Training

Beyond the BFA: Can You Pursue a Non-Performance Dance Degree and Still Have a Stage Career?

Nicole Ivan, now a dancer with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, in Elon University's 2016 Fall Dance Program. Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Elon University.

During his sophomore year at the University of Oklahoma, Austin Crumley switched the focus of his Bachelor of Fine Arts from ballet performance to ballet pedagogy. “I figured I already knew how to perform," he says. “I wanted to take advantage of OU's incredible faculty to learn something new." The degree change didn't close any doors for Crumley, who joined Sacramento Ballet this fall. However, he plans to focus on teaching after he retires. “The pedagogy degree turned a passion into a potential long-term career," he says.

Some degree-seeking dancers opt to concentrate on dance studies outside the traditional performance track—from dance science or administration to dance media, pedagogy, or even cultural studies. And for many, these degrees can support long careers both onstage and beyond.


Dance Theatre of Harlem's Lindsey Croop opted for dual degrees from Butler University: a BS in dance-arts administration and a BA in strategic communications. Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH.

The Road Less Traveled

Pedagogy, or teaching, degrees have long been an option for dance majors. But for those interested in eventually pursuing dance medicine or physical therapy, many schools now offer degrees in dance science or kinesiology. The business-minded may look for programs in dance administration or management (great for careers in marketing, fundraising and public relations), while tech-savvy dancers may consider a degree that combines dance with media (think film-editing and motion-capture technology). Often these more academically based dance tracks lead to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS).

Katie Langan, chair for Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, notes that graduates head in a wide variety of directions in the dance field (in addition to BFAs, MMC offers BAs in body, science and motion; dance and media; dance studies; and teaching dance arts). For instance, dance studies alums have found enriching archival work, while dance and media grads have become successful dance videographers or photographers, graphic designers or set designers.


Crumley with Carly Seguall in Jock Soto's "Someday" at University of Oklahoma. Photo by Mutz Photography, Courtesy OU.

From Studio to Classroom

Dancers also hoping to graduate stage-ready, however, should look for schools that integrate their performance BFAs with nonperformance BAs or BSs. These programs will likely provide more access to the technique classes, performance opportunities and faculty advice necessary for pursuing a professional dance career.

When comparing programs, look for curriculum requirements and flexibility. At OU, Crumley transitioned smoothly from performance to pedagogy because of the program overlap. While he needed to take teaching courses, both tracks require students to take daily ballet class, as well as two semesters of modern. The difference comes down to performance requirements: Performance BFAs must audition for Oklahoma Festival Ballet every semester, whereas pedagogy BFAs only need to perform for four semesters.

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Lindsey Croop opted for dual degrees from Butler University: a BS in dance–arts administration from the College of Fine Arts and a BA in strategic communications from the College of Journalism. Yet her dance requirements were almost identical to Butler's performance track. The main differences: fewer semesters of technique and Butler Ballet (the performance component), and less space for advanced technique electives. However, BS students can take as many semesters of technique or Butler Ballet as they can fit in their schedules. Croop chose to keep up her ballet classes. “I needed to stay competitive for postgraduation auditions," she says.


Marymount Manhattan College's body, science and motion majors in class. Photo Courtesy MMC.

Reaching Beyond Requirements

Not all nonperformance programs require as much physical dancing as those at OU or Butler. For example, there are fewer technique requirements for Marymount Manhattan's BA students. “But they can take all the studio classes they want," says Langan, adding that they are also free to submit choreography and can elect to perform.

Elon University's dance science BS only requires four technique classes, and there are no performance requirements. However, Elon alum and Bodiography Contemporary Ballet dancer Nicole Ivan notes that dance science majors can still take advantage of the BFA program's resources. “Those willing to have a more substantial schedule can fit in more technique classes per semester, and they are able to choose from the same classes as dance majors," says Ivan, who graduated with a BS in dance science, BS in exercise science and BFA in performance and choreography. Furthermore, dance science majors are encouraged to audition for the season shows.

