Majoring in Dance? Here's How to Choose Your Concentration

August 20, 2018

So you want to be a dance major? Wonderful! But in college, your choices don’t end there. Pedagogy, kinesiology, arts management: What can those different tracks help you with? Choosing a college concentration that opens up multiple career options is a smart move, setting you up for not only an exciting performance career, but also a lifetime of opportunities in the arts. Perhaps you’re hoping to start your own dance company, but you have no idea how to run a business—a dance management degree will put you on the right path. Or maybe you want to keep performing while also teaching at local studios—dance pedagogy can help you build an exciting resumé. Read on for a breakdown of what to expect within various dance-program concentrations.

Concentration: Pedagogy

OCU students learn skills like costuming in both dance management and dance pedagogy concentrations. (photo by Ryan Barrett, courtesy OCU)

Interested in teaching dance, or even starting your own studio one day? A dance pedagogy focus may be the best option for you. Some programs come with K–12 certification, allowing you to teach at private studios as well as in public schools, while others are focused specifically on training studio teachers. A certification program will require classes in the education department as well as student teaching in a public school, while a non-certification program may only require classes specifically offered in the dance department. “Our dance-teacher students are also taking plenty of technique classes, so they can still pursue performance while also building or managing their own studio, or teaching at dance conventions,” says Melanie Shelley, associate dean of the Ann Lacy School of Dance and Entertainment at Oklahoma City University.

Concentration: Performance and Choreography

Perhaps the most prevalent of the dance concentrations, a performance and choreography degree allows you to focus on your technique while also learning the ins and outs of behind-the-scenes aspects, including technical theater, performance contracts, music fundamentals, and dance health. “Many of our choreography and performance concentrations become professional dancers in companies, but some have also gone on to arts administration or even television productions,” explains Dr. Purnima Shah, director of the dance program at Duke University.

OCU dancers (photo by Ryan Barrett, courtesy OCU)

Besides taking composition courses, performance and choreography students will learn about lighting design, dance for the camera, and improvisation. Final projects often include choreographing and producing an evening-length work on fellow dance majors—just one of many dances that you can feature in your choreography reel at the end of your degree, which makes you a fantastic candidate to work as guest choreographers for dance teams, theaters, or studios.

Concentration: Management

Students in OCU’s dance management program (photo by Ryan Barrett, courtesy OCU)

A dance management concentration can be a great option for students interested in both dance and business—and it’s easier to handle than a double major. Dance management majors will usually need to take crossover classes within their college’s school of business, such as promotional writing, marketing, business law, and accounting. “My favorite class was performing-arts tour management—our final project was planning our own fictional tour of a Broadway show. I had no idea how much went into the process!” says recent OCU dance management alum Molly Smith. Be sure to ask what internship opportunities are available through the school, too, as many have connections with local theater and dance companies that allow you to work technical or administrative positions for even more behind-the-scenes opportunities.

Concentration: Kinesiology and Dance Science

Interest in dance therapy is growing, so it’s no wonder dance science degrees are gaining popularity. Dancers interested in learning how to safely train their bodies for long, healthy careers will love the in-depth anatomy courses. “Some people see dance science as a separate study, but for us, it’s about integrating the information on dancers and bringing it back to use in the classroom and in performance,” explains Christine Bergeron, director of the Texas A&M dance program.

Texas A&M dancer Kali Taft concentrated in dance science. (photo by Gor Kraguliac, courtesy Texas A&M)

“The misconception about studying dance science is that you won’t have chances to perform,” says Texas A&M graduate Kali Taft. “But I danced in well over 50 works in college and even traveled to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to perform. I was so excited to learn about how to correctly train my muscles for optimum développés, turnout, and splits, and now I’m hoping to start my own dance company.”

A kinesiology major also sets dancers up for additional schooling, such as occupational or physical therapy. Texas A&M alum Hannah Juenke hopes to pursue graduate studies in occupational therapy, and is now studying how dance can help autistic children have greater tactile function, with the idea of offering movement therapy classes at local studios.

Concentration: History and Culture

Love watching old ballet clips of Baryshnikov dancing in Don Quixote? Interested in preserving the art of swing dance and incorporating it into choreography and teaching? A concentration in history or culture may be for you. While dance history courses are offered as part of most undergraduate programs, specific concentrations in history and culture, such as those offered by Duke University, allow students to develop a senior thesis with a political, social, or activist focus. “One student concentrated her research on how inclusion of dance in regular school curricula generates mental, emotional, and intellectual growth in children,” says Shah. A history or culture degree is also good preparation for those hoping to go on to a master’s or doctoral program in dance and for careers as dance historians or critical writers.

A version of this story appeared in the September 2018 issue of
Dance Spirit with the title “Choosing Your Concentration.”