At The Dance Zone in Henderson, Nevada, a young dancer rehearses her jazz routine for the team's weekend competition. At 9 years old, she has already decided that she's “not a turner," and today, with a competition looming, she struggles to execute a double turn. Before long, she gets so worked up that every time she tries to turn, she falls, bottom to the floor. “She just got freaked out," says Dance Zone co-owner Jami Artiga. “It was a fear of letting her team down."
Many teachers will recognize this scene. Dance requires as much mental focus as physical, and it's easy for students to become so stressed out that they hold themselves back. Anxiety like this can turn an otherwise joyous dance experience into torture. Fortunately, as a teacher, you can help students stop fretting and start dancing with confidence.
Alison Deleget, athletic trainer at Harkness Center for Dance, says dancers can use these exercises as a warm-up to help prevent shinsplints and stress fractures. For each exercise, perform 10–15 reps, two to three times. The goal is not to fatigue the muscles, but to activate them.
It's news that Dr. David Weiss doesn't like to give. Sometimes dancers see him thinking they have shinsplints, when they actually have a stress fracture, a more serious injury that requires a longer recovery. “When dancers come in with stress fractures, I see a lot of denial," says the NYU Langone Medical Center orthopedist. “They say, 'This is just shinsplints, isn't it?'"
When Nick Silverio was a senior in high school, he struggled to choose between dance and more academic pursuits. "I was torn," he says. On one hand, he wanted to perform professionally—but on the other, he was interested in business and entrepreneurship. After winning acceptances to both top-tier BFA programs and academic schools, he had a choice to make. "The deciding factor was that I didn't need a formal major to be able to dance," he says.
You've probably seen articles on how dance prepares you for anything making the rounds in your social-media circles. The discipline, creative thought and communication skills learned in a dance class are coveted in (and often missing from) the broader workforce. And it's a good thing, too, because for even the most talented, it's virtually inevitable that, at some point, dancers will need to support themselves with a side job. So how exactly do the skills acquired in a college dance program transfer to other fields? Four graduates told DT how their degrees prepared them for much more than dancing.
Dance majors who supplement their degree with somatics certifications leave college with a built-in job.
For many dance parents, the idea of their sons and daughters majoring in dance is worrisome. They know their dancers are talented, but they also know that a dance career can be less than lucrative. They want reassurance that their children will be able to support themselves—at least until they get their big break.
A dancer’s senior year can be stressful. Not only is she juggling academics and dance, she’s also traveling to college auditions. “I was a little overwhelmed,” says Michaela Harrington, now a University of Arizona freshman double-majoring in dance and neuroscience. To help, her mother, Babette Belter, took on much of the college-trip planning. “My mom was a superwoman,” says Harrington.
With good advice from veteran parents and dancers, the senior year doesn’t have to be a pressure cooker. Here’s how your students can have a productive and (relatively) stress-free college audition tour.
How many schools should a dancer apply to?
Four or five is ideal; six is likely the maximum. “With five schools, I felt I had a good chance of getting into at least one,” says Harrington. One should be a safety school—a program a dancer feels confident she’ll get into.
What’s better, an on-campus audition or a satellite one?
On-site auditions have clear advantages. “You can look at the campus and the facilities, and you meet more faculty members than if you audition off campus,” says Nelly van Bommel of The Conservatory of Dance at Purchase College, SUNY. But sometimes it’s just not possible to attend an audition at the university. In fact, of the five schools Kate Gow auditioned for, her one satellite audition was The Boston Conservatory, where she now studies. It wasn’t until she later visited the campus, however, that she knew it was her top choice. “After watching a rehearsal and seeing how family-like it is here, there was no question,” she says.
How can a dancer keep so many different audition requirements straight?
“There’s nothing worse for us than to receive an essay or a photo that is not really meant for our school,” says van Bommel. But it’s a common mistake. Each program has different audition requirements: dress codes, technique classes, essays, photos, resumés, solos, interviews—so organization is key. Harrington and Belter created a spreadsheet outlining program details, audition elements and packing lists. “We tried to be as prepared as we could, because there are always going to be surprises,” says Belter.
Although a black leotard and tights were appropriate for most auditions, Gow brought other options: “I packed a change of clothes, just to ease my fears: black tights, a colored leotard, extra pink tights.”
How much time should be allotted for travel?
For long trips, avoid traveling on the day of the audition. Even for an afternoon audition, arriving the night before ensures that flight delays won’t be a problem and offers extra time to explore the campus or city. If a dancer must travel the day-of, plan to arrive at least two or three hours early to avoid any unnecessary stress.
What’s the best timeline for multiple auditions?
“If a student has the opportunity to audition early in the year, they should,” says van Bommel. Not only are adjudicators still fresh, they also have more spots to fill (though van Bommel notes that they’ll sometimes make room for students who are a perfect fit, even if they’ve filled their quota).
Spreading out auditions over the year can also make it easier on a dancer and her family. Many schools offer fall auditions, which are ideal for top-choice schools, because dancers will learn early on whether they’re in. Harrington set up her calendar with fall dates, though she did postpone one until the spring due to a minor injury—and her early planning allowed her that flexibility. One of Gow’s priorities was to never travel more than two weekends in a row. “It really helped in keeping my sanity,” she says.
To organize a tour itinerary, set up a calendar that includes school exam dates, performances and any other potentially stressful weeks. Then, schedule auditions around those, starting with top-choice schools.
Should dancers apply Early Decision?
Applying Early Decision means that if a student is accepted, she’s required to turn down all other schools, regardless of scholarship offers. If there’s a school that the dancer is dying to attend, regardless of cost, go for it. Many dancers (Harrington and Gow included) keep their options open until they’ve received all scholarship offers.
What’s the best way to help a dancer through the process?
“I think it just comes to super-meticulous advance planning, and trying to be as calm as possible to help keep them calm,” says Belter. “When we’re missing two days of school one week, and she has this exam and that exam, and she’s bringing homework on trips, I felt like my job was to not be stressed out. We’d find something fun to do to make good memories on the trips.” DT
Ashley Rivers is a Boston-based arts writer.
Money-Saving Travel Tips
• If driving, consider staying in a hotel just outside of the city for at least one night. Rates in a small town can be half as much as those in a destination city.
• Start building up air miles early with an airline-affiliated credit card.
• Pack favorite, nourishing breakfasts and snacks.
• Research a program exhaustively (watch YouTube Videos; try to catch a live-stream performance) to be positive it’s a contender before investing in a trip.
Photo courtesy of Purchase College
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.”
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
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