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Colleen Reed and a classmate in rehearsal at The University of Oklahoma. Photo by Noor Eemaan, Courtesy Reed.

When you decided to pursue a dance degree, it was most likely with the intent to join a ballet company after graduation. But college is also a place of self-exploration and discovery—and sometimes your dreams change. While auditioning for companies may seem the natural "next step" for graduating dance majors, a degree can lead to a variety of paths. Here are four recent dance program graduates with four different career goals.

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We've turned our clocks back and pulled out our scarves and hats. That can only mean one thing—winter's coming. And with it, the Prix de Lausanne. After carefully viewing video submissions from 380 dancers (297 girls and 83 boys), the Prix's jury of dance world professionals narrowed the pool down to 69 candidates. With the addition of nine candidates preselected at the Youth American Grand Prix in New York, the International Ballet and Choreography Competition in Beijing and the Prix de Lausanne's South American preselection in Montevideo, a total of 78 total candidates will be making their way to Switzerland in January. Get to know the seven U.S. competitors here, and stay tuned for more updates on the Prix in the coming months.


Finnian Carmeci, School of Oregon Ballet Theatre

Get to know 14-year-old Finnian Carmeci in this video interview from his Portland, Oregon–based school. Though Carmeci didn't start dancing until he was 12, he has focused on his technique and strength building and has skyrocketed through his school's curriculum.


Jordan Coutts, V&T Classical Ballet and Dance Academy

Jordan Coutts trains at V&T Classical Ballet and Dance Academy in Laguna Hills, California. Founders Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky teach a classic Vaganova style.

Here's Coutts in a variation from Paquita at the Moscow International Ballet Competition this summer.

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Ballet Training
Nina Danilova in variations class with a student from City Ballet of Wilmington, NC. Photo Courtesy Danilova.

When Sara Havener was asked to learn a variation from Giselle without following an instructor or DVD, she was taken aback. Nina Danilova, Havener's teacher at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, wanted her to learn it from written text and pictures.

"At first I didn't know what to expect," says Havener, who recently danced with Atlanta Ballet. "I'd never gone into this detailed approach with every step written down." Despite her initial trepidation, Havener soon came to love learning variations this way.

A former Kirov Ballet dancer, Danilova developed her innovative five-step method, which eliminates mimicking teachers, other dancers or DVDs, in 2008. After observing students robotically memorize steps in her own variations class, she was determined to develop a better way to teach them—one that helped dancers discover their artistry. Because they use their mind to connect to the variation from the beginning, much like how an actor discovers a role from a script, they can give depth to and develop their personal interpretation of a role, and feel confident in what they create.

"A dancer's brain is as important as her legs," says Danilova. "A mechanical step is only physical. Ballet is art and needs your heart, emotion, imagination and vision."

Danilova's methodology is gaining adherents from dance teachers in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia, and she recently released a book, Eight Female Classical Ballet Variations, that outlines her method. How does her system work? We break down its five steps below with five professional dancers who studied under Danilova.

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Students at the University of Utah's Department of Ballet summer intensive. Photo by August Miller, Courtesy U of U.

Maura Bell was determined to have a ballet career. But as a high school senior, she didn't feel ready to audition for companies yet. “I knew I had more maturing to do, both technically and as a young woman," she remembers. Bell started researching collegiate options and discovered that Indiana University's ballet department hosted a two-week summer intensive for pre-college students. “The reputation of IU spoke for itself, so I decided to do the summer intensive to get a feel for what it would be like to go there."

The deciding moment came at the end of her second week, when department chair Michael Vernon led her and fellow students on a tour of IU's Musical Arts Center. “I remember standing on that stage—it's the size of the Met— and it just clicked: This was where I wanted to be, my dream school," she recalls. Bell auditioned for the ballet department that fall. Four years later, she credits the training and connections she made at IU with her ultimate post-graduation success: a contract with Saint Louis Ballet.

College summer programs offer students a chance to experience what life would be like as a dance major, and introduce them to a wide range of possibilities for their training and future career. Even those on the fence about going to school could benefit from spending a few weeks on campus—along with the strong focus on individual development, collegiate summer intensives allow students to meet year-round faculty and current dance majors, scope out the dorms and dance facilities, and do some major networking.

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