In 1992 while studying early childhood education at Texas A&M University, Lisa Shed decided to make the bold move of starting her own dance studio, Lisa's Dance Connection, 90 miles away in her hometown of Temple, Texas. Three days a week she would make the commute to teach her eight young students, then wake up the next morning at 6 am to make it to her 8 am class at school. Each year the studio would double or triple in size, and by the time she graduated college, she had more than 100 students. At that point she moved back to Temple and invested all of her time and energy into developing her studio. Since then, they've outgrown multiple building locations, and today she has an impressive 500 students and counting.
When you think of a major basketball team's dancers or cheerleaders, you probably picture the Laker Girls—scantily clad, with shiny curls cascading down their backs. You definitely don't picture a group of 15 40-years-old-and-up "seniors," mean-mugging and ripping off breakaway pants. But the New York Liberty's Timeless Torches do exactly that, and they routinely bring down the house during halftime at the WNBA games where they perform.
Taking students to a college dance fair can help them make connections and decide where to apply.
Colorado Dance Expo participants sample a Colorado Mesa University jazz class.
The questions seem endless for dancers applying to college. On top of worries like class size, location and tuition, they must consider ideas an English major doesn’t have to. Should they choose a liberal arts or conservatory program? Can they continue to take pointe in a modern dance department? And is double-majoring allowed?
College dance fairs offer a one-stop shopping experience for high-schoolers, bringing together some of the country’s top dance departments, so students can talk to faculty members, take classes and sometimes even audition for admission or scholarships. Organizing a trip can be a great way to educate your students and help them make connections, while updating your own knowledge of dance in college.
For Adge Marziano of Crested Butte School of Dance, the Colorado Dance Expo was a chance to give her small-town students exposure to many programs at once and gain insight about their differences. She says it made the idea of applying to college less intimidating. “It showed students that you have so many options: You can do a two-year program or minor in dance,” she says. “I felt so good about taking them there.”
Planning a Trip
Victoria Fink, a teacher at the Henrico County Center for the Arts in Virginia, has been taking students to the Regional or National High School Dance Festival for five years. The conference for high schools includes a college fair and master classes with participating dance department faculty, giving students a chance to see what style of dance each school teaches. Fink will help students decide which to take depending on their expressed interests. She brings 16 to 20 juniors and seniors, based on talent and academic performance and their interest in pursuing dance in college.
The festival may be in Norfolk, VA, about a two-hour drive from Henrico, or Miami or Philadelphia, which require airfare and a hotel. Parents don’t usually attend Fink’s trip, but the director and an additional teacher from Center for the Arts help chaperone. She sends several letters home to parents over the course of the year, detailing logistics and expectations of the trip. Festival costs, lodging, transportation and breakfast are added together into one fee that parents can pay in one or two installments.
Ask the Right Questions
It’s important to encourage students to look into participating college programs before the trip, so that they will be informed enough to ask detailed questions about each school. (Dance Magazine’s yearly College Guide and DanceU101.com are great resources.) “Students should be curious and not afraid to ask any question they want,” says University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ dance chair Brenda Daniels, who represents the program at the College Dance Fair in Boca Raton, Florida. “College is such a big investment, so it is very important to find the right fit.” It is also a good time for teachers to get an update on what’s happening in college dance and bring home any pamphlets or information for students, parents and teachers who weren’t able to attend themselves.
On site, Fink divides students so some dance while the others travel around the tables. This way, she has the time to guide them during their one-on-one Q&A. Walking up to representatives can be nerve-racking, so Fink may jumpstart conversations by asking a few questions before letting the student lead.
Taking dancers to a fair doesn’t just help provide them with the information they need to apply. It’s a chance for students to make a lasting impression on the programs’ faculty members. Recruiters often make admissions recommendations to their departments about students they meet. “I do track promising students if I see them in a dance class at the fair,” says Daniels. “And I will follow up with them by e-mail to see if they are planning on applying.” DT
2013–14 College Fairs
There are many fairs around the country for students interested in visual and performance arts, but the following specialize in dance.
College Dance Fair
August 30–September 1, 2013
Boca Ballet Theatre
Boca Raton, FL
Colorado Dance Expo
October 5, 2013
Denver School of the Arts
Greater Cincinnati Dance Alliance Dance College Fair
October 6, 2013
The School for Creative & Performing Arts, Erich Kunzel Center for Arts and Education
Dancewave’s Dancing Through College and Beyond
October 20, 2013
Marymount Manhattan College
New York, NY
National High School Dance Festival
April 3–6, 2014
New World School of the Arts
Lea Marshall is interim chair of the Department of Dance and Choreography at Virginia Commonwealth University, and co-founder of Ground Zero Dance.
Photo by Nathan Rigaud, courtesy of Colorado Dance Expo