For many grade twelve students, this year is like no other. Like being at the top of a rollercoaster, peering down from the top, you’re excited, nervous and scared because you can’t see down to the bottom until you get there. Every grade twelve student faces the decision, ‘What next?’ One simple question; yet, it is so hard to decipher what you want and what is best for you.
For an aspiring dance artist, the decision focuses on which dance program will best suit you. There are endless college and university brochures and websites that can be overwhelming all on their own. The question rests on your mind. In the end, you want to continue pursuing your love of dance in a completely new context, taking your studies beyond the arts school or after-school studio. The decision about where you apply can very well affect the next four years of your life. This pivotal decision has the potential to shape who you are and what you will become. Yes, it’s daunting. Downright scary! By exercising the right strategies and getting good advice, finding the right dance program won’t be so terribly frightening.
Research, Research, Research
First, before anything else, research, research, research. There are many different programs that focus on different areas of dance: commercial dance, choreography, performance, dance education, dance science, academic dance studies. Learning about the various options can help you gain a better understanding of what you would like to focus on and how your dance experience has prepared you so far. Identifying the aspect of dance that most interests you can help you select the right program and eliminate programs that do not offer courses in your areas of interest. Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre company member Sully Malaeb-Proulx says about the process he went through: “I made sure to do a lot of research about all the different dance programs. I also talked to a lot of people by word-of-mouth, considering what I want to get out of each program.” Taking the time to learn about your range of options is a very important step.
Choosing a Focus
Next, during your senior year, expose yourself to many different choreographers, teachers and dance styles. This will make you a more versatile dancer, and one who will stand out in an audition. Toronto dance student Jazmine Thomas believes that: “… when applying for dance programs I look for programs that will help me continue to grow as a dancer. I want the experience of learning from others.” The goal of many university programs is to prepare prospective professional dancers for the real world. Being able to draw on a variety of techniques, styles and approaches can help expand your resume and help you choose what area of dance you want to pursue. In my experience, I had to really do some soul searching about the styles of dance I enjoy the most and that are most suited to me as an artist. This was a challenge: as a young dancer, I was always encouraged to try and appreciate every form of dance I could learn. When applying to university for dance, focus is key. Four years is a long time to devote to a dance focus that you don’t love, so be sure you are applying to a school that offers what really interests you.
Another major consideration when applying to dance programs is how far away from home you are willing to go to pursue your dreams. Unless you live in the Greater Toronto Area, attending a dance program likely means moving away from home. There is a good range of post-secondary dance programs in Canada, and many additional opportunities abroad, including renowned programs in the United States. The dance applicant learns very quickly that applying to schools in the States is a completely different process compared to programs in Canada. For a number of American programs you have to write a test called the SAT, a standardized test that most American students must write in order to be considered for the college admissions. This adds a layer of pressure not required for admission to Canadian programs. If you wish to apply to schools in the United States, you need to keep track of application deadlines. Some American schools have application deadlines as early as November, and most schools do not consider applications submitted after the deadline. One good thing about applying to programs in Canada is that the application deadlines tend to be later, giving you more time to prepare your application. Depending on where you live, some Canadian programs are close enough for you to visit and speak to students and faculty in person.
Making the decision to pursue post-secondary dance is not an easy one. The various aspects of the application process can be unnerving. With the right tools and mindset, you will be able to choose from the many possibilities which is best for your future. And have the best chance to ultimately read the words, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been accepted!’
Every dance program requires you to audition, either on video or live or, in some cases, both. The auditions usually require you to prepare a solo that you may be invited to perform should you survive the initial screening (usually a ballet and/or modern class). Picking the right solo to showcase your strengths as a dancer can be very stressful. You don’t always know what the panel expects. You also have to choose a choreographer who knows you, your style and your strengths well. Then you have to decide what style of dance you’ll perform. It’s a good idea to prepare a solo that aligns with the school’s curriculum because the panel needs to envision you as a dancer from their school. However, it is important not to focus too much on what the judges like but to perform a piece that best showcases your strengths and unique qualities as a potential dance student. These decisions can make the difference between being accepted or not. Did I say stressful? Working with different teachers and building a rich background of dance experiences provides you with versatility and ease that will come in handy when preparing for whatever may be thrown your way during an admissions audition.