How to Build a Strong Network in College

June 26, 2016

College is all about investing in your education, but it’s also the perfect time to meet a ton of people. The intense nature of a college dance program means you might have the chance to collaborate with anyone from visiting choreographers to MFA candidates to alumni—and those people can help lay the groundwork for your professional career. Dance Spirit asked two pros how they built lasting professional relationships that started in college.

Use the Resources On Offer

Many colleges provide built-in opportunities to network with peers at other schools (like during American College Dance Association conferences), and some have robust alumni programs to help put dancers in touch with each other. Taking advantage of those resources can help give you a leg up when you start seeking professional jobs.

Nashville-based New Dialect company member Rebecca Steinberg, for example, participated in the New York Professional Outreach Program when she was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. NYPOP allowed her to visit NYC and connect with UMass alumni who had already started their careers. “I felt like I had an active web I could effortlessly slide into once I moved to the city,” she says.

Pursue the Options That Appeal to You

When you really click with a choreographer, make it clear you’d like to keep collaborating by expressing how much you appreciate their work and asking about future projects or auditions. Once you’ve built a relationship, you can ask them directly about opportunities.

Isabelle Collazo, an alumna of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, took a straightforward approach to her networking. “Paige Cunningham-Caldarella set choreography on our senior class,” Collazo says. “I knew she was based in Chicago, which was where I wanted to live after graduation, so I asked her to create my senior solo and she agreed.” And when choreographers see you at your best, they’ll be more inclined to recommend you to others. “As an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, Paige introduced me to a network of Chicago-based dancers who have become some of my closest collaborators,” Collazo says.

After Graduation, Do the Legwork

Collazo suggests using social media to stay in touch with your college network. “The U of I dance department hosts a Facebook page where alumni regularly post performance and audition notices,” Collazo says. “The department also sends out an annual newsletter and maintains a website of alumni updates.” Steinberg suggests alerting your network if you change cities, or develop new artistic interests. “Ask people to help you make connections,” she says. “That’s been one of my most vital tools.” Collazo agrees, but cautions that the internet shouldn’t be used as a crutch to avoid showing up to things in real life. “It’s important to go to shows, auditions and workshops in order to stay involved,” she says—and to build real relationships instead of superficial ones. Ask people about their projects. “If you really want to work with someone,” Collazo says, “tell them.”

UMass Amherst alum Rebecca Steinberg (Jim Coleman, courtesy Steinberg)