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.

kathy hicks-freeman
Guidance Counselor Greensboro High School

Dance Departments

Again, dance is an unfamiliar area. I would conduct research before giving anyone advice.

JoAnne Ellsworth

Dance Ahead

It always pays to plan ahead, and if you know the difference between college and conservatory dance departments you will be able to make an informed choice between the two models. At a college dance department, you will be required to complete other core subjects besides dance. English, math, history, and social and behavioral science will probably be included in your list of required courses. Dance classes would complete the rest of your degree program. A conservatory dance department focuses 100% on your dancing skills and these courses are usually not transferable to other colleges. You would have an excellent opportunity to focus on your dance skills, but not on the overall college experience or degree pathway. For the dancer who only wants to dance, dance, dance, this would be the correct decision with the academic piece of higher education being put off for the future.

Barbara Cohen

Conservatory vs liberal arts

Conservatory programs are more specific to the performance selected. The program is extremely weighted to performance. A college program will require more general liberal arts courses.

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.

Ryan John
School Counselor Bethlehem High School

What are the differences between college and conservatory dance departments?

College dance departments allow students to pursue majors in dance while also taking classes in other non-dance academic areas while conservatory dance schools are strictly dance oriented, with students living and interacting solely with dance students and participating in only dance.

John DeLorey

College vs. Conservatory Dance Programs

At a conservatory dance program, the resources are concentrated on that one specific discipline, vs. a college, where they are spread across many. If a student does not like a conservatory then a transfer may be in order to a college that would offer strong dance programs, but where the student could perhaps change their major or concentration to something other than dance, while still maintaining a strong dance focus.