Dance Majors: 5 Things to Look For in a College
Rising seniors, this one’s for you. You’ve decided you want to be a dance major (good choice!), but now it’s time for the hard part: choosing a school.
I’m gonna be real with you: choosing a college is one of the most important decisions of your life, especially when you’re majoring in the arts. Any number of colleges could have “good dance programs,” but “good” can mean so many different things to an artist. You have to know what you’re looking for in a school, which can be hard when you don’t even know what college is like yet. Having graduated with a degree in dance, I have a pretty good idea of what I would look for in a school if I was to go back and do it again, but as a senior in high school, I was pretty clueless about college. So here I am now to lend you my late-begotten expertise!
What am I even looking for?
Knowing even a few criteria that are “must-haves” for your college experience will help you greatly at the start of your search. I knew for certain that I wanted to stay in-state because I’m a homebody and out-of-state tuition is outrageous. That one factor narrowed my search considerably. Be careful to only include must-haves in your initial search. Save the would-be-nices for later. Here are some broad criteria you might want to consider at the beginning of your college search:
- Is the school in a location you’re willing to travel to?
- Is the school public or private?
- Do they have a dance major?
- If you want to double major, do they have the other major you’re interested in?
As you start to visit colleges that you’ve found based on your must-have criteria, it’s time to look into factors specific to dance majors. Here are some things to make note of, and how to know what you’re looking for in these areas.
1. BA or BFA
A Bachelor of Fine Arts, or BFA, will emphasize technique, composition, virtuosity, and artistry. You will be completely immersed in dance, taking several technique classes a day. You’ll perform a lot and take minimal academic classes. These programs are harder to get into because of the standard of excellence that these schools hold.
With a Bachelor of Arts, or BA, you will also have a regular dose of technique classes, but they will be interspersed with a more well-rounded education. You’ll have more general education classes and room for electives, other majors, and minors. BA programs are generally not as selective as BFA programs, though they can still be hard to get into.
I know on the surface a BFA sounds like the route to go if you “really want to be a good dancer.” However, I would encourage you to keep an open mind. In the end, your education will be what you make it. If you’re in a BA program that only has you taking one technique class a day and you want more, take an extra class as an elective. If you’re in a BFA program but you still want to get a well-rounded education, pick up a minor or take some electives.
No program is going to have the perfect combination of classes, so I recommend looking over the curriculum or class checklist for the colleges you’re looking at, and asking yourself if it looks like a daily schedule you’d enjoy. If you really like the school but there’s something lacking in their course schedule, you can probably find a way to take extra classes or make your own opportunities. That kind of make-your-future-happen attitude will take you far in life!
2. Class Size
Class size is something I didn’t think mattered much when I was choosing a college, but really felt the impact of once I got there. It might not matter much for “GenEd” classes where all you do is take notes on lectures and read the textbook, but it matters so much for dance classes.
My class in the dance major (meaning those who came in together as freshmen and graduated together) was 22 strong. 22 is a fine class size, but there were few enough professors that it was never just us in a class. We were usually combined with the class above or below, meaning a standard technique class like advanced modern could easily have 35-40 students!
If you want to get individual attention from professors, make sure to ask how many students are in a typical technique class. Smaller classes also means less competition for performance opportunities, which can be a real plus.
3. Guest Artists
Find out whether the dance program you’re considering brings in guest artists for residencies and master classes. Working with guest artists was one of my favorite parts of being a dance major. I learned a lot from my professors, but it was great to be exposed to new teaching styles, movement techniques, and perspectives on a regular basis. That, in my opinion, was one of the things that made a college education a level up from dancing at a studio.
4. Professors’ Bios
Your professors are going to be the ones guiding your dance education for the next four years. Dance programs often have a relatively small faculty, so not liking one teacher could mean you dread going to 25% of your classes. Go to the website of the college you’re considering and read the bio of every dance professor. Make sure to read the adjunct faculty bios as well as the main faculty.
Look at where they studied, what kind of professional work they’ve done, how many years of teaching experience they have, and if they have any kind of artistic statement. Pro tip: it says a lot for a school when people come back and teach at their alma mater.
5. Local Arts Community
Finally, take a look at the community surrounding the college you’re considering. Is there a thriving arts scene? Are there performance venues, festivals? Is there a studio you could teach at? The amount of art happening in the community, not just dance but all art forms, says a lot about what your college experience might be like. The dance program at your school will offer you many opportunities, but a thriving arts scene in the community will breed collaboration and unique experiences.
I hope this article was helpful in guiding your search for the right college! This is a very important decision you’re about to make, but in the end, your education is what you make of it. Good luck!
Related article: 5 Reasons You Should Major in Dance