Dancers Educational Choices and College Path

Dancers Educational Choices and College Path

Students studying dance should not consider education a backup plan in case a performance career does not work out. Having a broad awareness of the world, literature, history, and other subjects allows a deeper understanding and empathy when performing stories or expressing emotions.

All students in this country benefit from a high-school degree. For most people, college-level learning is just as important. Reluctant college students often point to the few millionaires or movie stars who succeeded without an education—“few” being the operative word.

The performing part of a dancer’s career is brief. Having a job and a chance in the dance business is just that—a chance. You can make the best of it, succumb to the harsh reality of the business, suffer a career-ending injury, experience a change of heart, or change career goals for any number of other reasons.

Careers in dance can span anywhere from a couple of years to several decades. The average length of a performing dancer’s career is about seven years. A variety of full-time careers associated with dance may arise after a performance career has ended, but these careers are not abundant and are highly sought after.

Professional dancers are the lucky ones—lucky to have been chosen for the job out of the tens of thousands of dance students across the country (and around the world). By conventional wisdom, only about 1 or 2 percent of these students actually dance professionally. With that in mind, a solid academic education is essential.


Teachers or directors may tell you how talented your child is and how, with more time, they could do so much more for that child. They may do everything but guarantee a successful career in dance, if only you will pull the child out of school to allow for more studio time. You could homeschool them or have them finish high school online.

No one except the director of a company or production can guarantee your child a job. Even then, the director must have a written contract available when your student is ready for the job. And remember, contracts are for a specific period of time and do not renew automatically. Each year, a new crop of students audition for a relatively few positions as professional dancers.

Homeschooling is a huge responsibility for parents. If you are planning to homeschool your child, by all means continue that plan, but do not take it lightly or enter into it without considerable planning, discussion, and preparation.

Other Options

Options besides homeschooling are available for dance students whose school and dance class schedules conflict. For those who can afford it, private schools may accommodate a heavy study and performance schedule. Charter schools, a free option, are available throughout the country. Many cities have either satellite or charter schools that specifically design their academic schedules to allow study of the performing arts.

In a school setting, even at an arts school, all teachers, including math, English, and history teachers, expect their students, even budding artists, to master the skills required by the course. The students may have stars in their eyes, but the teachers keep their feet on the ground.

For the dedicated high-school student of ballet who does not have access to advanced study in his or her city or town, the United States contains a few boarding schools that combine ballet instruction and high-school education. A student goes through an audition process for acceptance into the program. Some of these programs offer scholarships or help with tuition. These programs have a proven record and the oversight and supervision of a boarding school.

College Opportunities

Dance careers and college education are emphatically not mutually exclusive. There are a variety of ways to follow the path and achieve both.

If your child receives a paying job or company contract after high school, that is a good indication that he or she has a strong chance in the business. It is not, however, a do-or-die time. Many dancers have successful careers in dance after completing a college degree. A student who may want a bit more training, or who is not emotionally ready to tackle the business world, is better off waiting until he or she can navigate and enjoy a career.

University dance programs looking for faculty will recognize the importance of life experience, particularly if the applicant reached the soloist level in a nationally or internationally recognized company, but they prefer or require that most applicants have a college degree.

Students can pursue college at an unhurried but consistent pace to accommodate the fast pace of a dance career. Depending on location, your child may be able to take classes on campus or online. The key to successfully completing a college degree is to choose a school that is properly accredited. That way, most, if not all, classes a student completes may be applied toward a degree regardless of whether the student stays in that school or transfers to another one.

Many modern dancers began their serious training in either liberal arts or fine arts/conservatory college programs, which often offer students a range of experiences with techniques, choreography, and repertory with guest artists.

In many instances, professionals who went to college programs to teach have set choreography on the students or formed companies with the student dancers with whom they enjoyed working. College students might also receive invitations to summer programs.

College programs frequently offer a variety of training experiences and learning opportunities that a dancer would not receive in the professional world. Opportunities to study choreography and to choreograph; to study kinesiology, physiology, and anatomy; and to learn teaching methods to take into the studio are just some of the benefits of a college education.

Fordham University in New York City opened a satellite campus at Lincoln Center that offers professional dancers academic classes specifically scheduled around company classes, rehearsals, and performances.

When dancers are on hiatus, they may also attend college-level classes, assuming there is a university in the town where they live; otherwise, online classes are available. They may take general education classes at community or two-year colleges, often for less money than they would pay at a four-year university. Again, make sure the college or online degree program is fully accredited to ensure that the credits earned will transfer to a four-year college and that the degree earned is meaningful.

Many high schools offer testing that allow a student to earn credit toward their college degree if the scores are high enough. This can allow a student to enter college as a second-semester freshman or even a sophomore, adding another advantage to finishing a high-school education.