Are you new to dance? Looking to take your dancing to the next level?
It’s important to find the studio, school, or teacher that’s right for you. As the photo title (right) suggests, behind our goals are our dreams. A dream is an idea and a goal is a destination. What comes between these two are actions, steps taken to reach each goal. In dance, training is a crucial step in the journey from dream to destination. However, one has to be clear about his destination in order to know which steps to take. In other words, your goals will determine which type of training is best for you.
Step 1: Research
In order to figure out your goals it is necessary to look at the all the possibilities. Typically when people think of a career in dance, they are only thinking of a career in performance. And, while many with dance careers do start out there, there are still many other options to consider. I looked hard for a good list – this was one of the more all-encompassing and specific. Because the source is a university, you’ll notice it leaves out large-budget ballet companies (we’ll talk about that later).
Goals Can Change
Now that we recognize that there are possibilities beyond performance, it may be important to point out that there are many paths to any given destination, and that sometimes life takes us down unexpected ones. Goals can change over time either because we change or something forces us to change our direction. No matter where we end up, many dancers begin their journey the same – with lessons in movement at a dance school.
Step 2: Choosing a Training Path
For dancers that begin at a young age, there are generally two types of training offered at most studios/schools in the U.S.,* recreational and pre-professional. A majority of dance studios are recreational in nature. Here, the students can choose from a variety of classes and styles of dance, often with limited focus or time on any one in particular. Pre-professional schools typically have a very strong focus on ballet training and may require 20 or more hours per week of classes (at least half of which are ballet). Some schools manage two tracks at the same time. In this case dancers may begin as young children at the same level but eventually diverge based on interest and aptitude. If you are over the age of 12 or 13, and taking less than 3 hours of ballet per week, you are probably not at a pre-professional school. If that’s disappointing to you, I’ve got good news. Being a student at a recreational school does not mean you cannot eventually perform as a professional dancer. It certainly helps, and if you’d like to be at one of those large -budget ballet companies I mentioned earlier it’s a necessity.
Professional vs. College
In large cities it is sometimes easier than in smaller towns to locate pre-professional instruction. If what you desire most is to dance for a professional ballet company, you may need to make major sacrifices (financial, social, locational convenience) to obtain the needed training and skills. Smaller, regional ballet companies; contemporary or modern dance companies; musical theatre; and commercial dance are typically more open to dancers of varied training backgrounds. Make no mistake, though, one still needs to be very strong in technique and performance to make a living in such a competitive field.
College study is an option for a wide range of dance-related careers if you have a passion for dance. Although outsiders may consider dance a “fluff” major, those that have been through it (myself included) know better. Dance majors at a university not only take hours of technique classes in the studio, but study history, anatomy/kinesiology, teaching/pedagogy, composition, and more on top of spending weeknights and weekends working on choreography, assignments, or rehearsing. I’ve seen many young dancers change their mind about majoring in dance after one year or less in a university program. Most college programs have a strong focus on contemporary or modern dance, although ballet and other forms are still an important part of the curriculum. For many dance jobs, advanced degrees (translation: more years in school) are required (and not a bad idea if you’d like more financial security), and occasionally a dual major is necessary. At any rate, college is a great place to improve, grow, and be exposed to a wide range of dance experiences through intense focus, dedication, and academic study. Many dancers who became professional performers at a young age return to receive a college degree later in order to begin the second phase of their careers.
Recreational Dance and Quality Instruction
Now, I know there is a group of you thinking “I don’t want to be a professional, I just want to have fun dancing!” Many adult beginners fall into this category, too. That’s great! We need more dance enthusiasts out there (it is you that attend shows and support programs)! A recreational studio may be just the place for you. However, don’t forget that it’s still important that you make good choices in finding a studio or teacher. Why? Because not all dance schools offer quality instruction or facilities, which can lead to injury for a dancing novice. Dancing on an improper floor, working on advanced movements without the strength or coordination to back it up, or spending years either overtraining or neglecting certain muscles can lead to chronic (that means long-term) pain or problems in areas like the back, knees, ankles and more. It’s not worth the cute costumes, 12-hour recitals, plastic trophies, or whatever else may entice you. Seek out quality instruction.
I hope that this post has helped you to clarify your aspirations. Setting your goals early is an important step in seeing your dreams realized.
What are your goals in dance? How have they changed as you’ve journeyed on your path? If you are working in dance or otherwise, how does your dance education play a part in your life now?
*I’m writing what I know, there are other sites available that speak to dance education in other countries, here’s one for the UK that has some great info.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.