to see if dance is what they want to do with their lives,” Burchfield adds. 

For any student on the fence about a dance degree or looking to give a specific program a test run, there are several different kinds of pre-college intensives to try.

Putting the “Intense” in “Intensive”

Although these programs are called “summer intensives,” they are very different from an intensive you’d find at a local dance studio or ballet school. In a college setting, “intensive” essentially means that the program will simulate a conservatory BFA experience, with technique work (usually in ballet, modern and/or contemporary), dance-based academic study and composition and improvisation courses.

In particular, the improvisation and composition courses help dancers find the first hints of a unique voice in their work. According to Barbara Bashaw, who directs Rutgers University’s summer intensive, students may initially feel intimidated by these courses but emerge confident—and prepared for the improvisation portion of college auditions. “For some students, it opens up a whole area of dance that they didn’t realize existed,” she says.

As part of dance-based academic workshops, such as dance history, nutrition and conditioning, students begin to think—and talk—about dance in a new way. “They learn about how technical training connects with history, pedagogy, choreography, the world, and they start to build a bigger vision of what the field of dance is,” she says.

Building relationships with other dancers and mentors is often at the center of these programs. At Rutgers, which offers both five-day and two-week intensives, each high school student is matched with a graduate student who coaches them in class and has one-on-one college and career discussions. 

In some cases, students may earn college credit for these courses. At the University of the Arts, students earn three dance elective credits for the three-week program, transferable to most colleges to meet dance, arts or physical education requirements.

Hot Town, Summer in the City

Some programs reach beyond the college experience to introduce students to the “real world” of dance in all its myriad forms, from company life to community outreach.

Barnard College’s Dance in the City program inducts high school juniors and seniors into New York City’s dance scene. This program gives students 10 days to explore dance locations, meet working artists and discuss current dance and cultural issues in a course called “The World of Dance: From Theory to Practice.” “We look at, how do other issues going on in the world take form in movement?” says program creator Sydnie Mosley. Students spend time in the studio, in morning technique class and an afternoon academic course, during which they translate the day’s studies into movement. “I wanted to show the different things you can do professionally with dance that’s not just being on the stage,” says Mosley. “I wanted to give students a taste of what it’s like to be a dancer in New York, right now.”

Whistle-Stop Tour

Boston University’s REACH Summer Apprenticeship Program gives dancers the chance to create and tour work. The five-week program, which offers partial and full scholarships, attracts students from diverse backgrounds—studio-trained dancers as well as those proficient in one particular style, like hip hop. Participants spend time on BU’s campus and get a feel for the discipline and hard work needed to perform academically and artistically at the college level.

“We get such a cross-section of dancers,” says Micki Taylor-Pinney, program coordinator. For the first three weeks, students take daily technique classes—often in genres new to them, like traditional Haitian, Chinese dance or krumping—and work with faculty to put together a 45-minute show (of both repertory and original material, created by the students). The final two weeks are devoted to touring the new piece throughout the Greater Boston community.

The main requirement is that students be willing to try everything. “It’s great for our teens to see the role that dance can play in their own lives—and to put it in a larger context,” says Taylor-Pinney. “They’re going out and realizing that this is much bigger than their own dance worlds.” DT

Ashley Rivers is a writer and dancer in Boston.

 

 

For more college-based summer dance experiences:

American Musical and Dramatic Academy amda.edu/high-school-summer-program

Barnard College barnard.edu/precollege

Boston Conservatory bostonconservatory.edu/summer-dance

Boston University bu.edu/fitrec/recreation/dance-program/reach-summer-apprenticeship-program

Columbia College Chicago colum.edu/academics/special-programs

DeSales University desales.edu/home/academics/divisions-departments/division-of-performing-arts/youth-programs

Drexel University drexel.edu/westphal/about/summerHighschoolProgram

The Juilliard School juilliard.edu/youth-adult-programs/summer-programs

Marymount Manhattan College mmm.edu/depart

ments/dance/high-school-summer-intensive.php

Point Park University pointpark.edu/BusinessandCommunity/CommunityClasses

Rutgers University masongross.rutgers.edu/extension/summer-programs

University of California, Los Angeles summer.ucla.edu/institutes

University of Michigan music.umich.edu/special_programs/youth/mpulse/sdi.htm

University of North Carolina School of the Arts uncsa.edu/summersession/dance.htm

University of the Arts uarts.edu/academics/pre-college-programs

Photo by Jaqlin Medlock, courtesy of Rutgers University

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