If Your Students Think College Is Too Easy, Here's How They Can Deal

It's fairly common to get to college and find that you aren't being challenged. Photo by Carlos Funn, courtesy University of Michigan

It's not uncommon for students to arrive at college and find that it isn't as hard as they thought it would be. Maybe they aren't placed in the correct level. Maybe it's an attitude problem. Maybe teachers are reviewing basics before diving into more advanced material. And maybe the program truly isn't challenging enough.

But how can dancers making the adjustment to college sort through all these possibilities? Open communication with faculty members can be key to figuring out what's really at work.

Why It Happens

Your Program Is Going Back to Basics

The first year of college is often about going through foundational material. Here, University of Michigan students. Photo by Peter Smith, courtesy U Michigan

One reason some students might not feel challenged when they arrive at college is because many programs use the first year as an opportunity to go through foundational material. "Students wonder why they're breaking steps down all over again, not realizing that teachers are rebuilding their technique and clearing their bad habits," says Jessica Fogel, chair of University of Michigan's dance program. "Dancers feel like they're losing momentum when really they're reestablishing themselves on firmer ground."

You're Learning a New Style

Starting from scratch with a new style may feel deceptively easy. Here, Meredith College students, Courtesy Meredith Marketing

The same can be true of learning a new style: "In modern class, when we're lying on the floor doing leg swings, it can feel easy, like we're not dancing," says Carol Finley, director of Meredith College's dance department. "But that's missing the deeper point of what's happening in the hip joint, or at the points of contact with the floor."

You Aren't Getting Corrections

Not getting corrections may make you think you've mastered the material. Here, Meredith College students, Courtesy Meredith Marketing

Finley says that sometimes professors don't give as many corrections at the beginning of the semester, which could lead students to believe that they're mastering the material, when really they just aren't getting any feedback yet.

Your Program Is Actually Not Hard Enough

Melanie Holt says your peers can be an important factor if you're considering transferring. Photo by John Campbell, courtesy Holt

It may be the case that you need to transfer to a harder program, but be sure to give your school a chance before you do. Wait until you have an opportunity to perform at your school, suggests Finley. She says students often find their place in a program after experiencing the challenge and fulfillment of their first performance. Recent University of Michigan graduate Melanie Holt says that your peers can be a key factor, too: "If the people around you aren't as driven as you, it's time to look elsewhere."

What You Can Do About It

Talk to A Professor

Talk to a professor about why you're not feeling challenged. Photo via Stocksnap

This should be your first step. Your teachers can give you ideas of what you should be working on or how to make your classes harder.

Take Initiative

Melanie Holt sought out opportunities beyond the classroom to push herself. Photo by Kirk Donaldson, courtesy Holt.

"I don't think it's the job of your dance classes to give you everything you need to be a successful dancer," says Holt. She sought out additional training in the musical theater department when she wasn't feeling pushed, and got involved in extracurricular projects like photo shoots.

Tune In to Your Body

Taking somatics can help make your technique classes more rewarding. Photo via Stocksnap

Finley suggests taking somatics so that no matter the level of the technique class, you can investigate what's happening in your body and work on your alignment.

Reach Outside Your Comfort Zone

Challenge yourself by trying new things. Photo by Peter Smith, courtesy U Michigan

"Do the things that you're least comfortable with," says Fogel. "Try to develop versatility and range."

Find a Mentor

U Michigan students can talk through their experiences with their assigned mentor. Photo by Kirk Donaldson, courtesy U Michigan

At University of Michigan, every incoming student is paired with a mentor in the class above them. Talking to an older student about your experience can bring helpful perspective.

Make Sure Your Program Will Challenge You In the First Place

Attend a technique class before choosing a school. Photo by Sarah Walker

Before committing to a school, sit in or participate in a technique class, attend a show, peruse the course catalogue and research faculty and alumni. Do your homework to make sure the program will be hard enough for you.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Kreiling

While training with Abby Lee Miller in Pittsburgh, Rachel Kreiling underestimated the studio's requirement of enrolling in every class. The versatile curriculum (tap, ballet, hip hop, modern, acro, lyrical and jazz) paired with Miller's unconventional teaching style, since showcased on "Dance Moms," greatly impacted Kreiling's own style and relationship to music. "Abby would play the music and choreograph within the phrasing, but rarely to actual counts," she says. This resulted in a huge positive learning component. "I had to learn musicality myself," says Kreiling, who left the studio at age 18 after graduating, more than a decade before the Lifetime network show aired. "And studying every style became instrumental in my attachment to music," she adds. "I'm always seeking out new genres and diverse songs." After a performing career that included a Broadway-style revue at Tokyo Disney, Revolution (a tap tour with Mike Schulster), and dancing with Alison Chase/Performance and in a Rasta Thomas contemporary ballet, Kreiling began assisting Suzi Taylor at Steps on Broadway in New York City. In 2007, Kreiling, who describes her class as extremely athletic and technical, became full-time NYCDA faculty.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Getty Images

Q: Two years ago, one of my dancers fractured her ankle and was out for six months. Upon her return, I cautiously allowed her to take pointe class, but treated her as if she was a beginner, because she was rolling out into supination, and I was fearful she would reinjure her ankle. Her mother feels I have held her back and changed to another studio. Did I make the right choice?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox