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

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

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2016 issue of Pointe.

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."

Latest Posts


Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

2020 Stars of the Corps: 10 Dancers Making Strides In and Out of the Spotlight

The corps de ballet make up the backbone of every company. In our Fall 2020 issue, we highlighted 10 ensemble standouts to keep your eye on. Click on their names to learn more!

Dara Holmes, Joffrey Ballet

A male dancer catches a female dancer in his right arm as she wraps her left arm around his shoulder and executes a high arabesque on pointe. Both wear white costumes and dance in front of a blue backdrop onstage.

Dara Holmes and Edson Barbosa in Myles Thatcher's Body of Your Dreams

Cheryl Mann, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet

Wanyue Qiao, American Ballet Theatre

Wearing a powder blue tutu, cropped light yellow top and feather tiara, Wanyue Qiao does a piqu\u00e9 retir\u00e9 on pointe on her left leg and pulls her right arm in towards her.

Wanyue Qiao as an Odalisque in Konstantin Sergeyev's Le Corsaire

Gene Schiavone, Courtesy ABT

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson, Houston Ballet

Three male dancers in tight-fitting, multicolored costumes stand in positions of ascending height from left to right. All extend their right arms out in front of them.

Joshua Guillemot-Rodgerson (far right) with Saul Newport and Austen Acevedo in Oliver Halkowich's Following

Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet

Leah McFadden, Colorado Ballet

Wearing a white pixie wig and a short light-pink tunic costume, a female ballet dancer poses in attitude front on pointe with her left arm bent across her ribs and her right hand held below her chin.

Leah McFadden as Amour in Colorado Ballet's production of Don Quixote

Mike Watson, Courtesy Colorado Ballet

Maria Coelho, Tulsa Ballet

Maria Coelho and Sasha Chernjavsky in Andy Blankenbuehler's Remember Our Song

Kate Lubar, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

Alexander Reneff-Olson, San Francisco Ballet

A ballerina in a black feathered tutu stands triumphantly in sous-sus, holding the hand of a male dancer in a dark cloak with feathers underneath who raises his left hand in the air.

Alexander Reneff-Olson (right) as Von Rothbart with San Francisco Ballet principal Yuan Yuan Tan in Swan Lake

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

India Bradley, New York City Ballet

Wearing a blue dance dress with rhinestone embellishments and a sparkly tiara, India Bradley finishes a move with her arms out to the side and hands slightly flexed.

India Bradley practices backstage before a performance of Balanchine's Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2.

Erin Baiano, Courtesy NYCB

Bella Ureta, Cincinnati Ballet

Wearing a white dress with pink corset, Bella Ureta does a first arabesque on pointe in front of an onstage stone wall.

Bella Ureta performs the Act I Pas de Trois in Kirk Peterson's Swan Lake

Hiromi Platt, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Alejándro Gonzales, Oklahoma City Ballet

Dressed in a green bell-boy costume and hat, Alejandro Gonz\u00e1lez does a saut\u00e9 with his left leg in retir\u00e9 and his arms in a long diagonal from right to left. Other dancers in late 19-century period costumes watch him around the stage.

Alejandro González in Michael Pink's Dracula at Oklahoma City Ballet.

Kate Luber, Courtesy Oklahoma City Ballet

Nina Fernandes, Miami City Ballet

Wearing a long white tutu and crown, Nina Fernandes does a saut de chat in front of a wintery backdrop as snow falls from the top of the stage.

Nina Fernandes in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker

Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet

Quinn Wharton

Pacific Northwest Ballet's Angelica Generosa Shares Her Classic, Comfy Style In and Out of the Studio

"I love the feeling and look of effortless fashion," says Angelica Generosa. Preferring a classic style, the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist keeps her wardrobe stocked with blazers. But they serve a practical purpose, too. "It tends to get chilly in Seattle, so it's the perfect accessory for layering," Generosa explains.

She's also quite fond of designer handbags. "They're my go-to accessory, and they're also my weakness when shopping," she says, naming Chloé, Chanel and Dior as some of her favorite brands. "I really appreciate the craftsmanship it takes to produce one—they're so beautiful and each has its own story, in a way."

In the studio, Generosa prioritizes comfort, and she'll change up her look depending on the repertoire (leotards and tutus for classical works, breathable shirts with workout pants for contemporary). But she always arrives to work in style. "I really love putting together outfits for even just going to the studio," she says. "It's another way of expressing my mood and what kind of vibe I'm going for that day."

The Details: Street

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue blazer, white blouse and gray jeans, is photographed from underneath as she walks and looks to the right.

Quinn Wharton

BCBG blazer: "It has some shoulder pads and a really cool pattern," says Generosa. "It reminds me of my mom and '80s fashion."

Zara blouse: She incorporate neutrals, like this white satin button-up, to balance bright pops of colors.

Angelica Generosa looks off to her right in front of a glass-windowed building. She wears a blue blazer, white blouse, gray jeans and carries a small green handbag.

Quinn Wharton

Madewell jeans: Comfort is a major factor for Generosa, who gets her fashion inspiration from her mom, friends and people she comes across day to day.

Chloé bag: "I tend to have smaller purses because I'm quite small. Bigger bags overwhelm me sometimes—unless it's my dance bag, of course!"

The Details: Studio

Angleica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool leggings and pink pointe shoes, balances in a lunge on pointe with her left leg in front, facing a wall of windows.

Quinn Wharton

Label Dancewear leotard: "This was designed by my good friend Elizabeth Murphy, a principal dancer here at PNB. Her leotards always fit me really well."

Mirella leggings: "I get cold easily," says Generosa, who wears leggings and vests to stay warm throughout the day.

Angelica Generosa, wearing a blue tank leotard, black wool tights and pink pointe shoes, jumps and crosses her right foot over her left shin while lifting her arms up to the right.

Quinn Wharton

Freed of London pointe shoes: "When sewing them, I crisscross my elastics and use an elasticized ribbon from Body Wrappers," which helps alleviate Achilles tendon issues, she says. She then trims the satin off of the tip of the shoe. "Then I bend the shank a bit to loosen it up and cut a bit off where my arch is."

Getty Images

This New "Nutcracker" Competition Wants Your Dance Studio to be Part of a Virtual Collaboration

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks