Admission Denied: What if You Aren't Accepted to a College Dance Program?

February 16, 2021

Caroline Waters didn’t get into Southern Methodist University’s acclaimed dance program after her first audition
—or her second. She was accepted to the university, however, so she went ahead and enrolled, making a deal with her parents that if she didn’t earn a spot in the dance program within a year, she’d return home to Florida to attend an in-state school. “Growing up, I loved competing and I loved proving people wrong,” Waters says. “I really felt like SMU was where I was supposed to be.” She auditioned twice more as a freshman, and the fourth time was the charm. Waters is now a senior, double-majoring in dance performance and journalism while minoring in English.

If you’ve got your heart set on a college dance program, and you aren’t accepted, it can feel like your dreams have hit a brick wall. But in reality, you still have a lot of options—and reauditioning is only one of them. Here’s how to move forward after an audition setback.

Should You Audition Again?

If the program you’re interested in holds multiple auditions a year, and you’re a high school senior with months before
you have to commit, you really have nothing to lose by trying out again, if allowed. Perhaps you weren’t feeling great at the first audition, or your nerves got the best of you. Going in fresh—and with more experience—could make all the difference.

It’s trickier if audition season is over, and you have to make a decision ASAP. To choose between your dream school (where you didn’t get into the dance program) and a safety school (the sure thing), “think about where your priorities lie,” advises Ilana Goldman, BFA program director at Florida State University’s School of Dance. “Do you feel strongly about being a dance major? Would you be OK attending the same school and not majoring in dance? I would never recommend having the hope of becoming a major be your only reason for choosing a school.” If you truly love the university, you could gamble on a late admission to the dance program, as Waters did. If you’re determined to major in dance, head elsewhere.

For 2020 graduate Maria Angelica Garcia, FSU was her only plan. “When I initially wasn’t accepted into the dance program, it took a huge toll on me,” she admits. Still, she was set on the university, so she enrolled as a psychology major. She ended up auditioning for the School of Dance again at the end of her first semester. That time, she got in.

Freshman-year success stories like Garcia’s and Waters’ are inspiring, but they’re not the norm. To gauge your chances, ask for feedback from the adjudicators. They can tell you where you fell short—or give you a reality check. “I don’t believe in stringing students along,” says Christopher Dolder, chair of dance at SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts. “If someone’s not the right fit, I can recommend another avenue.”

Maria Angelia Garcia poses in a deep lunge. She stands on relevu00e9, one arm extended behind her, leaning back to face up towards the ceiling. She wears white socks, green shorts, and a white tank top, with her hair slicked in a bun.
Initially, Maria Angelica Garcia wasn’t accepted to Florida State University’s dance program—but she persevered. (Ryker Laramore, courtesy Florida State University)

Should You Dance Without Majoring in It?

Dance majors and minors are structured paths of study designed to deepen your training while broadening your horizons. But usually, students admitted to the dance department aren’t the only ones with access to dance-department classes. At SMU, nonmajors can take ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and musical theater. At FSU, nonmajor classes are taught by graduate students and include ballet, contemporary, jazz, and a rotating series based on current grad students’ areas of expertise (past
offerings: ballroom, capoeira, African diasporic forms, contact improvisation,
hip hop, and tap). If you aren’t accepted into a dance degree program, you may
find that nonmajor offerings are enough to keep you on your toes.

Performance opportunities for nonmajors will vary from school to school. You might be allowed to try out for faculty, student, and guest choreographer work, or only for student pieces. Whatever is permitted for nonmajors, take advantage of it. For Garcia, auditioning to perform as a nonmajor helped her get her foot in the door. Her first semester at FSU, she was chosen for two pieces, an end-of-year concert work, and an MFA thesis. “Working with people inside the department in rehearsals boosted my confidence,” she says.

And remember that there’s more out there than what’s listed in the dance department course catalog. Investigate student-run groups, which might include dance teams and cultural dance troupes. If you have an interest that isn’t represented on campus, you can petition the administration to start a new club. You can also look into outside organizations, like local dance schools; Waters trained at a Dallas studio during the semester she wasn’t dancing on campus at SMU. Dance programs lay out a path for you to follow, but there’s nothing wrong with charting your own course.

A Bit of Perspective

Applying to colleges is stressful. When a school requires an audition to join its dance program, that stress only increases. But plenty of respected dance programs audition for class placement and scholarship consideration, rather than for entry. At these schools, as long as you complete the course requirements for the major or minor, you’ll earn your dance degree. So, if you have to look beyond your top choice, don’t think of it as settling. As Waters puts it, “Your dream school can change.”

A failed audition isn’t the end of the road—even if it’s the end of one particular journey. “The dance industry is so wide. There are so many different opportunities,” says Garcia. “Don’t give up. There is a place for you in the dance world.