Want a career as a professional dancer? Consider going to college

Published October 11th, 2013

The mindset of so many young, aspiring professional dancers is this— if you go to college, you won't make it as a professional dancer.   There are many paths to a dance career, and now you can have it all: the college degree, the college experience, AND a professional career.

One recent student, who I counseled, agonized over the right path and ultimately decided to take a contract with Louisville Ballet straight out of high school. She had been accepted to several prestigious dance programs at the collegiate level, but packed her bags for Louisville.  (She was offered college deferment for one year; another generous allowance that some colleges offer.)

The truth? Part of her crashed and burned. Being thrown into the tumultuous world of professional ballet at such a young, fragile age was an overwhelming experience. A handful of dancers at Louisville Ballet went to college before joining the company, and my advisee recently revealed to me that she thinks these dancers were more stable, emotionally and physically.

So go to college first, and after graduation, become a professional dancer.

Here is why:

1. Take Time to Mature

Let's face it. At 18 years old, you're young. It might not feel like it, but the truth is you have years of life experience to gather under your belt that will directly influence you as an artist and dancer. Part of maturing as a dancer is maturing a person. So why not take three to four short years to gather some of that life experience without the extremely nerve-wracking environment of a professional company? Not to mention, the whole house parties, late night study cram sessions, and choreographing up into the wee hours of the night with your   friends are awesome experiences that you won't have without college.

2. Pursue Other Interests

Although a professional dance career may be in your future, that doesn't mean that will be your only career for the rest of your life. Different universities with Dance BFA Programs can also offer you courses or degrees in Choreography, Dance Administration, Dance Pedagogy, and Physical Therapy. And here's a thought, you can also pursue a different passion as well--maybe Fiction, Women Studies, Advertising, Biology....

Cherylyn Lavagnino, the NYU Co-Chair Department of Dance, first received a BA in Philosophy at USC followed by a MFA in Dance from NYU.

3. In A Hurry? Three Year Programs

If you still want the college experience but are itching to get out there into the real world, look into BFA Dance programs that have a three-year option. Or, make a four-year program into a three-year program. Take on a full load and look into summer school/ winter term to fit everything into three years.

4. Training and World Class Faculty

Training does continue in the university setting, which is not the case with companies. There's a stigma floating around that "college dancers" have a sloppy look. And while yes, some college dancers might not have the finesse of a professional dancer, the truth of the matter is, once you get thrown into the professional world, the majority of your training stops. The days of constant personal attention and specific notes and corrections are over. College on the other hand, is an option that allows you to continue your training with world-class faculty.

5. Choreography and Collaboration

You'll get to perform things that you'll have to wait years to perform with a company. Build your repertoire and collaborate with other students who are artists, actors, designers, and musicians.  Think you'll be performing principal roles as a trainee in a company? Think again. In college you can develop as a dancer in prime roles expanding your repertoire.  You will learn up and coming choreography,  as you learn how to work with a variety of choreographers and partners.

In conclusion...

Yo Yo Ma, Grammy award winning American cellist with a multi-faceted career, recently gave a speech at the Kennedy Center called “Art for Life’s Sake.”  He emphasized that experts say there are four qualities needed in students and inside the workforce:  collaborative, flexible, imaginative and innovative.  Dancers wanting a professional career in dance have the perfect platform to develop these skills in a college environment.  So pursue your dream to dance professionally by launching your career in college!


Julie Harrison received her Bachelor of Art’s and Master’s degrees in Music. With a lifelong love for ballet and musical theatre, Julie also earned an Associate’s Degree in Musical Theatre while simultaneously continuing her ballet pedagogy and obtaining a Pilates certification

Julie has experience as both the parent of a dancer, and as a consultant for admissions to college dance BFA programs. She offers expert guidance through the audition process for professional ballet companies, and dance BFA programs.

She joins collegeauditioncoach.com as a consultant for dance, and musical theatre majors. For professional guidance on dance BFA program applications and auditions, or assistance with your dance prescreen, contact us for a consultation at collegeauditioncoach.com. And when it's time to start applying, sign up with Acceptd.

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