Three graduates explain how double majoring shaped their careers.

Breanna Gribble supports her dance career in NYC with a job in her second major.

When deciding what to major in, Breanna Gribble was determined to hang on to both her passions: dance and geology. As a double major at Southern Methodist University, she just didn’t expect to be hanging on so literally: During the summers of her sophomore and junior years, Gribble performed in Quarryography, a site-specific work by Pilobolus’ Alison Chase—suspended from an excavator in a quarry in Maine while wearing a tutu. “I danced to a steel drum and collected rock samples,” says Gribble. “It was a wonderful fusion.”

While this level of synergy may be difficult to match, double majoring can be a great option for students equally interested in dance and another subject. It’s an intense experience—students should expect heavy course loads and summer semesters—and extracurriculars and social life can get squeezed out of the picture. But double majoring can help dancers find crossovers between the two fields, expand their potential career options and provide a financial safety net to a professional dance career.

Marissa Osato

University of California at Irvine, 2009

Degrees in dance and literary journalism

Former competition kid Marissa Osato only added a dance major to her literary journalism major so the UC Irvine dance department would let her participate in shows. During the year, she regularly enrolled in 20–22 hours each term—4–6 hours more than what most colleges consider full-time status. Plus, she took 8 credit hours during every summer session, balancing choreography classes with journalism seminars. “I tried to avoid spending the whole summer sitting at a desk,” she says.

This left her with no time for interests outside of dance or journalism, but she did choreograph a piece almost every quarter, mount a six-piece show for her thesis and land an internship at Los Angeles magazine after graduation. “I didn’t know which major was going to take off,” she says, “so I went 100 percent in both directions.”

Marissa Osato did double duty in dance and literary journalism.

Today, she relies on her journalism skills as the full-time co-director of Entity Contemporary Dance. Entity recently premiered its first full-length solo show, based on the controversial topic of assisted suicide and set in a courtoom. Osato wrote and choreographed courtroom testimony for dancers to convey through speech and movement.

Nasira Burkholder-Cooley

University of Arizona, 2010

Degrees in dance and nutritional science; minor in chemistry

Heading into college, Nasira Burkholder-Cooley couldn’t see anything but ballet in her future. Her parents persuaded her to pick up another major just in case. So she chose nutritional science. “I figured if I was going to spend my time learning something else, it might as well make me a better dancer,” she says. Despite her initial reluctance, she started placing at the top of her upper-division courses. “It was so exciting to see this other side of myself emerge,” she says.

Even so, her schedule was relentless—typically from 8 am to 7 pm with an hour break. “I always felt a little torn,” she says. “There were countless times when I couldn’t take an extra jazz class or be in my friends’ choreography projects.”

Because there was virtually no overlap in the two majors’ coursework, she enrolled in 20–30 credit hours every session. This meant that she spent a day every semester gathering faculty signatures confirming her good grades, so that she could petition the dean to approve her ambitious schedule. She took summer classes every year to knock out nutrition requirements (and took advantage of Ballet Tucson’s drop-in ballet classes at the university in the summer).

Burkholder-Cooley is currently enrolled in a public health doctoral program, but dance directly influences her work. “Studying ballet at U of A made me disciplined,” she says. “I never could have gotten through these academic programs without that focus.” When she graduates, she wants to focus her practice on dancers. “My dance degree,” she adds, “will give me that necessary credibility.”

Breanna Gribble

Southern Methodist University, 2008

Degrees in dance and geophysics; minor in math

As a high school student, Gribble felt pressure to select a major that would lead to a stable career. “I knew I had to keep my options open,” she says. “What if I got injured?” She decided to double major, a choice that relieved her parents. “Professional dance can be a really difficult lifestyle,” she says. “They were glad that I wanted to do something else, too.”

Following two paths as different as dance and geology meant Gribble was forced to use every available minute wisely. Her daily routine included classes in ballet, physics, jazz and earth materials. An hour dinner break was followed by rehearsals. Finally, she’d work in the lab from 10:30 to around midnight. The geophysics department was accommodating, allowing her to turn in papers a few days late during particularly busy periods. The dance department, while sympathetic to the fact that Gribble was often exhausted, offered less flexibility. “You can’t make up a ballet class later,” she says, “the way you can make up a paper.” Still, she graduated in four years.

After college, Gribble auditioned for companies. “I got a lot of job offers,” she says, “but the economic downturn meant they didn’t come with a salary.” Now, she’s the associate artistic director of Mari Meade Dance Collective in New York. She balances the position with her full-time job as a project manager and geologist at Louis Berger, an engineering consulting firm. “I’m immersed in the arts,” she says, “and then I’m looking at soil pourings and doing reports for the Environmental Protection Agency. I love this dual life.” DT

Julie Schechter is a dancer and New York City–based freelance writer.