Ivan feels confident that she could have maintained her technique and graduated stage-ready with her BS in dance science alone. However, she notes that getting multiple majors is an excellent way to ensure both your academic and technique needs will be met within curriculum requirements.


Croop in the studio. Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH.

Career Ready

Eventually, Ivan plans to continue her studies in graduate school. “I can see myself going into dance medicine or dance therapy," she says.

Croop doesn't think she'll ever leave the studio, but she stands by her decision to pursue a BS. “It comes in handy when writing a letter to your boss, using social media for self-promotion and understanding the general marketing concepts for running a company," she says. Croop foresees a future using this knowledge as a ballet mistress.

Ultimately, opting to pursue a dance degree outside the traditional performance track tends to open more doors than it closes. “Dance goes far beyond the stage," Langan says. “As with anything, the more broad-based you are, the more marketable you are. It's not a fallback, it's a career."

Training
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As summer intensive audition season starts up, I've been reminiscing about my own experience as a young dancer—way back in 1993—and how challenging it was to navigate. In fact, I think it's safe to say that my first summer program audition was a complete disaster.

I was almost 16—a little late by some standards—and was still pretty clueless as to how I compared to others outside my hometown. That weighed heavily on my mind as my parents and I made the hour-long drive to Milwaukee. The audition was for a school in Pennsylvania, and as I scanned the big-city studio, my mind slipped into exaggerated teenage self-consciousness. Dancers lined the barres stretching, showing off their flexibility as if doing some sort of war ritual. Many were chatting in groups, wearing trendy warm-up jumpers and donning perfectly shellacked buns. I tried to act like I knew what I was doing, but inside I was a wreck.

The teacher clapped his hands together to begin class. He was fast-paced, no-nonsense and not one for smiles. During pliés, he stopped in front of me with his clipboard as I emerged from a cambré back. He looked me up and down, frowned and kept going. I, of course, freaked out—what did that mean? I still had an entire hour and a half left of class to prove I was still capable, but instead I completely lost my concentration. I just couldn't shake that frown. I forgot combinations and even started with the wrong foot in front a few times in center. By jumps, the adjudicators had stopped watching me altogether. Needless to say, I spent the majority of the ride home trying not to cry.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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via YouTube

It's finally the weekend, and we're celebrating the best way we know how—a new ballet video. Juliet Doherty (who trained with San Francisco Ballet and Master Ballet Academy, and is set to star in the dance film, On Pointe), teamed up with Cartoon Network for her latest project.

"Cartoon Network contacted me about their show, Steven Universe, which was coming out with a new vinyl album of the soundtrack of the show," Doherty shared with Pointe. "They told me about one of the show's main characters named, Pearl, who is a strong-willed character but has the grace inspired by a ballerina."

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Videos
Mr. Jeremy FIsher, from Sir Frederick Ashton's "The Tales of Beatrix Potter."

Animal roles might not typically be what dancers dream of performing…but they're oh-so-fun to watch. You can't help falling under their spell (and perhaps aspiring to dance one someday). Here's a round-up of some of our favorite furry and feathered roles.

Bunny Hop

Run. Dance in a circle. Pretend to be a rabbit. It might sound like a creative movement combo, but don't let that fool you. The role of Peter Rabbit in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Tales of Beatrix Potter requires fierce technique—not to mention the ability to project personality while wearing an animal head and fur suit.


Four-Legged Interlude

Who do you turn to for halftime entertainment during a quartet of fairy variations? Dancing lizards, mice and a frog of course! This charming quintet of creatures light up the stage in David Bintley's Cinderella.

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Your Career
Photo Courtesy Barry Kerollis.

I was probably about 15 years old when the director of my local dance school, seeing my drive and ambition, asked me to work as a teaching assistant for one of the main ballet instructors. She asked to meet with me to discuss the details of my new job. She explained what my role was in the studio, expectations of me in the position and more. But as we approached the end of my meeting, I wasn't expecting the conversation to take the serious turn that it did.

