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Taking the Next Step: Finding the best college dance program for you

So, you’ve decided to make it official! Here are a few pointers on picking the right dance program for your educational goals. I’ve also included a list of the top 20 dance programs in the country and a chart which compares each program’s pricing here.


Top 20 Dance Programs Chart


What kind of dance degree do you want?


Degree plans vary from college to college and state to state. The first question you should consider is whether you’re interested in a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree that focuses on performance or a Bachelors degree with an education focus. The latter (depending on your state’s regulations) will certify you for public school employment. Some colleges also offer the option of a Bachelor of Science with a focus on Kinesiology (the study of body mechanics).


Generally speaking, a BFA program will give you more performance and choreographic experience, preparing you for work within a company, and will conclude with a Capstone (a choreographic and performance thesis project). A BA will give you a teaching certification and will include an internship at a public school. A BS will focus on the science of dance and a research-based approach to your studies.


Other options are degree plans which focus on theater management and tech or double majors where you can obtain both a dance degree and a theater management/tech degree.


What’s your specialization?


Different schools are known for their expertise in certain areas. Most dance programs offer a comprehensive dance education with classes in a variety of disciplines, and the option to concentrate on a specific discipline (ballet and contemporary dance being common options). Your first step should be researching the school’s specializations and the faculty’s qualifications. Read their CV (résumé) and do a little Googling/YouTubing.


A well-rounded program (BFA, BA, or BS) should also include classes to prepare you for all aspects of life as a working dancer. Courses in pedagogy, dance history, world dance, anatomy and kinesiology, music theory, somatics (the study of body efficiency), and practical experience in theater production are all essential tools in your kit.


State school or private college/conservatory?


Conservatories audition their students. In many instances, students are invited to audition after attending a summer workshop series. State colleges and universities’ auditioning practices vary from institution to institution. State colleges and universities have different educational goals than those of a private conservatory or college. Dance conservatories focus their education on dance and subjects related to dance. State schools want their students to graduate with a broad knowledge base which includes core curriculum. Conservatories and private colleges are more expensive than public schools.


How can a dance degree benefit my career options? What kind of jobs are out there for me?


In a company:

Every dancer dreams of working for a company or starting their own choreographic project.
Increasingly, companies are looking for dancers with a BFA. Sure, there are always the naturals who audition-in at 18. A BFA shows commitment to craft and maturity and gives dancers practical experience before they start auditioning professionally.


In the classroom:

Every dancer will teach at a studio at some point in our career. It comes with the territory. Whether or not you decide to pursue a public-school teaching certification, a background in pedagogy will benefit you as a teacher in a studio, give you practical solutions for classroom dynamics, teach you methods for bringing the best out in your students, and will help you find the best approach to teaching technique.


In the theater:

Anyone who’s ever booked a theater knows that tech gets paid well. Generally, they get paid far more than performers. These are typically union jobs, and they translate across the industry from small local theaters to large stadiums, traveling productions, competitions, festivals, and film production sets.


Having extensive technical experience is a huge benefit for a dancer, whether you’re working in a theater as a technical director or as a choreographer who wants to design your own lighting and sound effects for a production.


In the office:

Movement therapy and somatic practices (Alexander Technique, Franklin Method, Feldenkrais, LMA, et. Al) are part of many programs’ curricula. Minoring in physical therapy can be a very fulfilling career path. Additionally, certification in any of these techniques on top of your degree can make you a valuable addition to any physical therapy office.


In administration:

Public arts programs need the input of working artists. In an era where public support for the arts is disappearing, dance needs those with a talent for administrative work more than ever.
Getting a degree and finding a professional niche helps bring your craft to many different corners of your community. Dancers’ instruments change with age, but having all the right tools in your box will ensure that you’re able to be an active part of the dance community for as long as you desire.


Jennifer Burton is a mother, dancer, dance educator, and writer with a BFA in Dance from the University of Texas at El Paso. After a 10 year career in arts journalism, she returned to her first love, dance. She has danced under the direction of Myron Nadel, Lisa Smith, Andrea Vazquez Aguirre, and Leanne Rinelli. She recently had the honor of participating in the Florence Summer Dance Festival under the direction of Lilliana Candotti and Monica Baroni. Burton hopes to enter the Master of Arts in Teaching-Dance program at NMSU this fall.

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