Photos from top: by Justin Lundquist, courtesy of Gribble; courtesy of Osato

The Conversation
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy of Hightower

The beloved "So You Think You Can Dance" alum and former Emmy-nominated "Dancing with the Stars" pro Chelsie Hightower discovered her passion for ballroom at a young age. She showed a natural ability for the Latin style, but she mastered the necessary versatility by studying jazz, ballet and other forms of dance. "Every style of dance builds on each other," she says, "and the more music you're exposed to, the more your rhythm and coordination is built."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Burklyn Ballet, Courtesy Harlequin

Whether you're putting on a pair of pointe shoes, buckling your ballroom stilettos or lacing up your favorite high tops, the floor you're on can make or break your dancing. But with issues like sticking or slipping and a variety of frictions suitable to different dance steps and styles, it can be confusing to know which floor will work best for you.

No matter what your needs are, Harlequin Floors has your back, or rather, your feet. With 11 different marley vinyl floors available in a range of colors, Harlequin has options for every setting and dance style. We rounded up six of their most popular and versatile floors:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Health
Adequate dorsiflexion mobility is needed to find a supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely. Getty Images

Dancers are trained to think often about the range of motion, stability and power of their extended lines: the point of the foot, the reach of the penché, the explosion of the sauté in the air. But finding that same mix of flexibility and strength in the flexed foot is just as integral to technique and injury prevention. Without adequate dorsiflexion mobility, it is nearly impossible to find the kind of supple demi-plié needed to bound into the air and land safely.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Insure Fitness
AdobeStock, Courtesy Insure Fitness Group

As a teacher at a studio, you've more than likely developed long-lasting relationships with some of your students and parents. The idea that you could be sued by one of them might seem impossible to imagine, but Insure Fitness Group's Gianna Michalsen warns against relaxing into that mindset. "People say, 'Why do I need insurance? I've been working with these people for 10 years—we're friends,'" she says. "But no one ever takes into account how bad an injury can be. Despite how good your relationship is, people will sue you because of the toll an injury takes on their life."

You'll benefit most from an insurance policy that caters to the specifics of teaching dance at one or several studios. Here's what to look for:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by The Fleet, courtesy of Lion's Jaw Festival

Growing up in New Jersey, Lisa Race trained with a memorable dance teacher: Fred Kelly, the younger brother of famous tapper Gene. "Fred would introduce our recitals," she says. "He would always cartwheel down the stairs." It wasn't until years later, when Race was pursuing her master's degree and chose to write a research paper on Kelly, that she realized there was a clear connection between her own movement style—improvisational and floor-based—and his. "In this television clip I watched, Fred jumps up to the piano, then jumps off it—he's going up and down and around," she says. "I thought, 'Oh, wow, all this time, I've thought of my dancing as my own, but that's where it started!' Moving upside-down and into the floor. There's a thread there. I rerouted it in different ways, but there's a connection."

Now, as a professor at Connecticut College, she concentrates on how to introduce her students to that love and freedom of upside-down work—and how to best prepare them for life after graduation, no matter what dance path they take.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Bill Johnson, Courtesy Just for Kix

Running a dance studio is a feat in itself. But adding a competition team into the mix brings a whole new set of challenges. Not only are you focusing on giving your dancers the best training possible, but you're navigating the fast-paced competition and convention circuit. Winning is one goal, but you also want to create an environment that's fun, educational and inspiring for young artists. We asked Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a studio owner with over 40 years of experience, for her advice on building a healthy dance team culture:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

It's summertime, which means we're all starting to feel HOT! HOT! HOT!

While a warm room is certainly better than a cold room when it comes to dancing, you don't want your students to get heat stroke at your studio. To help you survive this sweaty time of year, here are tips and tricks that will keep your classrooms comfortable for an excellent class.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by World Class Vacations
David Galindo Photography

New York City is a dream destination for many dancers. However aspiring Broadway stars don't have to wait until they're pros to experience all the city has to offer. With Dance the World Broadway, students can get a taste of the Big Apple—plus hone their dance skills and make lasting memories.

Here's why Dance the World Broadway is the best way for students to experience NYC:

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

If you're not prepared, studio picture day can be a real headache. But, if done right, it can provide you with gorgeous photos that will make your students and parents happy, while simultaneously providing you with marketing content you will be able to use for years to come.

Here are five tips that will help you pull off the day without a hitch.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Via YouTube

In its 14 years of existence, YouTube has been home to a world of competition dance videos that we have all consumed with heedless pleasure. Every battement, pirouette and trendy move has been archived somewhere, and we are all very thankful.

We decided it was time DT did a deep dive through those years of footage to show you the evolution of competition dance since the early days of YouTube.

From 2005 to 2019, styles have shifted a whole lot. Check them out, and let us know over on our Facebook page what you think the biggest differences are!

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Koelliker

Sick of doing the same old stuff in technique class? Needing some across-the-floor combo inspiration? We caught up with three teachers from different areas of the country to bring you some of their favorite material for their day-to-day classes.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox