It can be difficult to know whether pursuing a degree in dance is the right move. I’d like to look at a few perspectives to help you navigate this question.
Major in Dance
Those who decide to declare a major in dance will prioritize dance courses and follow a systematic flow designed by the department. This will consist of daily technique classes as well as additional courses in improvisation, composition, pedagogy, dance history, dance seminar (career building and other miscellaneous topics), and a wide range of other classes, depending on the school. Dance majors are usually required to attend guest artist workshops and often must participate in a certain number of auditions and perform in a number of shows. This varies widely from school to school. Often, dance majors are required to complete a capstone or senior project that tend to be focused on choreography and performance. For example, with a “dance studio management” track, I was required to create two dances for my senior capstone and write a business plan for a future dance school. I had the option of performing, which I decided to do, though wasn’t required for a non-performance track major. On the other hand, the performance track majors had to create a solo on themselves and a group piece in addition to some form of writing project. Performance was mandatory for graduation.
Some people decide to double major, which means declaring two majors and pursuing both with the same priority. In some cases the school will offer companion studies that allow a dance major to fluidly pursue two majors, while other majors are not as compatible with dance. Another option to consider is pursuing a dance major and minoring in another subject. I was able to major in dance with a “dance studio management” track, which required that I minor in either business or management. The major/minor duo seems to be a bit easier as it is less coursework to complete. Having two majors complement each other also adds to the ease
Many dance companies are now requiring their performers to have completed a degree in dance due to the vast amount of education and outreach programs that are required to maintain grants. Also, not all great dancers become great teachers, which is why I think this preference has become more common.
Minor in Dance
A minor in dance also varies widely from school to school. Dance minors may or may not be required to perform, but would be required to take technique classes. There might be more flexibility here in terms of elective courses that could be tailored to a students particular interests. For example, if the student wants to run a dance school in the future or work as a freelance performer, a marketing major with a dance minor might be a combination that would work well together.
It is also an option for dancers to choose not to go to college right away and start auditioning. I see this happening for commercial dancers wanting to move to LA and start networking and auditioning, particularly for touring musicians and videos. I also see this happen for ballet dancers, whose careers tend to have a younger range (professional careers can start as young as 16). Often these dancers find their way back to school in later years, once the performance work becomes too difficult for the body or the dancer decides to find a new opportunity. A friend of mine, Dana Caspersen, started her career young, without attending college. She danced with Ballet Frankfurt for the majority of her career and only recently retired in her 50’s. Dana received her first masters degree in dance without needing an undergraduate degree due to her extensive performance history. Once she obtained her first master's degree, she was able to get her second in conflict studies. She now travels the world as a conflict mediator and public dialogue organizer and uses her knowledge of choreography to intersect the two.
Every path is SO different. There typically isn’t a right or wrong way to do it, the hardest part is deciding. I find that the majority of students these days fare better by attending college. It’s a great buffer period where students can build credentials, by working with faculty and guest artists to develop their network. This can create a stronger foundation for the dancer to work professionally upon graduation. However, some performers are not gifted at school work and can find the rigor of college courses to be unfitting. Students who are driven and have thick-skin are best apt to deal with the hardships, pressure, rejection, and work that it takes for a dancer to take off straight into a professional career. In any path, it is always great to develop a strong network of teachers, mentors, and peers. Most career opportunities come from recommendations as directors and choreographers don’t want to take risks on people that they don’t know. So be kind, be curious, and NEVER burn bridges! You never know who will help you get a gig! Remember, rejection comes with the territory. There is no shame in pursuing the job that you desire. Most dancers don’t get their dream job upon first audition. It takes time and hard work to build relationships. So stay consistent and authentic to yourself. Present your best self from a genuine heart and your path will be steered in the right direction for you.
If you want to know more about this topic, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a mentorship session (for students and parents) or a seminar (for studios and organizations). I am happy to speak with you or your group about carving pathways for the future! I am here to help. Stay curious!
Jodie Randolph is a choreographer and dance educator based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is a recent graduate of Jacksonville University where she received her MFA in Choreography and director of Jodie Randolph Dance.