About a year ago a colleague of mine sent me an e-mail from a distraught parent. It seems his daughter, we’ll call her Kelly, wanted to earn a bachelor’s degree in dance. With misguidance from high school counselors or her parents or dance teachers, Kelly chose a large state school that had a dance department with a good reputation. In her first year there she discovered that there were not many opportunities for undergraduates as the dancers in the graduate program were given the performing and choreographing slots first. So Kelly transferred to a smaller college where she had many more chances to perform and choreograph.

In her junior year her parents came to see an adjudication concert. Instead of being thrilled with their daughter’s performance, they said “to our eyes, she not only has not grown as an artist, but also seems to have taken a bit of a step back. Watching the other dancers, we saw what looked like a real lack of fundamentals. Our concern now is that the standards there are not high enough to give her a decent chance of a career in the field.”

And they had questions – Was it too late for the daughter to have a career? Was there another school for her to go to? Should she pursue a Master’s degree?

I only wish this was an isolated occurrence. I have heard of similar situations time and time again. Of course there are many different answers to the parents questions, but my thoughts are how did this happen? Why weren’t the parents and the dancer better informed to make more intelligent choices to begin with? Are the parent’s expectations the same as the dancers? What kind of dance career did Kelly want? What were the other factors like school size and location that entered into her choices?

Choosing the right dance program can be a painful process, but dance college and career information IS out there. The problem is the information is so fragmented it’s difficult to navigate. Add that to the many misconceptions about dance as a career, not just a hobby, and it spells confusion and missed opportunities.

And I am not the only one to see that we need to make a sea change and help educate parents, school counselors, dance teachers and dancers about the wonderful choices there are for every dancer so that they are able to keep dance in their lives, forever. Many dance organization/institutions are now hosting college days to bring together students and program. Just google dance college fairs and you’ll get a short list of events.

The Dance College Guide published by Dance Media is also a terrific resource. It lists over 651 colleges and describes their programs in detail. The sister website Dance U101 has a library of articles related to the subject.

But most of all: do your homework – ask yourself the hard questions- and take the time to match your dreams with your future.

This article was originally posted in the National Dance Week Foundation Blog on January 7th, 2014

Susan Epstein

Susan Epstein

About the Author: Susan Epstein was a dancer, educator and choreographer before becoming a consultant in the dance merchandising and event business.  She holds a BFA in Dance from SMU and did graduate work at CWRU and is on the board of NDWF.