"Now, Barry, I need you to be very, very careful about how you work with these young girls. Kids are sensitive and, especially considering that you are a man, if you correct them in a way that can be viewed as sexual by either a student or a parent, even if you didn't do anything, you could be jeopardizing your future as a teacher and in this field." The look on my face must have been utter shock; the prospect of losing my job or getting sued over sharing my artform had never crossed my mind. This forever changed my perspective on being a dance educator, and I still find myself overly cautious about the way that I work with my students today.

Unless you've been hiding underneath a holiday blanket, it has become abundantly clear that we are undergoing a massive cultural shift here in the States. It started in the entertainment industry, then shifted to major corporations. Sexual misconduct in the form of harassment and assault that had been swept under the rug for years is bubbling to the surface. Things began to boil quite quickly, and those interested in our performing-arts world were speculating that something was going to be brought up in our tight-knit community, especially considering the hands-on approach that teachers have with students, dancers have with other dancers and artistic staff has while coaching employees. I had to sit on my own hands for over a month, after I was given a heads-up that a major news publication was working on an exposé about Peter Martins and his many alleged abuses (which had been quietly circulating around our dance community for years).

Keep reading at dance-teacher.com.

Summer Study Advice
Erica Lall and Shaakir Muhammad in class at American Ballet Theatre's 2013 New York Summer Intensive. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

This story originally appeared in the December 2013/January 2014 issue of Pointe.

When Pacific Northwest Ballet School student Madison Abeo was accepted into San Francisco Ballet School's summer session on a partial scholarship, she was thrilled. But then she added up the remaining cost for the program and realized she didn't have the funds. “I really wanted to go," she says, “but we just couldn't make the other half of it work."

Ballet training is expensive. For many families, a trip to a dream summer intensive simply isn't in the budget. SFB was $2,500 out of Abeo's reach. But she was determined. At the suggestion of her aunt, Abeo created a Facebook fan page where she asked for opportunities to babysit or perform odd jobs, and included a link to a PayPal account where friends and family could make donations. Two local dancewear businesses, Vala Dancewear and Class Act Tutu, offered to outfit her for fundraising photos, which a photographer took for her Facebook page for free. By June, Abeo had raised enough for tuition—plus plenty of pointe shoes.

Affording your dream intensive isn't as difficult as you might think. There are a surprising number of eager dance supporters out there. Case in point: On Kickstarter, dance projects have the highest success rate of any type of campaign, with dancers receiving over $4 million in donations through the site since it began. You can also apply for need- or merit-based grants and scholarships, either through your summer program or an outside foundation. Most dancers who want it badly enough can make it happen.


Madison Abeo with other Pacific Northwest Ballet School students in the 2013 School Performance of an excerpt from "Serenade," choreography by George Balanchine. Photo by Rex Tranter, Courtesy Abeo.

Take Your Cause to the (Online) Streets

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Summer Study Advice
In class at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy summer intensive. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Russian American Foundation.

When Complexions Contemporary Ballet's summer intensive program director Meg Paul auditions students for its Detroit intensive, there's one thing that catches her eye for all the wrong reasons. "It's a real pet peeve of mine when a dancer keeps shifting her eyes to me during a phrase," she says. "It tells me that she's not fully invested in the movement, that she's more interested in being watched than in embodying the choreography."

Every summer intensive director has their own list of audition deal-breakers, but there are a handful of universal turnoffs to avoid. "Yes, we want the most talented students, but when talent is paired with a bad attitude or improper etiquette, it gives us pause," Paul says. While certain behaviors may seem minor, they can make all the difference when it comes time for scholarship offers or even acceptance decisions.

DEAL BREAKER #1: Not Presenting Yourself Professionally

An audition is a first impression, and you want to look your best. This begins with researching the specific intensive's audition requirements. "Our audition has a dress code, and we expect dancers to respect that," says Rina Kirshner, director of the Russian American Foundation's Bolshoi Ballet Academy programs. "We want dancers to stand out through hard work and talent, not brightly colored leotards or flowers in their hair."

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