Yes, You Can Go to College While Dancing Professionally. Here's How.

Hayden Hopkins studying in the theater before transforming into Mystère's La Belle (courtesy Mystère 'by Cirque Du Soleil)

A full-time university isn't your only option for earning a degree. Enrolling in college part-time while pursuing a pro career is a challenge well worth the rewards.


Challenge by Choice

Dancing professionally—which is already physically and mentally demanding—while pursuing a college degree is no easy task. Leta Biasucci, soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet and 2018 graduate of Seattle University, says managing physical and mental fatigue was one of the hardest parts of her seven-year college journey. "Some nights I would come home after a long day of rehearsals and all I could imagine doing was relaxing," Biasucci says. "But again and again, my educational process proved to be a lesson in resilience and surpassing my preconceived notions of what I could and couldn't do."

Hayden Hopkins, who dances the role of La Belle in Cirque du Soleil's Mystère and is a part-time social science student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says finding the motivation to get up early to study during a 10-show week is difficult. So she manages her time carefully to stay on track, regularly bringing her laptop and study materials to the theater. "I create a little cycle of reward," Hopkins says. "If I do more at work one day, I get to sleep in more the next day." Being a nontraditional student means setting your own educational goals, and, as Biasucci says, that requires "being determined to the point of stubbornness."

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Leta Biasucci in David Dawson's Empire Noir (photo by Angela Sterling, courtesy PNB)


Reaping the Rewards

Biasucci and Hopkins agree that committing to both college and career at once has unique benefits. "The experience has made me a more well-rounded person, a more knowledgeable citizen, and, ultimately, a better artist," Biasucci says.

Hopkins, who attended Marymount Manhattan full-time before joining Cirque, says the transition to part-time studies has exposed her to the world beyond dance. "I'm excited to be stepping outside my comfort zone and, for the first time, thinking about something other than dance," Hopkins says.

Biasucci, on the other hand, tailored her degree to the arts, giving her a more comprehensive understanding of the industry. "Earning an interdisciplinary arts degree with a specialization in arts leadership gave me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into making the 'Ballet' portion of Pacific Northwest Ballet possible," Biasucci says.

A dream dance job is an opportunity not to be missed, but that doesn't mean your education should fall by the wayside. "Whatever you can do to continue your studies is right," Hopkins says. Once you've settled into a contract, look into your options for completing coursework part-time. "Be brave, be patient, and stick with it," Biasucci says. "The reward for your determination and sacrifice will be ever-so-sweet."

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

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"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.

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"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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