Five Truths About Starting a College Dance Company
Whether you major or minor in dance, join a dance team or simply take a few extracurricular classes, there are myriad ways to continue your artistic journey in college. Sometimes, though, exactly what you’re seeking isn’t on campus—yet. That’s where being in college comes in handy: You can start your own organization! Not only do student-run groups give you the chance to express your dancing self in unique ways, but you’re also likely to gain leadership skills, hone your choreography chops and even make a few friends along the way.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to start a successful enterprise. We spoke with presidents of two organizations to learn the five most crucial elements of creating—and continuing—a student-run dance group.
Even though it’s your group, you should still play by the rules. “Make good working relationships with the administration,” says Katherine Kelly, a senior English and communications double major at Fordham University who is president of the roughly 20-member dance company Expressions Dance Alliance. “Still, you don’t want to compromise your goals.” At a large university, it’s likely that the administration isn’t too familiar with dance, so, Kelly continues, “be patient and explain the reasons why you need the space you do, or whatever it is you’re asking for.”
At Western Michigan University, Orchesis Dance Society is a student-run dance group within the dance department (though it accepts members from outside of the program) with 120 to 130 active participants. As president, senior dance major Allison Long meets monthly with the faculty advisor and the department chair. “Our board acts as a liaison between the students and administration,” she says. “It’s a great chance for us to have our voices heard.”
Create clear policies to keep members on the same page. “The founder of our club basically wrote a constitution, and we ask that all our new members read it,” says Kelly. “It states our mandatory rehearsal policies, and rules about auditions, absences and how many semesters you can stay on the executive board.” Take it from Kelly, ground rules work: Expressions has been running smoothly for 15 years.
Fundraising is key. While some universities allocate funds to student organizations, groups at other institutions may need to raise money themselves. Orchesis does not receive financial help from WMU. In addition to car washes and bake sales, the group has gotten creative, volunteering to clean up after some campus-wide events to earn extra dough. Still, most of the group’s money comes from $5–$12 dance concert ticket sales—enough to annually award two $1,000 student scholarships.
Budgeting can be your best friend. Be sure to account for and expect the unexpected when it comes to finances. “Most of Expressions’ expenses go toward costuming,” notes Kelly, “but there are a ton of little things you might not even think about, like paying a security guard during performances.” Savvy budgeting can lead to pleasant surprises: After a few years of successful saving, Expressions was able to purchase marley flooring to use during performances.
You’ll learn a lot about time management. Regardless of your goals for your group, “your school work still has to come first,” Long says. “Leading an organization is fun, but it’s also a huge responsibility.” In Kelly’s words: “It’s a constant job. After regular rehearsals and group meetings, I’m also meeting with other student group leaders to coordinate collaborations. But it comes down to this: If you have to stay up an extra hour to finish homework, it’s worth it. If you love dance, you’ll make it happen.”