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To Major in Dance or Not to Major in Dance? (Hint: The Answer Is Always to Major)

Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of Arizona State University

Many parents discourage their teenagers from majoring in dance because of fear that their child will become a struggling artist in an unforgiving city, only to end their career in injury. But a dance degree can lead to other corners of the profession, such as marketing, physical therapy and arts administration. "Parents always say their children need something to fall back on," says Daniel Lewis, former dean of the dance division at New World School of the Arts. "They only see the stage time, applause and flowers. But there's choreographing, teaching, PR—the careers are endless."

Others are more concerned with disappointment. "Your daughter doesn't have to be a major ballerina with ABT to be successful," says Lewis. "If she wants to be a dancer, she'll find the work. There's a certain amount of training you have to achieve before you even get accepted into a good college, so if you have the talent, and the drive, you can make it."

As mentors, teachers can be monumentally influential on students' college decision processes. Read on to hear from three dance majors who feel grateful they chose this path—and share their words with your students!


Jenelle Figgins

BFA, Purchase College, State University of New York

Currently: dancer with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

Everyone takes one year of improvisation and three years of choreography. The seniors exhibit their work in shows they put on. It's incredibly stressful, but you acquire tools you can use as a professional, like creativity and strength under pressure. Choreography is a necessary skill as a company member, because you learn to organize your mind and be efficient.

Purchase's motto is "Think wide open." We were exposed to great choreographers; I worked with [contemporary choreographer] Sidra Bell at school and then was invited to perform with her professionally during my junior year. I'm not just a modern or ballet dancer, and I attribute that directly to my training at Purchase. Being comfortable spending one hour in pointe shoes and the next one barefoot is what allowed me to do my work at Dance Theatre of Harlem.


Ansley Davis

BFA, University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

Currently: ensemble member and part-time teacher with the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble and working in childcare

When Ansley Davis moved to Chicago last year, she knew she wanted a side job that was fun and paid well—so she took a position as a nanny. "For me, it's so different from dancing but so similar," she says. Taking care of a child involves performing and in-the-moment creativity, says Davis. She draws inspiration from a dance pedagogy course she took in college, which focused on the developmental physical and mental abilities of children of different ages. "Even if I'm not dancing at that moment, everything I did in college is showing through," she says.

Her dance-degree takeaway? Time management and organization, thanks to juggling classes, rehearsals and an active social life on campus. "I learned how to make sure all aspects of my life are in order, even when navigating a new transportation system and a new city," she says. "And when I'm nannying, I'm making sure all aspects of [her charge's] life are on track, in coordination with what her parents want for her."

Novak, right, in Paul Taylor's Arabesque. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy of Paul Taylor Dance Company.

Michael Novak

BA, Columbia University, New York, NY

Currently: dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company

The dance major was great because of the dance criticism and theory classes. I loved the academic approach to the dance industry.

Most of my dance friends were double majors. There was a real sense of being in charge of your own life. The dance department was very modern-focused, so I helped start the Columbia Ballet Collaborative so younger dance majors could learn from the city's professional dancers.

My dance history classes were phenomenal. I spent a lot of time at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, watching videos and doing research for term papers.

My liberal arts education has helped me immensely since I joined Paul Taylor. Board members and patrons are very educated about art, and it really helps to be able to converse with them about the history of the field and where it's going.

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