Dance Degrees Zero In: 11 Style-Specific College Dance Programs
With a growing emphasis on specialized training, many colleges are offering concentrated degrees within the overall dance major, focused on preparing dancers for very specific aspects of the industry—from ballet to ballroom to commercial. DS rounded up some of the hottest programs with hyper-focused degree tracks.
For Broadway Hopefuls
Oklahoma City University
Oklahoma City, OK
OCU is one of the premier college dance programs for musical theater enthusiasts. After two years of triple-threat classes, students can select a performance-focused track. Senior Tanner Pflueger, who starred in London’s Billy Elliot from 2008–2009, chose OCU because “as a young performer, I didn’t understand everything that goes into being on Broadway,” Pflueger explains. “I now have hands-on experience in both production and performance.”
Notable alumni: Sasha Hutchings (Hamilton), Gabrielle Ruiz (In the Heights, A Chorus Line national tour, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” on The CW), 45+ Radio City Rockettes
Point Park University students in Sonya Tayeh’s It Passes (Jeff Swenson, courtesy PPU)
Point Park University
“At Point Park, students learn fundamental jazz styles, like the techniques of Bob Fosse and Luigi, and study current Broadway choreographers like Susan Stroman, Rob Marshall and Mia Michaels, before exploring their own artistic voices,” says Point Park alumna and jazz coordinator Kiesha Lalama. Guest teachers and visiting professors, such as Broadway Dance Center’s Jim Cooney, give students the full spectrum of concert-based, commercial and musical theater jazz styles.
Notable alumni: Rob Ashford (2002 Tony winner for choreography in Thoroughly Modern Millie), Broadway performers in Young Frankenstein: The Musical, Peter Pan (national tour) and Mary Poppins (national tour)
Cherice Barton’s ’59 at Marymount Manhattan College (Eduardo Patino, courtesy MMC)
Marymount Manhattan College
New York, NY
Marymount allows jazz and tap fanatics alike to obtain a college degree right in NYC. “I want my students to understand how to work both the camera and the stage, how to dance to pop music or to Broadway tunes,” says Marymount jazz teacher Sheila Barker. Recent alumna Cindy Reid loved having access to the city’s extensive dance network during her college career. “We have Marymount MIX [Movement in Exchange], which allows choreographers like Broadway Dance Center’s contemporary/jazz teacher Mike Esperanza to use Marymount dancers in a lab,” Reid says.
Notable alumni: George Jones (backup dancer for Jennifer Lopez); Broadway performers in 42nd Street (national tour), A Chorus Line, CATS (national tour), Hairspray (national tour) and Legally Blonde; performers on Celebrity, Norwegian and Oceania cruises
Kent State’s production of Slide Show (Matt Unger, courtesy KSU)
Kent State University
Kent State’s BFA in musical theater nurtures students who want to be triple threats. “All of our students are required to audition for the main-stage shows—two musicals and two plays per year—and we offer three dance concerts they can audition for as well,” says Terri Kent, the musical theater coordinator.
Notable alumni: Broadway performers in Chicago, Hair, Next to Normal, Grease (national tour) and Annie (national tour)
For Aspiring Commercial Queens
Pace School of Performing Arts students (courtesy Pace)
Pace School of Performing Arts
New York, NY
Pace University’s commercial dance program includes unique classes like Aerial Arts (silks and trapeze) and Vocal Music for Dancers. “I did a choreography project for a dryer-sheet commercial,” says recent graduate Lindsey Weissinger. “The program really prepares you for anything.” Agents from NYC and L.A. frequent Pace’s performances, which include two main-stage faculty dance shows and several full-length musicals a year, as well as numerous student productions. And starting in 2018, students will spend the spring semester of their junior year in L.A. studying dance and choreography for the camera with Mandy Moore and other L.A. artists.
Notable alumni: Broadway performers in 42nd Street (national tour) and performers on Royal Caribbean International
Giana Forgione (center) and other Relativity School students on camera (John Manning, courtesy Relativity School)
Los Angeles, CA
This campus is located in the Los Angeles Center Studios, where shows and movies such as “Mad Men,” “Castle” and The Jungle Book were filmed. “We sometimes get used as extras on TV shows or in music videos,” says junior Giana Forgione. Although the BFA in commercial dance program is only entering its third year, it allows students to explore contemporary and classical dance styles along with acting and business management. The Inside the Dancer’s Studio series brings in guest artists, such as Tyce Diorio, to teach master classes every other week.
Notable alumni: Stay tuned—the first class will graduate in 2018!
For Diehard Ballerinas
Indiana University, Bloomington
The IU ballet program allows students to focus on classical ballet. “The viewpoint is American ballet, so we do lots of Balanchine pieces and have many instructors connected with New York City Ballet,” says department chair Michael Vernon. Vernon runs his department like a ballet company, focusing on technique, and the program often allows students to graduate in only three years so they can join professional companies.
Notable alumni: Amanda Schull (Center Stage), Lauren Fadeley (Miami City Ballet) and performers with Joffrey Ballet, Ballet West and American Repertory Ballet
University of Utah’s student company, Utah Ballet, performing George Balanchine’s Serenade (photo by Luke Isley, courtesy University of Utah)
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, UT
The University of Utah is home to Utah Ballet, the resident ballet company composed of advanced students. With a large department of about 150 ballet majors, the company often performs full-length ballets as well as smaller one-acts. The department shares a close affiliation with Ballet West, which offers trainee programs and classes open to Utah students.
Notable alumni: Performers with Ballet West, BodyVox, Utah Regional Ballet and Ballet Fantastique
University of Cincinnati, CCM’s Swan Lake (Will Brenner, courtesy University of Cincinnati)
University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music
Surrounded by many regional ballet troupes—including the Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Kentucky Ballet Theater—UC, CCM, allows students to perform full-length ballets like Giselle and Swan Lake while also experiencing workshops and classes with local professional companies. Plus, the program offers online courses, allowing for flexibility of coursework to gain professional experience. Senior Madelyn Nelson has already received a traineeship with Louisville Ballet and will finish her degree online. “We have guest teachers who come in to stage Balanchine or Twyla Tharp, and we recently had visitors from Denmark who staged a Bournonville ballet,” says department chair Qi Jiang.
Notable alumni: Performers with Ballet Austin, Ballet West, Columbus Dance Theatre, Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Nashville Ballet
For Belles of the Ballroom
BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company (Mark A. Philbrick, courtesy BYU)
Brigham Young University
At BYU, students can study advanced-level International Standard and International Latin ballroom dance, with about 60 ballroom classes offered in total. The program also offers five different ballroom performing teams, each with 16 couples. The BYU Ballroom Dance Company, the highest-level team, tours every summer to competitions, including the Blackpool Dance Festival competition in England.
Notable alumni: Travis and Jaimee Tuft (U.S. Professional Rising Star Smooth Champions) and Shane and Shannon Jensen (World Professional Cabaret Champions)
Utah Valley University dancers (courtesy UVU)
Utah Valley University
UVU allows students to major in dance with a ballroom emphasis, and includes advanced technique classes in International Standard, International Latin, American Smooth and American Rhythm. Students can perform with the Ballroom Dance Company, which has four different teams, two of which compete. “Last summer, we won the Formation Team Title at the Blackpool Dance Festival,” says UVU professor Chris Witt.
Notable alumni: Giovanna Velazquez (professor at BYU and BYU DanceSport Amateur Latin Champion), Nick Bloxsom-Carter (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Season 9)