You have the desire and passion. Now what? For aspiring young dancers, choosing the right university or college performing arts program can be an intimidating task. Whether your strength is modern, ballet, jazz, musical theatre or hip hop, Toronto offers many programs to choose from and many career opportunities.
For the following five graduates of George Brown College (GBC) dance programs, coming to Canada’s largest city has proven to be rewarding. Their journeys are very different but equally inspiring. Here are just parts of their stories and some of the advice they offer for dancers considering a post-secondary education in dance.
Samantha Rennie is a dance teacher and graduate from GBC’s Dance Performance Preparations program. Rennie graduated from her one-year program in 2015 with a certificate.
Q: How did your program prepare you for your career?
A: Although my program was not tailored to teaching but rather to performance, I still found my classes to be extremely beneficial towards my career. When I committed to teaching and I knew my focus was no longer performance, I began looking at my classes in a different way. While still trying to improve myself, I started focusing on how each teacher corrected my peers, and on the different techniques and verbiage they would use towards each correction.
Q: Was your program the right length for you and was it beneficial?
A: My program was one year, and I felt it was the perfect time span for someone like myself. I have a hard time staying in one place for a long time and I am always on the move. I felt that my program gave me the opportunity to fast track the learning and really [got] me into the shape and mindset I needed to be in to start my career. I feel like the length of my program was almost the push I needed to take the first steps into my career, and really figure out what I wanted to do in this industry, as I knew graduation was fast approaching.
Christopher Knowles, a now up-and-coming Canada-wide choreographer and teacher, graduated from the Dance Performance program, a two-year diploma program at GBC. The Dance Performance program has a main focus on ballet and ballet technique.
Q: Why did you choose your program?
A: I [danced] my entire life but I never really had a specific ballet training and I knew they had a wonderful program offering that.
Q: What’s been your biggest challenge so far? Did the program provide the required instruction and resources to overcome it?
A: I left Toronto for two years to direct a dance company in Nova Scotia. Coming back into the dance industry in Ontario is hard when people don’t know who you are. Derek [Sangster, Associate Artistic Director of George Brown Dance] offered an amazing opportunity to choreograph with the George Brown [dance] ensemble, which helped me take steps back into the dance world.
Peter Kelly is working with Toronto Dance Theatre and has been a part of various performances in Toronto. Kelly and fellow GBC graduate Carolyn Morris started a convention, New Blue, for emerging choreographers. Like Knowles above, Kelly also graduated from the Dance Performance program.
Q: What has been the biggest obstacle in your career so far? Did the GBC program provide resources to overcome it?
A: Networking. George Brown gave me ample opportunity to network with future employers and the community as a whole. George Brown gave me tools and tips to prepare myself for creating connections within [the] Toronto dance community.
Q: What do you hope for the future? Has GBC given you the resources to obtain those goals?
A: My goals are to sustain a career in dance, whether in performance, choreography or arts administration. GBC has given me the proper tools to have a successful, full career in the dance community.
Kayla Kuskevics has recently become active in Toronto’s dance industry, performing and making connections. Kuskevics graduated from GBC’s one-year Commercial Studies Program, a program based mostly in commercial dance work (hip hop, musical theatre, etc.).
Q: What was the most beneficial aspect of your program?
A: It’s hard to choose just one since everyone at George Brown helped impact my career. If I had to choose, it would have to be the vocal and acting classes. I came to the college as a dancer, and left as a dancer, singer and actor.
Q: Was there a particular teacher/choreographer/person who inspired your choice of career path and how did they do this?
A: Someone who had always inspired me since day one would have to be Derek Sangster. He’s tough on students, but it’s because he cares about his students’ futures. He helped open my eyes to the commercial program, which is the path I have chosen for the most part. He said my personality would fit right in.
Heather Lumsden-Ruegg is a full time company member with Canada’s Ballet Jӧrgen. Lumsden-Ruegg completed the same Dance Performance Studies program as Knowles and Kelly, but did an additional year of training in the affiliated Mentorship Program with Canada’s Ballet Jörgen.
Q: What was the biggest obstacle in the way to reaching your goals?
A: My biggest obstacle has really just [been] beginning my journey to become a professional dancer. The whole experience is one big obstacle.
Q: What advice would you give dancers considering the program you chose?
A: My advice would be to take every opportunity and commit. And always believe in your own potential.
With many possibilities, and many different career paths, each of these artists has been successful in achieving their goals. Choosing the right performing arts career path does not need to be as intimidating as it seems. Toronto’s warm, friendly students and professionals can provide the advice and inspiration you need to start your adventurous new career.