A Guide to Ballet After High School

In the movie, “The Red Shoes”, a ballerina’s life is depicted as a solitary one. Love for the art is all consuming, leaving no room for human love — much less a four year bachelor’s degree program! But times have changed, and nowadays a ballet dancer is faced with a tough choice: Go to college and dance, or go straight into a company?

There used to be no choice at all. Dancers wanting to join the professional track and have a ballet career always went into companies straight out of high school. College was put off till after retirement (if attended at all). With medical advances that allow dancers to pirouette at a higher age, companies are starting to look favorably upon college trained ballerinas.

If you’re struggling with the decision of whether or not to go to college immediately after high school, check out the pointers listed in this guide.

Hot Tip: Sleek Search

Check out our “Studio” tab at the top of the page for college programs that are geared toward the ballet lover, ranging from beginning ballerina to prima pre-professional! 

Consider Renowned Dancing Institutions

If you’re looking to join a professional ballet company, consider renowned colleges with dance majors. Why? Because programs such as Indiana University and State University of New York at Purchase are connected with professional companies. A pre-professional ballet dancer can expect to make great connections and get solid training while there.

Even if you aren’t looking to join a first-tier ballet company, visit the programs associated with companies that turn out great dancers. Some double by offering amazing academics and teaching certifications as well!

Pick Your Major

For those seeking a professional career in ballet, it may seem obvious to go with a Dance or Ballet Emphasis major in college. But don’t limit yourself! If you have other interests you’d like to pursue, ask the academic and dance counselors about combining majors or getting a double major. In many cases, this will allow you to get dance training, while also providing solid training for a career in another field.

Dancers who aren’t looking to go pro after college should also discuss major options with the dance department. Many college dance programs — specifically those with strong ballet departments — require students to be a dance major or minor in order to take their classes. If you want to dance in college, but don’t want to get your major or minor in dance, do your research! Make sure this is a viable option.

Hot Tip: Half Credit Card

Many dance programs prohibit non-major/minor students from taking their full-time dance program classes… but the same professors often provide open classes as well. These classes usually have a reduced credit value (as they do not go toward a dance major or minor). However, they’re the same length and intensity as a dance major’s class, and are a great option for an academic major who still wants to dance regularly.

Talk to Companies & Audition

Wanting to join a company doesn’t mean you have to do it at 16 or 21. It all depends on which company you want to dance with, what their requirements are, and how you fit in (regarding both technique and personality).

Before you make a decision about college, talk to your dream companies first. Try auditioning for companies you want to dance with and see what happens; regardless if you’re considering college first or not. Talk to the director and ask about the company’s view on a dancer’s age/training. Are they looking more for moldable and young dancers, or mature and experienced ones? Getting these answers will help you make an informed decision on what you want to do.

Talk to Dancers

Talk to professional ballet dancers and college students alike. Visit a college dance program or sit in on a rehearsal at the local ballet company. Either way, talking to fellow dancers can give you insight into your goals and how to reach them.

When speaking with college students who look to become ballet dancers, ask about the training they’re getting, how they decided to go to college, and what their goals are. These are all questions you probably have yourself, and they can likely answer them for you.

Make sure to talk to a few professional dancers, preferably ones who are still relatively young. Ask them what they went through, if they went to college, and their opinions on the subject. While no one should make this decision for you, it can be helpful to talk about it and see how these dancers ended up where you want to be.

Get Unique

If you don’t want to become a professional ballet dancer, but want to keep dancing through college, check out a variety of dance programs. Almost every college has a dance department, ranging from the huge and prestigious to the tiny and supportive.

One advantage of not being on the professional track is that you have the choice and freedom to experiment with new styles of dance! Try sitting in (or rather, dancing in) on classes at colleges you’re interested in — even if you’ve never tried the particular style of dance before. You may find yourself surprised by how much you enjoy it, and thus also find your balance between dance and academia!

Search for Success

Finding a college that is supportive of both pre-professional and recreational dancers can be tough, but don’t give up! Keep looking, and try classes out until you find the perfect college for you. Remember that even if you choose a college that isn’t a perfect fit, you’re not stuck. You can always chance your mind and transfer!

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