Dancers have a lot of tough decisions to make when it comes to college. Do I even apply to college? Or should I dance professionally straight out of high school? If I decide to apply to college, do I apply to conservatories like Juilliard or University of North Carolina School of the Arts? Or do I apply to a more traditional liberal arts program? If I choose to attend a liberal arts college, do I major in dance?
For me, the decision of whether to major in dance or not was extremely easy. Princeton, although it has an excellent dance department, does not offer a dance major. It only offers a dancer minor. While postsecondary degree programs in dance are not yet universal, however, their numbers are growing. Harvard University made the news last year when it approved the creation of a dance concentration for the first time. Furthermore, the College Board lists over 300 schools, over 200 of which are 4-year colleges, with bachelor’s degree programs in dance. So if you attend one of these schools, how do you decide whether or not to major in dance?
To be a professional dancer, a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance is not a necessity. While many college dance programs can provide great connections to the professional dance world, in particular the growing contemporary and modern dance world, the physical bachelor’s degree does not give you a guaranteed leg up in the competitive audition process. It is the connections you form with professors, guest choreographers, etc. through your work completing a dance degree that will be the most beneficial in this sense. These connections can provide entry and access to certain companies, artistic directors, and more.
A bachelor’s degree, on the other hand, can give you a leg up in the pedagogy of dance. Undergraduate and graduate degrees are becoming more and more necessary for dance teaching jobs. This is especially true in the realm of academic dance. Due to the ongoing effort to elevate dance in the eyes of academia, many university dance departments now stipulate a Master’s degree in a relevant field as a minimum requirement for full-time dance professors.
There are additional components to consider besides short-term or long-term professional goals when deciding whether or not to major in dance. For example, know that a dance major entails a great deal more than technique and repertoire classes. Dance majors study dance in an academic context. This often means also taking courses in choreography, improvisation, dance history, criticism, kinesiology, etc. in addition to daily technique classes and rehearsals.
Also, performance opportunities. If performance experience is something you want as an undergrad, you will need to pay attention to the different performance opportunities available to dance majors versus non-dance majors. Some dance departments, such as Indiana University’s Contemporary Dance Program, have performing companies that are only open to dance majors.
Other factors that shouldn’t be overlooked include things such as whether or not you want to study abroad. University study abroad programs in dance are rare. This can mean a lot of obstacles to overcome if you plan a semester abroad. Also, consider whether or not you can double major and whether or not you can minor. A double major is a great option if you want to cover your bases with two degrees and are willing to put in the extra work. On the other hand, a minor can be a great way to stay involved in dance while you pursue other academic interests without over doing it.
The decision to major or not to major is dance is ultimately a personal one. You have to reflect and ask yourself what you, as a dancer, hope to get out of your undergraduate experience. Do you want to develop as a future professional dancer? Do you want to develop as a future dance teacher? Or do you have other passions you want to pursue? The important thing to remember, however, is that your undergraduate major does not set your future in stone. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Give yourself permission to explore your options and change your mind. And, of course, don’t forget to enjoy yourself!