What are the differences between college and conservatory dance departments?

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What are the differences between college and conservatory dance departments?

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Is Dance a Profession or a Passion?

The key difference between college and conservatory dance programs relates to the goals for graduates. Think carefully about the ideal setting for your professional and personal goals. Do you want the intensity of BFA (Bachelors of Fine Arts) program that ultimately prepares dancers for roles as professional dancers? For some, dance may be a passion, but not a career goal. Students seeking a broad academic experience should consider small liberal arts schools which offer greater opportunities for double majoring.

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound

Conservatory vs. College Dance Depts.

Per research into the topic many dancers have been in the field their entire lives and are looking to become professionals and make dance their career. If that is your focus a Conservatory is the better option, typically they are rigorous programs and highly competitive. If your goal is to enjoy dancing as a part of your life be in a local production now and then or teach or you find that you have not made it into a conservatory of your liking then you may want to consider a college or university dance program which will require you to not only focus on dance but the other critereria for college admission. You will be responsible for general education courses and your major will be dance, but the rigor and exposure may not be that of a conservatory.

Diane Coburn Bruning
choreographer/counselor in performing arts College Match, Inc, Performing Arts Specialist

Dance after High School: Pre-Professional, Conservatory or College Program?

Serious dancers have choices to make to pursue their passion to a professional career. The differences in these three choices primarily reflect the amount of focused study in dance to the inclusion or exclusion of other subject areas. Pre-professional programs (sometimes called trainee or apprentice program) at a professional ballet company school, for instance, will usually comprise a day beginning with ballet technique class(es) followed by rehearsals either with a second company or the main company in the corps or ensemble roles. Classes in partnering, variations, modern, jazz, choreography, etc. may also be included. Students are generally in their last few years of high school (and work to finish their high school courses) or just graduated from high school. Training and performance is emphasized and the opportunity to be seen by and perform with professionals leading to the possibility of being hired. It may be advisable to go through the college application process and then defer admittance to pursue this path for a year or two. It is very important to know the focus of the program/company in terms of repertoire and style and how the faculty teach technique class as study will generally be with only 2-3 teachers. There is generally a high level of competition to be accepted into these programs. Conservatory programs offer BFA degrees (Bachelor of Fine Arts) and focus strongly on dance and related arts with relatively few required courses in academic, non-arts. These are generally self-contained institutions such at The Juilliard School or North Carolina School of the Arts where all the students art studying one art form very seriously with exposure to and study of the other art forms. There is often the opportunity for students to study composition and choreograph. The faculty is generally comprised of professionals who work/worked extensively in their field. There is generally a high level of competition to be accepted into the premiere programs. Liberal Arts College programs offer BA and sometimes BFA and MA/MFA degree programs in dance. The focus is on providing a liberal arts education through a required core curriculum of academics with a focus on dance. The first 2-3 semesters (depending on AP credits from high school) include these core academics alongside dance and arts requirements. While there are a few programs with distinct major programs in a Ballet and a Modern Dance Department, most colleges and universities have one Dance Department and offer training in both ballet and modern and other dance forms as well as related arts. Many programs offer related majors, minors or certifications such as in Arts Administration or Pilates; there is generally a wide array of elective courses within the department and performing arts to pursue a secondary interest. There is usually the possibility to study composition and choreograph as well as study pedagogy and student teach. There is the possibility at most programs to double major or minor in either a related art or an academic area although a double major is generally extremely demanding and often discouraged. Most but not all departments require an audition and the competitiveness to be accepted varies widely. The focus, training, faculty background and size, course offerings, performance opportunities, guest artists, and facilities also vary widely. It is very important to research and understand these factors at each department you are considering in relation to your goals.

Corey Fischer
President CollegeClarity

Time spent dancing

At a conservatory you will be dancing most of the day as that is what you are there for. You will have few classes outside of ballet. At a college, it will be your major, but you will take ballet classes along with your other classes. A college will require you to take courses in the math & science area, the social sciences, language & culture, etc. Generally about 1/3 of your college credits will be in your major area.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

Which is the best ballet department for you?

Just like other questions about the best colleges, you need to determine what your requirements are in deciding which are the best programs for you personally. Look at the faculty (training, teaching styles and affiliations). Where are the alumni working? Are they dancing professionally? Are they teaching and if so, where? Research and learn about performance opportunities. What are the audition requirements for the ballet program? Who were the guest artists in recent years? Look at the course offerings and become familiar with the requirements. Finally, visit the campus. Can you arrange to participate in a ballet class or at least observe one? Connect with and speak to current dance majors.

Tracy Jackson
Coordinator Virginia Beach City Public Schools

What are the differences between college and conservatory dance departments?

One of the major differences is the amount and type of training that you will receive. Conservatories prepare you more for rigorous full-time training. Classes are smaller or there may be more individual attention. They also have more connections to other ballet options. A college dance department is small school within the college, There may not be as many opportunities outside of the college program depending on the reputation, location and size of the college. Since it is part of a college, the lifestyle will also be different. Not to mention there are rules and regulations that the dance department must uphold if they wish to continue their accreditation. This filters down to the expectations of the students as well.

Lauren Carter
Director of College Counseling Louisville Collegiate School

All dance programs are not all the same.

There are a great number of opportunities in various dance programs and this is a good time to become familiar with the differences among them. A conservatory is a professionally based dance program that is committed to training students who want to dance as a career. Students within a focused conservatory setting will typically train all day, several days a week. This type of intensive curriculum does not have much room for liberal arts classes or other courses. A dance program within a liberal arts college will offer a dance program (taking various dance classes within the department) and also the opportunity to complete a liberal arts core curriculum. This is a good fit for students who want to major in dance but also want to pursue other (academic) interests. It is best to investigate the admissions/audition requirements, in addition to, the dance curriculum at a number of schools and see which type of program is best suited for you.

William Pepin
Director of Guidance North Smithfield High School

What are the differences between college and conservatory dance departments?

A conservatory program will offer more of a focus on the Arts and less of a focus on overall academics than a college program would. The departments themselves would be unique based upon each individual school. I would encourage you to think about this simple question; Do you want the Arts in your life or do you want the Arts to be your life. The answer may help you focus on what type of an experience you may prefer.

Allen Hill
School Counselor Antelope Union High School

What are the Differences?

At conservatories, almost all coursework revolves around dance and much of it is focused on dance performance. Liberal arts programs can train strong technicians and performers, too, but they offer more of a balance between arts and academics. If you just want to dance and don’t have other academic interests, then a conservatory is likely your best bet. If you’re after a broader academic/college experience, a liberal arts degree is probably better.

Wendy Rock
School Counselor Hahnville High School

College vs Conservatory

A conservatory will focus the curriculum on the arts. The degree a student will receive will likely be a BFA or something similar. A college with a dance department will offer a broader curriculum with an opportunity to minor or double major in a non-arts related field, education for example. The arts are a very competitive career choice and a student must not only be talented but either be in the right place at the right time or have the right connections. It can be difficult to make it as a performer or visual artist. College is a good choice for someone who wants a back-up plan. A conservatory would be a good choice for someone who is very talented and wants to put all their eggs in the arts basket.