Preprofessional Dancers… Job or College?

It’s time to choose a path

By Julie Friedrich, Associate Director for College and Career Programs

Upon graduation from high school, dancers are often forced to choose between going to college and pursuing a job at the professional level. A career in dance is short and often begins at a young age, some choose to put college on hold and wait until after their career is over to begin a college education. But, in today’s world, there are many viable options for dancers wanting to become professional performers. More and more dancers are choosing to educate themselves first while still dancing, and then make the leap into the professional world after completing their BFA or BA. In the end, each dancer must choose the best path to meet their own goals and satisfy their own welfare. There are so many pros and cons to consider on this subject. Our goal is to equip students and parents with information so that they can choose the path that best suits them as an individual and embrace the opportunities that come their way.

The Pro Argument for Attending College

It is imperative to understand why a dance degree at the BFA or BA level is of great benefit.  An undergraduate degree, or even a graduate degree if one so chooses, is extremely beneficial to have in today’s workforce, whether or not you choose to perform professionally.  To teach in all academic and university settings; to educate, choreograph, direct, the list goes on and on, you will be required to show that you have a degree.

Of course there are always exceptions to the rule, but a very large majority of working artists do have a college education in their art field. In reality, it is very rare for students graduating from high school to go immediately into a company. In the ballet world this happens occasionally, and in the contemporary world this rarely ever occurs at all. I’ve seen it happen, but after over ten years of teaching, I can count those students who have successfully made that transition on one hand.

Going to school at the collegiate arts level exposes you to so many areas of the art form that you may have never known existed. You will not only be exposed to advanced-level dance performance, but also the history of dance, the composition of dance, leadership in dance, the business of dance, the music of dance, the health of one’s body in dance, and much more.

Success in the art world comes in the form of persistence, luck, and connections. While in an undergraduate program, you will make a number of connections to choreographers and directors who will become an integral part of your career. The faculty and director of your program can connect you with the world of professional dance upon graduation. The more personal connections you have, the greater your chances are of having a lifelong career in the dance world.

As dancers, we are athletes, so we also need to be aware that incidents can happen that damage our instrument – our body. We must have an education and another skill set to use and fall back on if or/when that time comes. A degree in any field, at any level, has merit and worth, and will likely open the necessary doors you will need. The first thing managers do when hiring employees is glance at their resume, and immediately they will look at what college you attended, what degree or degrees you have received, and the experiences you had while earning that degree.

Christina Bodie, graduate of the Juilliard School says: “I was not a mature enough dancer to join a company directly after high school. I needed those four years to develop my artistry and to discover where I would be best suited for in the dance world. For me as a young dancer, college was essential. I developed skills at Julliard that have served me to this day. So many doors have opened in my life thanks to my Julliard degree.”

The Flipside – Should You Jump Right Into Your Dance Career?

The dance scene is shifting rapidly – much has changed even within the last five years. The reality is that with all of the amazing collegiate programs, students are now more than ever gaining employment at a greater rate upon graduation from college versus graduation from high school. Directors of dance companies – both ballet and contemporary – along with commercial choreographers, now look to college programs and college directors when seeking out dancers. In order to make dance a lifelong career, if you should choose to do so, you’ll need a strong education behind you to make a lasting impact and to have enduring success. Our bodies as dancers will only last so long, but our minds and our knowledge will last a lifetime. Education is key.

If an opportunity presents itself to enter into the professional performance world upon graduation from high school, then by all means you must consider taking it. There is always the possibility of going back to school at a later time or attending college online while dancing in a company. Maintaining that double schedule can be tricky, but with strong time management-skills and focus, it can work. There are a million different routes to a rewarding dance career; you just have to find the one that is best suited to you and trust your instincts. It is also true that a great education is a part of almost every rewarding career.

Still on the Fence as to Which Path You Should Choose?

We encourage you to speak to your studio directors and teachers, seek out a mentor, or at the very least do your research so that you are equipped with the information that you need in order to make sure that you are on the right track to accomplish your goals. As always, the staff here at Francisco Gella Dance Works is committed to empowering students and parents with the information that they need in order to make decisions about the future of their dance career. Join us for our live Q&A Monday, February 4th, at 6:00 PM PST for an in-depth discussion as we weigh-in on this topic.