Ballet Careers

Company Life: Dancers Getting a Head Start on College

Mori as Snow Queen in The Nutcrakcer. Photo by Kelly Pratt Photography, courtesy Saint. Louis Ballet.

Upon high school graduation, dancers are often forced to choose between going to college or pursuing a career right away. Since a dancer's professional life is short, many who put school on hold plan to eventually go back. But with more options than ever before—from online degree programs to night classes to college programs developed solely for dancers—it is becoming much easier to pursue a degree while performing professionally. Rather than wait until retirement, many dancers are getting a head start on their education now. Three dedicated professionals explain what they've gained by going back to school, and how they've made it happen.


Tiffany Mori as Juliette. Courtesy Saint Louis Ballet.


Tiffany Mori, Saint Louis Ballet

University of Missouri—St. Louis

Four years into her ballet career, Saint Louis Ballet company member Tiffany Mori began her college career with a community college online course. “My dad was a professor, so college was always a thing in my mind even though I thought I would never go," says Mori. From that first class, Mori began to chip away at her general education requirements until she reached her community college limit. She was fascinated by chemistry, so her science professor suggested she transfer to University of Missouri—St. Louis, which offers a unique night program for science majors. (“Organic chemistry labs take five hours," explains Mori.) The program allowed her to do two incongruous things: dance during the day and go to the lab at night, sometimes from 6–11 pm.

Time management was key to balancing both worlds. Getting up early and going to a coffee shop before rehearsals helped her knock out homework. She'd also study during rehearsal breaks and during downtime in the lab. “I really liked going into class, being able to meet the professor and have colleagues at school, to learn their stories and lives," says Mori. But having to be physically present in classes required that she speak to her professors in advance about her theater-week schedules and go to office hours to put in extra time for classes she missed.

Although her schedule was grueling, Mori found the change of pace between company and campus life refreshing. “I would go into the studio in the morning very motivated and focused because of my different life at night," says Mori. Four and a half years later, she graduated with a BS in chemistry, and while she hasn't figured out her next career path, she hopes to find internships that will accommodate her rigorous schedule and perhaps enroll in graduate school as she continues to dance.

Alexandra Pullen, Freelance dancer

Arizona State University Online

A couple of years ago, Alexandra Pullen found herself caught in the web of company drama and casting disappointments. “I needed to find some balance," explains Pullen, who formerly danced with Colorado Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. She found that college courses were the perfect place to funnel her excess energy, allowing her to explore new subjects easily within the confines of her demanding schedule.

She enrolled in Arizona State University's online degree program as an English major, and takes two condensed, seven-and-a-half-week courses back to back every semester. Pullen dedicates an hour or two every day to school so that she doesn't have to catch up all weekend. “Normally after rehearsal, I go to a coffee shop and work until 8 or 9 pm," she says.

All of her classes are online, but ASU provides an advisor for over-the-phone check-ins and tutoring. “I still have deadlines and due dates," she says, “but it's more realistic with my schedule. I travel a lot." Overall she finds the school to be accommodating and supportive. Plus, college has helped her find a more positive mind-set in the studio.

“I always thought I would dance until I couldn't stand up, but now I might explore other careers before I'm crippled," jokes Pullen. Last summer, she did an internship at Los Angeles Magazine during her layoff, and while she doesn't necessarily want to sit at a desk all day, she's happy to have opportunities to gain more communication and business skills.


Pullen in La Sylphide. Courtesy Colorado Ballet.

Julia Rowe, San Francisco Ballet

St. Mary's College of California, LEAP Program

“It's important for an artist to have outside influences and understand things beyond the world of ballet," says San Francisco Ballet soloist Julia Rowe about her decision to start college. She recently applied to the LEAP program, a national BA-degree program affiliated with St. Mary's College of California, in which many of her colleagues were enrolled. The program, which offers a mix of in-person and online classes, was built around the demands of professional dancers. Students typically meet for four hours of classes on Sunday evenings in order to complete the 10 core courses offered by LEAP. Credits are also given for dance experience, life experience and outside accreditations, including Pilates certifications. Other general education and minor requirements (LEAP only offers a BA in dance) can be obtained through independent study, online courses or at a local community college or university.

Though it requires a little planning, Rowe has found the degree of commitment required to be minimal when compared to a more traditional college route. Dancers can move through the program at their own pace, with some finishing in under four years and others requiring a little more time.

Rowe is only a few classes in, but she's having fun daydreaming about what she may do when she retires. “I want to learn German, I love sports medicine, I love arts management," says Rowe. She's found LEAP's kinesiology course particularly fascinating, and directly applicable to her life in the studio. “I want to eventually be able to use all the years I've had in professional dance in another field."


Julia Rowe in class. Courtesy San Francisco Ballet.

Show Comments ()
Trending
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's June/July 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Ballet Stars
Jacques d'Amboise and Adrian Danchig-Waring in conversation at the National Dance Institute. Photo Courtesy NDI.

"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Courtesy Soffe, Dicsount Dance Supply, Danskin. LeaMarie leotard photographed by Jayme Thornton

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joffrey Ballet dancers Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez in "Giselle." Photo Courtesy Spring to Dance Festival.

For the first time since its inception 11 years ago, Dance St. Louis' annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival — May 25 and 26 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center — will be curated by someone other than festival founder Michael Utoff. That job fell to newly hired programming consultant Terence Marling.

Hailed as "arguably the best dance buffet in the Midwest" by the Chicago Tribune, the popular festival is known for championing lesser-known regional dance artists and companies. It will retain that focus under Marling, along with representation by more familiar names such as Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Marling's former company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

La Fille Mal Gardée, or in English "The Wayward Daughter," is one of the oldest story ballets still in modern repertoire. The tale's enduring magic lies in themes of youth, following your heart and true love, along with playful bits of entertainment, like the clog dance and ribbon pas de deux. As Lise, Russian-born ballerina Valentina Kozlova captures the character's spirited innocence. Dancing alongside her as her beloved Colas is Chris Jensen, star of Switzerland's Basel Ballet. This clip of their ribbon pas de deux from Basel Ballet's 1986 film is as lighthearted and charming as it is technically brilliant.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I'm 15 and want to be a professional ballet dancer. I have ballet five times a week, contemporary once a week and rehearsals year-round. It is 15 to 20 hours a week. When I hear about dancers doing 30-plus hours a week, I worry that I dance too little. Is my schedule enough? —Caroline

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!